Pope Francis Challenges Congress to Halt the Arms Trade
September 27, 2015
Phyllis Bennis / AntiWar.com & Anthony Newkirk / Foreign Policy in Focus & Barbara Opall-Rome / Defense News
Pope Francis' address to Congress was almost certainly not what congressional leaders had in mind when they invited the pope to speak. But here was the "People's Pope," calling out war profiteers and demanding an end to the arms trade. Just as simple and as powerful as that. Pope Francis ha earlier called the arms trade the "industry of death." Military economies "live off wars! . . . This is why so many people do not want peace. They make more money with the war!"
Standing Before Congress, Pope Francis Calls Out the 'Industry of Death'
Phyllis Bennis / AntiWar.com
(September 25, 2015) -- Pope Francis' address to Congress was almost certainly not what John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, and other congressional leaders had in mind when they invited the pope to speak.
It probably wasn't what they were all thinking about during the last standing ovations. But here was Pope Francis, revered as the People's Pope, calling out war profiteers and demanding an end to the arms trade. Just as simple and as powerful as that.
It came near the end of his speech -- after his calls to protect the rights of immigrants and refugees, end the death penalty, preserve the planet from the ravages of climate change, and defend the poor and dispossessed.
"Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world," the pope said. Then he asked the critical question: "Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society?"
He answered it himself: "Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade."
Stop the arms trade. What a simple, clear call.
That means the ending things like the the US made a few years back with Saudi Arabia, where those weapons are, in the pope's words, "inflicting untold suffering on individuals and society," especially in Syria and Yemen.
It means ending things like the $45 billion in new military aid -- mostly in the form of advanced new weapons -- the Israeli government has requested from Washington between now and 2028.
It means ending the provision of new arms to scores of unaccountable militias in Syria, where even the White House admits a nonmilitary solution is needed.
And it means ending things like the huge campaign donations from arms manufacturers, and so many of whom refuse to vote against military procurement because often just a few dozen jobs connected to it might be in their district -- really should have expected the pope to say exactly what he did.
It was only last May, after all, that Pope Francis told a group of schoolchildren visiting the Vatican that the arms trade is the "industry of death." When a kid asked why so many powerful people don't want peace, the pope answered simply, "because they live off wars!"
Francis explained how people become rich by producing and selling weapons. "And this is why so many people do not want peace. They make more money with the war!"
The pope's speech to Congress was quite extraordinary on a number of fronts.
His clear call to end the death penalty was the only example he gave of protecting the sanctity of life: Even amid a raging congressional debate over Planned Parenthood, he never mentioned abortion.
He invoked the golden rule as the basis for responding to refugee crises, calling for leaders to respond "in a way which is always humane, just, and fraternal" and reminding his audience that "so many of you are also descended from immigrants." He added, "We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome."
Francis also reasserted the need for "courageous actions and strategies" on reversing "environmental deterioration caused by human activity." And crucially, he linked those strategies to include "combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature."
It was all pretty amazing.
However, one might have hoped for a stronger defense of indigenous rights, especially in the wake of his canonization of Junipero Serra -- a Spanish missionary who provided religious cover to some of the worst colonialist atrocities against indigenous people in what is now California.
The pope did recognize that "tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected," but hedged that while "those first contacts were often turbulent and violent," it's "difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present."
That was disappointing -- especially for a pope who's gone to great lengths to condemn the "new colonialism" of exploitative economic policies toward the Global South. Perhaps in response to the Native critics of the sainthood announcement, he added that "we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past."
But on issues of war and peace, Francis was unambiguous. He didn't speak about only ending the arms trade. He also referred, albeit obliquely, to Washington's war on terror and why it's failing. "We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within," he observed. "To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place."
Then, perhaps thinking of the tens of thousands of people cheering the pope outside the Capitol walls -- rather than the powerful war-makers in the chamber in front of him -- he acknowledged "that is something which you, as a people, reject."
That's not even close to true today. But it certainly gives us something to work on. Boy do we have a lot of work to do.
Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and author of the forthcoming Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer. Manuel Perez-Rocha is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy In Focus.
Tracking the Saudi Arms Deal
Washington is gearing up for a historic arms sale to Riyadh. So why is it so hard to learn the details of the deal?
Anthony Newkirk / Foreign Policy in Focus
(July 1, 2011) -- On May 19, President Barack Obama said that "extraordinary change" is sweeping the Middle East. But the president's silence about signs of counter-revolution in the Middle East is deeply disturbing. This silence comes not just from the White House but also from the Republican and Democratic leaderships in Congress, and the mass media. There is a particularly deafening silence about the arms deal negotiated with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last year.
On October 20 2010, after months of talks, the Obama administration announced its intention to authorize over $60 billion in "foreign military sales" by several US arms contractors to Saudi Arabia over 15 years, pending congressional approval.
Besides upgrading Saudi F-15S fighters, the proposal foresees approving sales of small arms, missile launchers, and detection equipment plus 84 F-15SA aircraft, 190 military helicopters, 12,667 missiles, and 18,350 bombs. This inventory included 1,000 Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits, satellite-guided devices that turn dumb bombs into smart bombs.
