In 2017, US President Donald Trump’s new administration found itself in a quandary. Should it continue providing weapons for use in Saudi Arabia’s murderous war in Yemen that had been raging for two years? In June 2017, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unexpectedly declared neighboring Qatar an enemy and imposed a blockade. It even threatened to topple its government and shut down its prestigious news outlet, Al Jazeera.
Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saw the threat against Qatar as a justification for withholding congressional approval of new sales of weapons to the Saudi kingdom. In an article reviewing the history of two administrations’ support of the Saudi-led war, The New York Times describes Corker’s challenge to the Trump administration in 2017 as “a moment that might have stopped the slaughter.”
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The authors of the article, Michael LaForgia and Walt Bogdanich, recount the reaction of “one of the president’s favored aides, the combative trade adviser Peter Navarro.” Corker’s gambit was doomed to fail. “Mr. Navarro, after consulting with American arms makers, wrote a memo to Jared Kushner and other top White House officials calling for an intervention, possibly by Mr. Trump himself. He titled it ‘Trump Mideast arms sales deal in extreme jeopardy, job losses imminent.’”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The inevitable and unthinkable outcome of any decision that calls into question the maintenance of economic activities revealed to be destructive, immoral, socially reprehensible or generally opposed to the interests of humanity
Navarro is better known for his ongoing mission of cheerleader for a new cold war against China, who he claims caused the coronavirus pandemic and “basically unleashed trillions of dollars of damage on this world.” This message is best understood as a talking point in Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign, squarely focused on demonizing China. But it is perfectly consistent with the view shared by Navarro and Trump that foreign policy consists of little more than competing in the marketplace for manufactured goods.
The world has known different types and styles of economy, which can be defined as the purely material side of any human culture, which includes much more than material exchange. The idea of culture applies to any system that permits people to participate in social exchange and interact with other producers and consumers not only of goods and services but also creative thought.
Our current economic system allows a small minority, the wealthy, to amass the wealth that will enable them to offer jobs to the non-wealthy. The idea of offering jobs has become the key to justifying the monopolization of wealth. The poor depend absolutely on the availability of jobs. For that reason, when the wealthy and powerful consider the question of “job losses,” their concern is less with the pain it produces for those who lose their jobs than fears concerning the stability of a system that thrives on a relationship of dependence.
The compelling logic of the economy is only superficially about capital, investment and the resulting productivity due to the supposed natural efficiency of free markets. At a deeper psychological level, the economy is designed to create a dependence of the majority — in quest of jobs — on the initiatives and decisions of the minority, who establish their image of benevolence by offering jobs. In reality, enterprises never seek to create jobs. They are more likely inclined to suppress them in the name of efficiency and profitability since human labor is more costly than mechanical labor. Politicians, on the other hand, need jobs to prevent the eventual revolt of the jobless.
In today’s economy, governments measure their success by two factors: the health of enterprises, presumably reflected in the performance of the stock market, and the rate of employment. From the political point of view, all jobs are equal — however well or poorly paid, however satisfying for the ego or risky for the body and mind, however moral or immoral in their impact — because they appear as a cumulative number in a binary system where people either have a job or don’t.
Because jobs contribute to a vital statistic, politicians see any event that eliminates jobs as inherently bad. That is why the defense and energy industries have become so massive and influential in politics. Jobs that contribute to massacring civilian populations, upsetting entire economies or destroying the health of the planet retain their fundamental value as indicators of success. For Navarro, applying abstract ethical considerations such as invoking “thou shalt not kill” to preclude arms sales, if it entails job losses, simply makes no sense.
The article in The New York Times provides a fascinating account of how the policy of weapon sales to Saudi Arabia has evolved under Barack Obama and Donald Trump in the past five years. Although alluding in one instance to Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 warning about the growth and impending threat of the military-industrial complex, the article neglects the long-term historical trends that give a fuller perspective on what the authors present as the tragic decisions that allowed the war in Yemen to develop and continue to the present.
The article recounts a critical incident in late March 2015 when the Saudis were preparing to invade Yemen. They refer to it as “‘the five minutes to midnight’ call.” Claiming that they had no time to reflect, the Obama administration “advisers recommended a high-risk plan to support a country with billions of dollars in American weapons but little experience in using them.” The decision was taken, according to the authors, “despite [Obama’s] misgivings.” President Obama could not possibly imagine what would happen next: “The arms industry would later seize on the ambiguity to sell the Saudis billions of dollars in both offensive and defensive weapons.”
Anyone who understands the reasoning of The Times will recognize the logic here. The evil President Trump discounts ethics to boost his economy while shamelessly supporting bellicose regimes intent on crimes against humanity. The authors remark “that foreign military sales, facilitated by the U.S. government, rose sharply after Mr. Trump became president.” They quote an analyst who states: “This White House has been more open to defense industry executives than any other in living memory.”
In contrast, readers are invited to believe Obama’s foreign policy was guided by moral principles, though he sometimes became the unwitting victim of the wiles of the arms manufacturers. Rather than blame Obama for complicity in Saudi Arabia’s bellicosity, they dismiss the US commitment as simply “a hasty decision to back the Saudis.”
Overall, the article reveals Eisenhower’s deeper understanding of historical trends. If it was already a threat back in 1961, the military-industrial complex is now a monster on steroids. Every administration has contributed to its growth. In the 1990s, the Clinton administration could have profited from the implosion of the Soviet Union to reduce its capacity. It made no attempt to do so.
Can we really believe the authors’ implicit message that only Republican presidents are complicit in the Saudi-led war in Yemen? They admit that despite evidence of rising civilian casualties in the ensuing months, “the Obama White House chose not to aggressively rein in the Saudis.”
The article reads like a moral tale about a president with good intentions trapped in an evil world. “People make miscalculations all the time,” one former Obama official explained. “But … it wasn’t just that we embarked on this escapade — it’s that we didn’t pull ourselves out of it.” Then comes the real tragedy, according to The Times: “And yet we found ourselves locked into this terrible situation, unable to wrap it up, and handing it off to an administration that was going to handle it even worse than we did.”
That’s the message for this election year. It’s always a choice between two evils. The lesser one (Democrats) blunders into tragedy. The greater one (Republicans) prolongs and aggravates the tragic situation created by the lesser one.
But that has been the same story for six decades. In Hollywood, they call it “good cop, bad cop.” In wrestling, they call it a tag team. And all in the name of avoiding job losses.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.