Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a mere 12 days into his presidency. Never had a recipient achieved so little to be lauded so much. Essentially it was a pre-emptive award given on the presumption Obama’s foreign policy record would eventually meet its promise.
In the six-years since becoming planet earth’s most recognised agent for world peace, Obama has failed to close Guantanamo Bay, which remains the symbol of the darkest chapter in modern US history; has assassinated US citizens around the globe sans due process; has suspended habeas corpus; has terrorised villagers in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere with the incessant buzzing sound of weaponised drones; armed Israel in the midst of its brutal and bloody invasion of Gaza, which left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead; toppled a government in Libya without so much as a consideration for what might come next; supported the toppling of a democratically elected government in Egypt, and, in turn, armed arguably the most brutal dictator in that country’s history; and has coordinated and guided Saudi Arabia’s terrorist activities in Yemen, which has left more than 4,000 Yemeni civilians dead.
It’s a record to behold with some awe, and it gets worse.
A newly released report reveals Obama is the greatest arms exporter since the Second World War. The dollar value of all major arms deals overseen by the first five years of the Obama White House now exceeds the amount overseen by the Bush White House in its full eight years in office by nearly $30bn.
Hail the chief
America’s arms-dealer-in-chief has flooded the most volatile corner of the world, the Middle East, with guns, bombs, fighter jets, tanks and missiles.
In an interview, William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Centre for International Policy, told Democracy Now he was “astonished that Obama had sold this much”. He added: “I mean, I knew there were record deals with the Saudis, but to outsell the eight years of Bush, to sell more than any president since World War II, was surprising even to me, who follows these things quite closely. The majority, 60 percent, have gone to the Persian Gulf and Middle East, and within that, the Saudis have been the largest recipient of things like US fighter planes, Apache attack helicopters, bombs, guns, almost an entire arsenal they’ve purchased just in the last few years.”
Hartung also points out that this breathtaking bundle of war tools not only makes its way to stable regimes and governments, but also to states on the verge of collapse, which ultimately means many of these arms end up in the hands of militia groups across the region, which results in an all too predictable conclusion: more death and chaos.
Investigative journalist Dr Nafeez Ahmed says that if you want to trace the origins of certain jihadist groups, all you need to do is “follow the money”. He notes: “Anyone can have bad, horrific, disgusting ideas. But they can only be fantasies unless we find a way to manifest them materially in the world around us.” US arms sales to failing states and non-state militias is providing those with “disgusting ideas” the material infrastructure to play out their fantasies.
In other words, the deluge of US arms into the region is making conflicts, rivalries, and unrest even more deadlier, and with the US having little idea whose hands much of this weaponry ends up in.
“We don’t know the full numbers, but in Iraq the security forces abandoned large amounts of the weaponry to ISIS. US-armed rebels in Syria, armed by the CIA, went over to join ISIS. There’s $500mn missing of weapons in Yemen. Some think it’s gone to the Houthis. Some think it’s gone to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” said Hartung. “Of course, there’s arms on both sides, because the government and the forces have split in this war. So it’s quite possible every side of that war in Yemen may have some level of US weaponry. So it’s really gone, you know, haywire. It’s sort of what I call the boomerang effect, when US arms end up in the hands of US adversaries.”
But what amounts to “haywire” for the Middle East amounts to massive profits for the US, and on that score no single entity is more profitable and more beneficial to America’s balance of trade than Saudi Arabia.
The Congressional Research Service found that since October 2010 alone, President Obama has agreed to sell $90.4bn in arms to the Gulf kingdom.
“That President Obama would so enthusiastically endorse arming such a brutal authoritarian government is unsurprising, since the United States is by far the leading arms dealer (with 47 percent of the world total) to what an annual State Department report classifies as the world’s “least democratically governed states,” notes Micah Zenko, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Obama has done little to promote democracy or bring an end to terror. When children in Gaza pick up unexploded ordinance, they see “Made in Bethesda, Maryland, USA.”
In 2008, the United Nations banned the use of cluster munitions - an agreement the US is yet to ratify. Why? Cluster bombs are the number one seller for Textron Systems Corporation – a Wall Street-listed company located in Providence, Rhode Island. For $38 per share, you can add the sale of cluster bombs to your stock portfolio.
In February of this year, the Obama administration announced it would allow the sale of US manufactured armed drones to its allies in the Middle East. According to the Teal Group, a research and analysis firm, the sale of drones is expected to double from $5bn to $11bn over the course of the next decade.
This means countries with horrific human rights records - regimes whose power is dependent on the repression of its people - will have access to the most brutally effective tool available for repression management. While the Obama administration insists the sale of drones will be made on a “case-by-case” basis, it’s laughable that the US gets to decide who gets these aerial killers given the US’s own use of drones often violates international law.
In fact, both a 2013 Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch report found that US drone strikes were killing far more civilians than the Obama White House was letting on, and these strikes were nearly always in violation of international law.
Furthermore, armed unmanned airborne vehicles have the potential to completely change the power dynamics in the Middle East. “The drone is the ultimate imperial weapon, allowing a superpower almost unlimited reach while keeping its own soldiers far from battle,” notes James Risen in Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Relentless War.
There isn’t a country in the Middle East that isn’t clamouring for the Predator drone. Obama, via US drone manufactures such as General Atomics, is making the dreams of some of the most oppressive regimes a reality. From Egypt to Saudi Arabia, from Syria to Iraq, the forthcoming flood of such advanced weaponry promises to produce effects we are yet to imagine. “An advance fleet of missile-carrying drones could, overnight, turn a group like Hezbollah into a legitimate military power,” forewarns Risen. “A drone programme for Hezbollah could alter the military dynamics along the Israel-Lebanon border.”
These end games are not imagined by the Obama administration, nor any other US administration past or future because profits supersede democracy, human rights and international law; thus greed promises the Middle East endless war, and the US military oligarchs endless profits. Obama, like his predecessors, has made sure of that.
- CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America, God Hates You. Hate Him Back, Koran Curious, and is the host of Foreign Object. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: President of the United States Barack Obama speaks during the 2015 Sustainable Development Summit, on 27 Sept 2015, at United Nations headquarters, New York.