August 9, 2010

Sale of F-15's to Saudi Arabia a start, but not the solution

The Obama Administration plans to sell 84 F-15 Eagle jet fighters to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the next ten years for a total of $30 billion. I am sure that is welcome news for Boeing Defense, Space and Security. The news didn't go over so well in Tel Aviv, but as with most of these arms sales to Arab nations, the Israelis were consulted beforehand. This sale does not include the most advanced avionics and weapons, allowing the United States to keep its commitment to help Israel preserve its qualitative edge in weaponry.

Much of the Israeli concern over the Saudis acquiring a fighter that made its U.S. Air Force debut over three decades ago is theatrical. The Israeli Air Force is set to acquire the new F-35 Lightning II fighter when it becomes available at about the same time the Saudi F-15's will be delivered. The F-35 is one of the most capable and sophisticated combat aircraft ever developed.

The announcements of the sale did not specify which version of the F-15 was to be sold, but if other statements such as "useful in the fighting in Yemen" are any indication, they are likely referring to the F-15S, the made-for-Saudi version of
F-15E Strike Eagle two-seat fighter bomber that has been very successful in U.S. Air Force service. Even with downgraded avionics and weapons, this buy would provide much-needed additional ground attack fighter bombers for the 72 F-15S Strike Eagles currently in the Royal Saudi Air Force inventory.

The sale follows other multi-billion dollar arms deals with Gulf Arab states. Earlier this year, the United Arab Emirates announced it was going buy both the Patriot air defense system as well as the new Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. Both represent a credible capability against the growing Iranian ballistic missile threat.

The Administration has said in the past that these arms sales, combined with increased deployments of American troops to the region are a counter to increased Iranian military power in the Gulf. The Gulf states, flush with cash from high oil prices over the last few years, have assessed that they need to provide some of their own defense in the face of growing Iranian military power and its obvious goal of becoming the primary power broker in the Gulf region. This is a direct result of what the Gulf Arabs see as the failure of American foreign policy towards Iran. (See my February piece,
U.S. arms sales and deployments to the Gulf - interesting timing and my May piece, Saudi frustrations with Obama's foreign policy failures.)

Beefing up the military capabilities of the Gulf Arab states is not a bad idea - I fully support it. I have served in all of these countries and their military forces generally work well with their American counterparts - the cooperation is especially strong in the air forces.

That said, I think we are treating the symptom - the threat from a nuclear armed Iran. We should be treating the problem - the continuing Iranian quest for a nuclear weapons capability. It sounds very similar but it is not. The Administration appears to be willing to deal with a nuclear armed Iran and is encouraging others in the area to do the same. What they should be doing is preventing the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

After eighteen months of floundering and hesitation, the Administration finally was able to get a weak sanctions protocol passed in the United Nations. The United States and its European allies passed additional sanctions which, ironically, have threatened their effectiveness. Russia, China and India, in a backlash to the enhanced sanctions, are making deals with the Iranians.

Here is the part I find hard to believe. Just when the sanctions were starting to have some slight effect, the Administration announced that it still wanted to sit down and talk to the Iranians. Yes, sit down with the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who just a day ago denied the Holocaust and said that the United States had overestimated the death toll of the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Mr President, Secretary Clinton, your outreach to the Iranians - misguided, in my opinion - has failed. They have rebuffed every attempt to have a serious dialog. At some point you have to admit that they do not want to talk to us - they are intent on developing a nuclear weapons capability. Any seeming willingness to talk or negotiate with you or the West is merely a tactic to delay sanctions or military action while they continue to enrich uranium.

IF you insist on talking to the Iranians, then do just that - talk TO them, not with them. Use small, easy to translate words (as a former interpreter, trust me, this is important). How about, "We will not allow you to have a nuclear weapon." There's no need to say much else - that's pretty self explanatory. Let them figure out the rest.

You might "inadvertently" drop a brochure describing the F-35 fighter as you leave....