It’s one of those stories of the century that somehow never gets treated that way. For an astounding 25 of the past 26 years, the United States has been the leading arms dealer on the planet, at some moments in near monopolistic fashion. Its major weapons-producers, including Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, regularly pour the latest in high-tech arms and munitions into the most explosive areas of the planet, with ample assistance from the Pentagon. In recent years, the bulk of those arms have gone to the Greater Middle East. Donald Trump is only the latest American president to preside over a global arms-sales bonanza. With remarkable enthusiasm, he’s appointed himself America’s number-one weapons salesman, and he couldn’t be prouder of the job he’s doing.
Earlier this month, for instance, on the very day Congress was debating whether to end US support for Saudi Arabia’s brutal war in Yemen, Trump engaged in one of his favorite presidential activities: bragging about the economic benefits of the American arms sales he’s been promoting. He was joined in his moment of braggadocio by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the chief architect of that war. That grim conflict has killed thousands of civilians through indiscriminate air strikes, while putting millions at risk of death from famine, cholera, and other “natural” disasters caused at least in part by a Saudi-led blockade of that country’s ports.
That Washington-enabled humanitarian crisis provided the backdrop for the Senate’s consideration of a bill co-sponsored by Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders, Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee, and Connecticut Democratic Senator Chris Murphy. It was aimed at ending US midair refueling of Saudi war planes and Washington’s additional assistance for the Saudi war effort (at least until the war is explicitly authorized by Congress). The bill generated a vigorous debate. In the end, on an issue that wouldn’t have even come to the floor two years ago, an unprecedented 44 senators voted to halt this country’s support for the Saudi war effort. The bill nonetheless went down to defeat and the suffering in Yemen continues.
Debate about the merits of that brutal war was, however, the last thing on the mind of a president who views his bear-hug embrace of the Saudi regime as a straightforward business proposition. He’s so enthusiastic about selling arms to Riyadh that he even brought his very own prop to the White House meeting with bin Salman: a US map highlighting which of the 50 states would benefit most from pending weapons sales to the prince’s country.