The first prime-time Republican primary debate of 2015 was an eye-opener of sorts when it came to the Middle East. After forcefully advocating for the termination of the pending nuclear deal with Iran, for example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker unleashed an almost indecipherable torrent of words. “This is not just bad with Iran,” he insisted, “this is bad with ISIS. It is tied together, and, once and for all, we need a leader who’s gonna stand up and do something about it.” That prescription, as vague as it was incoherent, was par for the course.
When asked how he would respond to reports that Iranian Qods Force commander Major General Qassem Soleimani had recently traveled to Russia in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, GOP billionaire frontrunner Donald Trump responded, “I would be so different from what you have right now. Like, the polar opposite.” He then meandered into a screed about trading Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl for “five of the big, great killers leaders” of Afghanistan’s Taliban, but never offered the slightest hint that he had a clue who General Soleimani was or what he would actually do that would be “so different.” Questioned about the legacy of American soldiers killed in his brother’s war in Iraq, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush replied in a similarly incoherent fashion: “To honor the people that died, we need to — we need to stop the Iran agreement,” and then pledged to annihilate ISIS as well. Senator Ted Cruz seemed to believe that merely intoning the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” opened a surefire path to rapidly defeating ISIS — that, and his proposed Expatriate Terrorist Act that would stop Americans who join ISIS from using their “passport to come back and wage jihad on Americans.” Game, set, match, ISIS.
Of the 10 candidates on that stage, only Senator Rand Paul departed from faith-based reality by observing that “ISIS rides around in a billion dollars’ worth of U.S. Humvees.” He continued, “It’s a disgrace. We’ve got to stop — we shouldn’t fund our enemies, for goodness sakes.” On a stage filled by Republicans in a lather about nonexistent weaponry in the Middle East — namely, an Iranian A-bomb — only Paul drew attention to weaponry that does exist, much of it American. Though no viewer would know it from that night’s debate, all across the region — from Yemen to Syria to Iraq — U.S. arms are fueling conflicts and turning the living into the dead. Military spending in the Middle East reached almost $200 billion in 2014, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks arms sales. That represents a jump of 57% since 2005. Some of the largest increases have been among U.S. allies buying big-ticket items from American weapons makers. That includes Iraq and Saudi Arabia ($90 billion in U.S. weapons deals from October 2010 to October 2014), which, by the way, haven’t fared so well against smaller, less well-armed opponents. Those countries have seen increases in their arms purchases of 286% and 112%, respectively, since 2005.
With the United States feeding the fires of war and many in its political class frothing about nonexistent nukes, leave it to the indomitable Noam Chomsky, a TomDispatch regular and institute professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to cut to the quick when it comes to Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United States, the regional balance of power, and arms (real or imagined). He wades through the spin and speechifying to offer a frank assessment of threats in the Middle East that you’re unlikely to hear about in any U.S. presidential debate between now and the end of time.