The possession of JDAM technology by the Saudi Royal Air Force could weaken Israel's "qualitative military edge" in the Middle East.
Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro said that the agreement signals that the United States will help Riyadh "deter and defend against threats on its borders and to its oil infrastructure." Without referring to the JDAM kits, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Alexander Vershbow argued that the proposed deal would not threaten Israeli military dominance.
Curiously, the Israelis raised no objections. Furthermore, except for one inquiry, no resolution opposing the sale was introduced in Congress within the 30 days mandated by the 1976 Arms Control Export Act.
Where's the Money?
Getting information about the Saudi arms deal is not easy. The House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) that oversees "defense trade," and the office of former Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY), a noted congressional critic of Saudi Arabia, all declined to comment.
But the Wall Street Journal reports that the "$60 billion Saudi deal for F-15 fighters has already cleared Congress but prospective sales of naval ships and missile-defense systems to Saudi Arabia and other regional partners have yet to be completed and could run into congressional hurdles."
The few references to the Saudi arms deal made by US government officials in public have been ambiguous. On May 3, Andrew Shapiro admitted in a speech given to the Defense Trade Advisory Group at the State Department that policymakers must account for the changing "geopolitical landscape" in the Middle East. But he added that the administration "remain[s] committed to Gulf security, which was borne out last year when we signed the largest defense trade deal in history with Saudi Arabia."
In testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 12, Principle Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said that planned transactions with Middle Eastern nations have been "put on pause, put on hold." He offered to discuss these transactions in "closed session."
Miller's statement comes amid a series of mixed signals. In April, Reuters had already reported that Riyadh was asking the Navy for price quotes for warships equipped with ballistic missile defense systems — a claim the Navy neither confirmed nor denied (Shapiro also refused to comment on this in October).
In fact, the same day Miller appeared on Capitol Hill, the DSCA announced a possible sale of night vision equipment for about $330 million. On June 13, the agency announced a possible sale of 14 artillery pieces, 132 armored vehicles, 404 cluster bombs, and support equipment for approximately $968 million.
A Close Relationship
In 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked that Americans "do a lot of military business and sell a lot of weapon systems to a number of countries in the Middle East and the Gulf." Although Saudi Arabia is not the only Persian Gulf power that purchases weapons from various foreign sources, it has been a steady recipient of US military aid over the past six decades.
Based on Pentagon records obtained by investigative journalist Nick Turse in 2009, the Kingdom got $295 million in US military aid from 1946 to 2007 and bought nearly $80 billion of military equipment and construction services from 1950 to 2006. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that Riyadh was the largest weapons importer in the region between 1990 and 2009.
Despite a near-pervasive lack of transparency, the current status of arms negotiations with the Saudis makes sense in terms of the records of security arrangements between Washington and the Gulf monarchies.
The long-term goal of what the George W. Bush administration dubbed the "Gulf Security Dialogue" in 2006 is to integrate the Gulf Cooperation Council and the "GCC+3" (Egypt, Iraq, and Jordan) into a defense system aligned against Iran. Israel is also to play a role in perpetuating US dominance in the Middle East.
This ambition may not pan out for many reasons, not the least being the fact that Gulf rulers are torn between hostility against Iran and wanting to continue enjoying good trade relations with it, as confirmed by US diplomatic cables published in the Guardian in November 2010.
In 2007, the Bush administration announced a $63 billion arms package for US allies in the Middle East. Congress okayed the share for Israel and Egypt, which was $30 billion and $13 billion, respectively, over a 10-year period.
However, lawmakers balked at $20 billion for the GCC because 900 JDAM kits for Saudi Arabia were tucked away in the administration's proposal. As a compromise, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirate (UAE) were allowed to purchase "defensive weapons" for about $11.42 billion.
Leading Up to the Arab Spring
Events in the region, such as Saudi air strikes against Houthi tribal insurgents in northern Yemen in late 2009, may also have persuaded Washington to push ahead with the arms deal to Riyadh.
Claims that Washington was ignorant of the air strikes are open to question, as according to a now-disclosed cable from the US embassy in Riyadh in early 2010, Saudi Assistant Minister of Defense and Aviation Prince Khaled bin Sultan admitted that his country's warplanes did indeed kill Yemeni civilians.
Or more recent Saudi moves in strife-torn Bahrain near the strategic Saudi Eastern Province may have also contributed. In March, at least 1,000 Saudi troops intervened in Bahrain to help its ruler suppress domestic protests (martial law officially ended on June 1 but the Saudi military presence continues, as do human rights violations and the suppression of the political opposition).
Washington's response to events in Bahrain has been minimal, aside from expressions of concern. Bahrain, after all, hosts the US Fifth Fleet, the naval headquarters of US Central Command, and a new Marine Expeditionary Brigade headquarters for the Middle East and Africa.
