How the Arms Industry Perpetuate War and Undermine Security and Democracy (3/5)
In part three, Andrew Feinstein discusses how US weapons and allies like Saudi Arabia have fueled conflicts in Syria, Yemen and across the Middle East
MAN: It’s the disease of permanent war that destroyed the Middle East, not Islamic fundamentalism.
MAN: Companies that not only sort of part of the government but they’re effectively above the law.
MAN: It’s okay to kill from a distance without a warrant, without a trial, without a jury and the execution takes place on screen.
CHRIS HEDGES: Once you start a war, you open a kind of Pandora’s Box. You don’t control it, it controls you. And it propels you in directions you never thought you’d go.
JAISAL NOOR: That was a clip of Chris Hedges and others speaking about how war perpetuates itself and, specifically, the impact in the Middle East. We’re seeing the conflict in Syria just raging on and what’s not often talked about is how the US and its Gulf allies, along with Russia and Iran, are some of the outside actors that are fueling the conflict through weapons and sending in militias. Talk a little bit about Syria in the context of your film.
ANDREW FEINSTEIN: I think we should talk about Syria and Yemen because Syria has quite correctly been covered a great deal in the media. But I think the reason it’s been covered so much in the media is because there’s this attempt to make it “the bad guys versus the good guys”. So the Russians are on the side of the Assad regime against the good guys, the people that we are supporting.
What is actually happening in Syria is that we are seeing the inevitable consequence of the constant, constant pouring of weapons into the Middle East, by the United States of America, amongst others, by Russia, by a lot of Western European governments — and we honestly think that this is going to solve the problem. When, in fact, what it is doing is making the conflict more brutal, more deadly and more devastating for literally millions and millions of people. So to apportion blame, I think, is the wrong approach. The right approach is to say, “How do we get the weapons out of the Middle East. How do we de-militarize perhaps the most volatile and febrile region in the world?”
And what the United States and allied countries are doing at the moment, without learning anything from history, because the one thing that history teaches us is that if we’re selling weapons to all sorts of people, there is inevitably going to be what is called blowback. Those weapons are going to land up being trained on us ultimately.
Now, the ultimate example of that was obviously the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, where the United States of America provided billions of dollars of weaponry and money to the mujahedeen. The mujahedeen then laid the basis for the formation of the Taliban and, to some extent, al-Qaeda. So that when the tragedy of 9/11 happened, a Congressman, Charlie Wilson, who had been central to the provision of weaponry and money to the mujahedeen, actually watched with what was unfolding on television in New York and watched from his own balcony as a plane crashed into the Pentagon. And he said to himself, “Oh shit! Those are my muj.” In other words, the mujahedeen that American had been weaponizing and funding.
Now, in Syria, we’re doing exactly the same thing. We are arming various groups believing that they are supportive of us and going to fight those we regard as our enemies. But every few months, on the basis of new and different intelligence, we land up realizing that the people we’ve just weaponized and given money to, are actually militant extremists and are not the sort of people that we should be in bed with.
So we have the absurd situation where, in Syria, there is some groups who we’re actually funding and enabling to fight in Syria — and not very far away in Yemen, we’re fighting those exact same groups who we are weaponizing in Syria. And we hear very little about the Yemeni conflict. Because what is happening there is that Saudi Arabia with a coalition, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, since March of 2015, has been bombing Yemen, resulting in the deaths of at least 4,000 civilians and they’ve been doing that exclusively with American and British jet fighters and bombs and missiles. And they have incontrovertibly contravened International Human Rights Law, the rules of war, the International Arms Trade Treaty and countless other laws and agreements, nationally and internationally. But we hear far less about that situation because of our own role in it.
JAISAL NOOR: And can you talk a little bit about the power of Saudi Arabia? In your film, which I encourage everyone to watch, you talk about the episode where Prince Bandar actually went to London to demand Tony Blair drop an investigation into weapons deal corruption that the British government was carrying out. And he actually threatened blood on the streets of London if that investigation wasn’t dropped.
ANDREW FEINSTEIN: So, Ronald Reagan was unable to get a massive arms deal to Saudi Arabia through Congress. Because, in the ’80s, congress feared that arming Saudi Arabia would threaten Israel. So he effectively handed the deal over to his political soul mate, Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Britain at the time. Bandar made clear to Thatcher that if she wanted to do business with the Saudis, she was going to have to accept that there were going to bribes. Six billion British pounds of bribes were paid on this deal of 43 billion pounds — including just over a billion pounds to Prince Bandar himself. Bandar, at the time, was not only the son of the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia, he was also the Saudi Ambassador to the United States of America. US authorities were completely uninterested in these bribes until the point came when they realized that some of the money had flown into Bandar’s accounts — at what was then called Riggs Bank, just opposite the White House in Pennsylvania Avenue — through the accounts of his wife in Riggs Bank, and, inadvertently landed up in the accounts of two of the 9/11 hijackers.
It was only at that point that the Department of Justice and the State Department got interested in these ridiculous bribes. Margaret Thatcher’s own son, by the way, was paid 12 million pounds on that deal. And that deal, more than any other, shows both the nature of the global arms trade — but also the fact that Saudi Arabia, this remarkably oil-rich kingdom holds the United States, the United Kingdom and Western European governments effectively to ransom. It buys billions of dollars of weapons from all of us but could never utilize those weapons on its own, it just doesn’t have the personnel to. So, it’s entirely dependent on us to defend itself, but at the same time, is seen by some people to actually be at, one level, sympathetic to a lot of the extremist Islamism that emanates from within its borders, from Saudi Arabia.
So the fact that the Saudi government continues to finance and have relations with some of the groupings who our government’s regard as extreme and highly dangerous, seems to be put to one side. The fact that Saudi Arabia is one of the greatest abusers of human rights in the world. That, in fact, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which doesn’t allow women to drive or to vote, beheads more people every year than al-Qaeda, than ISIS, than all those groupings combined. But because they’re supposed to be our ally, we sell them tens of billions of dollars of weaponry, and we close our eyes to the ways in which they use that weaponry.
And, of course, there’s corruption doing the rounds in every direction. So it’s not only the Saudis are benefitted, but it’s all the intermediaries, it’s all the middle men, the arms dealers, if you will — it’s all of the executives at the big defense contractors who are benefitting from these deals. And this is the absurdity of the global arms trade. So not only is it undermining our democracies, it’s even undermining the very security and defense that it is supposed to be bolstering — and therein lies its absurdity.