Two stories of note here. The first from 9 February that shows the Obama Administration upping military aid to our favorite ME dictators, including the one in Libya.
From the World Tribune, 9 February:
The administration has submitted a proposed budget for fiscal 2011 that included military assistance increases for Bahrain, Libya, Morocco, Oman and Yemen. Officials said several Middle East countries also received forward funding over the last year as part of the Foreign Military Financing program.
Under the budget proposed by the State Department, U.S. military aid to Bahrain would increase from $8 million in fiscal 2009 to $19.5 million next year, Middle East Newsline reported. The U.S. Navy maintains its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, regarded as the poorest of the six GCC states.
Oman would also see a significant increase in 2011. Officials said U.S. military aid would rise from $7 million in 2009 to $13 million in 2011.
U.S. military aid to Yemen would increase from $12.5 million in 2010 to $35 million in 2011. Officials said Yemen would receive a range of helicopters as well as special operations forces training.
Libya would see an increase in U.S. military assistance from $150,000 to $250,000 in 2011. Officials said the rise would enable U.S. military training of Libyan forces.
Morocco would receive a nearly three-fold aid increase from 2009. The North African kingdom would receive $9 million in U.S. military assistance in fiscal 2011, up from $3.6 million in 2009.
The U.S. military aid level for Egypt would remain at $1.3 billion in 2011. Israel would receive $3 billion, up from $2.775 billion in 2010.
The State Department recommended a reduction in U.S. military aid for Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia. Jordan would receive $300 million in 2011, down from $335 million in 2009.
U.S. military aid to Lebanon in 2011 was allocated at $100 million, down from $159.7 million in 2009. Officials said the administration and Congresswere concerned that U.S. weapons to Lebanon would end up with the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah.
The biggest proportional decrease in U.S. military aid was allocated for Tunisia. The administration has asked for $4.9 million in military aid to Tunis, a drop of more than $10 million since 2010.
But now the White House is saying these aid packages are under review, sans details for the moment (from the National Journal):
Before the last several weeks of protests, the Obama administration had been pushing to sell sophisticated arms to Arab allies in efforts to isolate Iran, which it considers the single greatest threat to the stability of the region. Analysts, according to the Journal, say that Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, and Jordan, could spend about $70 billion on defense in 2011 and could reach nearly $80 billion in 2015.
As a key example, the administration announced its plans to sell $60 billion in aircraft and other military hardware to Saudi Arabia in October to reinforce the partnership between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, a “stalwart” American ally for 70 years, Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs, said at the time.
“It will send a message to countries in the region that we’re willing to support our partners in the Middle East,” Shapiro had said.
In Bahrain, where an estimated 100,000 protesters called for the ouster of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, “there’s evidence now that abuses have occurred” in the government’s crackdown on protesters, a senior congressional aide told the newspaper. “The question is specifically which units committed those abuses and whether or not any of our assistance was used by them,” the aide is quoted as saying.
While decisions have not yet been made to change U.S. assistance to Bahrain, a senior Obama administration official told the Journal that “any Bahraini unit involvement in human-rights abuses would be a factor in the future as we contemplate support for specific units.”
While Lebanon has escaped mostly unscathed from the anti-government protests sweeping the region, U.S. military sales and foreign aid to the country will be reviewed as the situation progresses, a State Department official told reporters upon the release of the department’s 2012 budget proposal last week, since the country is now led by a Hezbollah-backed leader, a group the administration considers to be a terrorist organization.
First off, $80 Billion in weapons systems sales, mostly aircraft. The bulk of those sales will go to less than a half dozen countries, with the Israelis being the biggest recipient by far, followed by Saudi and then Egypt. That’s seriously big business.
Second, in terms of actual tax-payer funded aid, Israel sees yet another big boost, presumably so they can stock up on cluster munitions for their next misadventure.
Third, now that Egypt is edging towards a democracy, it would seem a good idea to cut their aid by at least half, if not a lot more, contingent on the founding of said democracy. This would give the Egyptian military some incentive to play nice with their own population and see an uptick in aid, once they’re under civilian control. I raise this issue because the current military proposal for a referendum on reforms seems aimed at least partially towards giving military rule some legitimacy.
Among critics of the Egyptian military’s referendum is Issandr El Amrani:
We are quickly headed to a time when the military will have solidified its legitimacy to the extent that it will be much harder to pressure. I wager (along with some smart observers I’ve discussed this with) that the turning point will come within two months if the referendum on constitutional amendments takes place as expected. Although the amendments may signal some great improvements, such as putting in term limits on the presidency, but will also deliver the interim military government a clear public mandate. You can expect millions of Egyptians voting overwhelmingly in favor of the amended constitution, delivering a clear sign of public support for the transition model chosen by the military. It will be difficult for opposition groups to then challenge the army, which can point to this popular mandate as the source of its legitimacy.
(The entire piece is worth a read, as is their entire site)
More broadly, however, looking at these numbers it’s difficult to be very sanguine about US positioning in that region. It will be most telling to see if there is any improvement in non-military aid to recently freed countries like Tunisia and Egypt. It would seem the US is sufficiently wedded to the worst of these regimes to the point of rather massive increases in military aid in many cases. I’m especially curious about the massive increases for Yemen and Bahrain. Neither of those countries have external threats to deal with, so it rather looks like the US has decided to really ramp up it’s support for oppression on a pretty massive scale in both countries, mealy-mouthed mumbo-jumbo about specific Bahraini units aside. Yemen does have a separatist population in the north, so that ramping up of aid will simply be used to put down any Yemenis that fall under the category of “troublemaker.” It seems pretty safe to say that particular massacre will not be televised in the US.
Lastly, I can’t wait to hear about how the US is promoting “peace” in the region by delivering $80 Billion in weapons to the region in just one year.