This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
This week, the words will take center stage. On Thursday, according to administration officials, President Obama will “reset” American policy in the Middle East with a major address offering a comprehensive look at the Arab Spring, “a unified theory about the popular uprisings from Tunisia to Bahrain,” and possibly a new administration approach to the region.
In the meantime, all signs indicate that the Pentagon will quietly maintain antithetical policies, just as it has throughout the Obama years. Barring an unprecedented and almost inconceivable policy shift, it will continue to broker lucrative deals to send weapons systems and military equipment to Arab despots. Nothing indicates that it will be deterred from its course, whatever the president says, which means that Barack Obama’s reset rhetoric is unlikely to translate into meaningful policy change in the region.
For months now, the world has watched as protesters have taken to the streets across the Middle East to demand a greater say in their lives. In Tunisia and Egypt, they toppled decades-old dictatorships. In Bahrain and Yemen, they were shot down in the streets as they demanded democracy. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, they called for reforms, free speech, and basic rights, and ended up bloodied and often in jail cells. In Iraq, they protested a lack of food and jobs, and in response got bullets and beatings.
As the world watched, trained eyes couldn’t help noticing something startling about the tools of repression in those countries. The armored personnel carriers, tanks and helicopters used to intimidate or even kill peaceful protesters were often American models.
For decades, the US has provided military aid, facilitated the sale of weaponry and transferred vast quantities of arms to a host of Middle Eastern despots. Arming Arab autocrats, however, isn’t only the work of presidents past. A TomDispatch analysis of Pentagon documents finds that the Obama administration has sought to send billions of dollars in weapons systems—from advanced helicopters to fighter jets—to the very regimes that have beaten, jailed and killed pro-democracy demonstrators, journalists and reform activists during the Arab Spring.
The administration’s abiding support for the militaries of repressive regimes calls into question the president’s rhetoric about change. The arms deals of recent years also shed light on the shadowy, mutually supportive relationships among the US military, top arms dealers and Arab states that are of increasing importance to the Pentagon.