FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Arming Dictators: An American Tradition

Recently the Obama administration announced another military aid package for Pakistan: eight F-16 fighter jets.  Once again considerations of human rights and democratic values have been sacrificed to strategic calculations.  Recall, the robust figures for US military assistance to Pakistan: more than $20 billion in weapons, training, and other activities between FY2002 and FY2015, making Pakistan the 16th ranking recipient of US arms.  And that amount does not include drone strikes.

The contrast between Obama the engager and Obama the warrior is striking.  US arms exports to authoritarian regimes such as Pakistan’s, just one element of military aid, continue to rise even as we celebrate the President’s initiatives with Iran and Cuba.  From 2009 to 2014, I count $12.5 billion in arms exports to eight other authoritarian regimes: Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.  That figure is nearly a quarter of all US military exports in those years, which total $50.7 billion.

There is no evidence that those weapons, or military assistance as a whole, have moved authoritarian governments toward greater respect for human rights, social justice, accountable government, or environmental protection. Even their support of US policy on terrorism has been tentative, and in Pakistan’s case, two-faced, since its government accepts US drone strikes while its intelligence apparatus coddles al-Qaeda and the Taliban. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that military aid has abetted repression, official corruption, and strong-arm rule.  Pakistan has thumbed its nose at US aid even more, expanding its nuclear-weapon arsenal to more than 100—an arsenal that heightens tension with India and, because it now consists of tactical nukes, is especially vulnerable to theft by terrorist groups. On top of that, we now have word that Pakistan has its own drones, probably built with Chinese help, adding to South Asia’s instability.

Needless to say, the US is not the only democracy on the arms export list; it merely tops it.  Nine of the twelve arms-exporting countries are democracies, starting with Germany and ending with Sweden.

So the next time we think about a liberal in the White House, or some other house, we might want to remember that it’s always a mixed blessing, and that while a liberal administration may pursue progressive policies domestically, it may act in the opposite direction internationally.

Footnote on Syria: I have been promoting the idea that a political settlement in Syria must have at least two elements if it is to have any chance of gaining Russia’s support: a place for Bashar al-Assad in a transition to a new, broad-based government, and the participation of Iran in crafting an agreement.  Jimmy Carter weighed in with an excellent op-ed that says exactly the same thing I’ve been saying.

I have also presented the idea that positive fallout from the nuclear deal with Iran might be further US-Iran contact on Middle East issues, such as Syria.  Until October 28, the Obama administration had not accepted either of these elements, but then it agreed to invite Iran to talks on Syria. And the ayatollah accepted, despite his repeated insistence that no further talks with the US would take place beyond the nuclear agreement.  Iran’s participation is an important endorsement of the engagement strategy.

More articles by:

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail