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Is Trump ‘Selling’ Our Troops to Saudi Arabia?

Rep. Amash is right, we're a republic, not a cheap protection racket in a Scorsese film.

President Donald Trump poses for photos with ceremonial swordsmen on his arrival to Murabba Palace, as the guest of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, Saturday evening, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Congressman Justin Amash (I-Michigan) is seeing red over a comment President Trump made in an exclusive interview with Laura Ingraham on Fox News on Friday.

“We have a very good relationship with Saudi Arabia. I said, listen, you’re a very rich country. You want more troops? I’m going to send them to you, but you’ve got to pay us. They’re paying us. They’ve already deposited $1 billion in the bank,” Trump said.

What Trump was likely trying to convey, however inartfully, is that he is not letting America’s allies take advantage—if they want protection (which is exactly what the expanded U.S. defense presence in Saudi Arabia, announced back in November, is designed to be), then they will have to pay their fair share.

But Amash is right—our men and women are not mercenaries, bought and sold to the highest bidder, nor should they be considered as such. Furthermore, this is what today’s national security zeitgeist has wrought: the idea that Saudi Arabia is an ally (and the only backstop to Iran), so despite all of the billions the kingdom has in oil money, the United States is obligated to help defend it, at any cost (and you better believe, while the Saudis might be footing the bill, we’ll be paying on the back end by putting our people and interests further into harm’s way). Nevertheless, while the uptight denizens of the Blob might have articulated it differently, they likely wouldn’t disagree with the spirit of Trump’s words, nor the program that he was essentially talking about, as reported in The Washington Post two months ago:

Trump authorized a boost to the relatively light U.S. footprint in Saudi Arabia, from an advisory mission that stood around 800 to a force of about 3,000, following the Sept. 14 assault on Saudi oil facilities, which Saudi and U.S. officials said was launched by Iran in an major escalation of regional tensions.

The troops will operate additional assets designed to help the Saudi military guard against Iranian attacks, including four Patriot batteries, a terminal high altitude area defense system, or THAAD air defense system, and two squadrons of fighter jets. Financial responsibility for the deployment has taken on unusual visibility after Trump, who has criticized allies for not contributing enough to shared defense, promised the oil-rich kingdom would pay “100 percent of the cost.”

And the clincher:

Military officials say one important aspect of the deployment is the presence of American forces in more locations across the kingdom. They believe Iran has demonstrated its reluctance to target American personnel, either directly or indirectly, in part because Trump has made clear that would trigger a military response.

So our men and women are not only sent overseas to defend another country, but used as human shields, too?

Again, the difference here from years past is that Trump is taking a hard line, a transactionally hard line. But unfortunately he comes off like a mafia don extorting the hapless shopkeep on the corner. But that’s not our role, and the Saudi royal family is no hapless supplicant—they have plenty of money to splurge on their princes and have caused a lot of trouble in the region, throwing their weight around knowing Washington has had their backs. They might be crying austerity today, but the royal family lives in a kind of opulence the vast majority of the world only sees in Hollywood movies. But they can’t build or maintain a real army to save their lives. So they depend on outsourcing, and we’re the best game in town.

This has been said many times on these pages, but this is what George Washington meant by unhealthy passionate foreign attachments.  It is time to claw back from this toxic relationship, and the first place to start is to transform our current mission of  paternalistic “power projection” to one of “national defense.” Who cares what the House of Saud wants to buy—it’s not what the American taxpayer pays for, and amen to Amash for putting it in such bald terms.





about the author

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos is a contributing editor at TAC and co-host on the Empire Has No Clothes podcast. Follow her on Twitter @VlahosAtQuincy.

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