US citizens should demand an accounting of the "pending" Saudi arms deals from their congressional representatives. Citizen pressure can help to dispel the fog of secrecy or at least raise public awareness of the fundamentally undemocratic nature of "defense trade" and how it uses tax dollars to subsidize the dealings of weapons corporations. It could also save lives in places like Yemen and Bahrain.
Anthony Newkirk, a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus, teaches history at Philander Smith College.
Israel Seeks Surge in US Security Support
Barbara Opall-Rome / Defense News
TEL AVIV, Israel (May 24, 2015) -- Israel is seeking a hefty surge in annual security assistance from Washington and has begun preliminary talks with the US administration on a long-term package that would provide up to $45 billion in grant aid through 2028.
In recent months, working-level bilateral groups have begun to assess Israel's projected security needs in the context of a new 10-year foreign military financing (FMF) deal that will kick in once the current agreement expires in 2017.
Under the existing, $30 billion agreement signed in 2007, annual FMF grant aid to Israel grew from $2.4 billion to $3.1 billion minus, in recent years, rescissions of some $155 million due to a government mandated sequester.
Under the follow-on package, endorsed in principle by US President Barack Obama during a March 2013 visit to Tel Aviv, Israel wants "$4.2 billion to $4.5 billion" in annual FMF aid, a security source here said.
That's on top of steadily increasing amounts of US war stocks prepositioned here and available for Israel's emergency use, and nearly $500 million in annual funding for cooperative anti-rocket and missile defense programs in recent years.
US materiel prepositioned in Israel is valued at $1.2 billion. And just last week, the House Appropriations' Defense subcommittee's draft of the 2016 defense appropriations bill included $487.5 million in funding for various US-Israel active defense programs.
Meanwhile, the 2016 defense authorization bill approved by the House on May 19 calls for cooperation to develop an anti-tunneling defense system to deal with the subterranean threat.
In interviews, US and Israeli experts insisted that embryonic talks toward a new 10-year FMF deal are separate from any prospective compensation package the Obama administration may offer Israel in the event that the US and other world powers sign a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.
Similarly, the FMF package through 2028 would not be connected to any potential security enhancements Washington may be prepared to offer in the event that Israel would agree to a two-state peace deal with the Palestinian Authority.
Last week, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that the two sides have begun "preliminary, unofficial contacts regarding special American military aid" to compensate for threats from Iran or potential erosion of its qualitative military edge due to major new arms sales planned for Gulf Cooperation Council members.
"We are always in constant relations with the United States," retired Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, director of political-military affairs at the Israeli Defense Ministry, told i24 cable news network last week.
But ongoing talks, he said, "are not vis-a-vis the coming agreement" with Iran, about which "our position is well known."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his opposition to the emerging agreement with Iran in a May 20 meeting with Federica Mogherini, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.
"If we want to know what will happen with Iran as a result of this deal, just look at what happened with North Korea as a result of that deal. Despite the inspections and despite the commitments, North Korea became a nuclear power. ... I think the international community is about to make the same mistake," Netanyahu said.
With Washington investing billions each year in troops and treasure to preserve its interests in the Middle East, Israelis and their US supporters on Capitol Hill argue that Israel is the bedrock of democratic, pro-American stability in a region roiling from unprecedented turmoil.
But given the multiplicity of increasingly sophisticated threats at its borders and beyond, Howard Kohr, chief executive officer of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), estimates that Israel may have to spend $160 billion on defense in the decade to come.
That would represent a significant increase from recent years for a budget-constrained nation that is already spending more as a percentage of gross domestic product -- some 6 percent -- than any other nation in the industrialized world, he said.
"Israel has always fought its own battles and has never asked American troops to fight on its behalf. Instead, it has requested US assistance to supplement the tremendous resources Israel already invests in its defense budget," said Kohr in testimony last month before the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations.
Kohr noted that Israeli defense spending coincides with "accelerated military investment fueled by the oil revenues of Israel's Arab neighbors," while Iran's military spending has almost doubled over the past decade, despite economic sanctions.
"The military hardware, including American-built advanced fighter aircraft, vertical takeoff aircraft, naval vessels and armored troop carriers, that Israel must acquire over the next decade to maintain its [legislatively mandated qualitative military edge] is far more sophisticated and expensive than previous Israeli purchases from the United States," he said.
Whereas F-16Is purchased under the existing FMF agreement cost some $45 million each, additional F-35s that Israel hopes to purchase later in the decade will cost more than three times that amount, the head of the premier pro-Israel lobby group said.
In parallel, Kohr said, "new realities of the rapidly changing Middle East have also led to many unexpected costs for Israel, including the need to build a $360 million barrier along Israel's southern border with Egypt and a similar, more modern one at its northern border with Syria."
Finally, Kohr emphasized that all but 26 percent of every dollar invested in Israeli FMF is spent in the United States on US-made defense goods and services that support the US economy.
"AIPAC strongly believes that the broader US foreign aid budget, which includes security assistance to Israel — nearly 75 percent of which comes right back to the United States through the purchase of US-made aircraft and other equipment — is an essential component of America's national security strategy."
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