This weekend President Trump visited Saudi Arabia, where he closed a huge arms deal and gave a speech on Islam. Many of his diehard supporters are feeling disappointed with this. I’m a bit more tepid about the situation.
The arms deal will give America lots of money, but a good number of those arms will probably end up in the hands of terrorists. That’s not a good thing. The deal does drain Saudi coffers and trade their gains from selling oil into weapons. This makes Saudi Arabia even stronger on the stage in the Middle East.
At the center of this discussion is what America’s stance on Saudi Arabia ought to be. The past 20 years have show the US to be very cozy with the Saudi regime. Consistency in foreign policy is important, and this arms deal continues the existing relationship between the US and the Saudis. Also, Saudi Arabia runs a stable country in a region that is notoriously difficult to control. Gibbon describes the Arabs as unruly nomads who ran over much of the world and ruled over it, while the people who stayed behind were ultimately still unruly and tribal. Stability is a good thing.
On the other hand, the Saudi government is the biggest sponsor of a hypercharged Islamism that is in stark contrast to the type of Islam pushed by Ottoman and Persian governments for centuries. This Islam is arguably closer to the original strain of the religion that lead to massive conquests. Fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi after all.
There’s a pull between the consistency & stability on the one hand versus standing firmly against Islamic extremism on the other. It seems we’ll be on the side of consistency & stability. At least we got $100 billion out of it.
Trump also gave a speech on Islam, which, given the lack of reaction, seems like it was mouthing the same types of platitudes we’ve come to expect from American presidents. All and all it looks like Trump will be keeping things the same on the foreign policy front, rather than changing them.