Cross-posted from the Arabist.
The U.S. is not so much ignoring the Arab Spring (since it cannot be ignored), but viewing it in the larger context — i.e., our cold-hot war with the Islamic Republic of Iran from 1979 to the present. As one U.S. official told the WSJ when asked how arms sales to the U.S.’s Arab allies were being impacted by domestic unrest, the response was, “We in the military are poised to get back to normalcy,” i.e., arms sales that send a clear message to Iran (ironically, when Warren G. Harding first used that word in 1920, it was followed up by a major reduction of the U.S. armed forces’ strength).
The Pentagon is considering a significant sale of [4,900] Joint Direct Attack Munitions [JDAMs] made by Boeing Co, adding to other recent arms deals with the UAE. These include the sale of 500 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles about which U.S. lawmakers were notified in September.
The sale of Boeing-built “bunker-buster” bombs and other munitions to UAE, a key Gulf ally, is part of an ongoing U.S. effort to build a regional coalition to counter Iran.
The JDAMs are compatible with the UAE’s strike aircraft, specifically the U.S.-made F-16s that comprise a large part (3 squadrons, around 80 aircraft) of the UAE’s airforce, which sits astride Persian Gulf waters facing Iran. The U.S. airforce maintains a small logistics base in the UAE.
The UAE, according to The National and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, was the world’s “fourth-largest arms buyer” in 2009, ranking ahead of Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, particularhbly in purchases of fighter aircraft. The U.S. is the UAE’s main source of arms purchases, followed by France.
While neoconservatives are increasingly blasting the Obama Administration for “green lighting” Iranian ambitions by appearing weak and indecisive, the U.S. has expanded arms sales to its Gulf allies since 2008. In 2010, a US$60 billion arms sale with Saudi Arabia went through, the largest single arms sale in U.S. history to a single country. The only stalled measure in this arena is that a US$53 million arms deal with Bahrain announced in October is now being held up pending a human rights commission’s report (expected to come out on November 23). The suspension is the result of U.S. embarrassment over the fact that weapons from an earlier US$200 million arms sale might have been used against demonstrators.
In addition to these arms sales, preexisting and forthcoming contracts with the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia will see more missile defense systems heading to these states. Once the withdrawal from Iraq is completed, the U.S. will retains its important Fifth Fleet naval base in Bahrain, the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar (which the UK also uses), the Indian Ocean Diego Garcia facility, and approximately 40,000 soldiers spread throughout GCC states. A planned “CIA drone base” aimed at the Horn of Africa and Yemen, but likely capable of participating in an action against Iran, is reported to be under construction somewhere in the region.
It’s no NATO, but it’s got teeth. Whether it bites or not is another story.
Paul Mutter is a graduate student at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU and a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus.