US arms sales to Saudi Arabia give Washington extensive leverage on Riyadh, while accounting for fewer than 20,000 US jobs a year – less than a twentieth of the employment boost Donald Trump has claimed – according to a new report.
Trump has repeatedly cited the importance of Saudi arms sales to the US economy as a reason not to cut the supply of weapons in response to the murder of the Saudi writer and Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi.
The president has frequently estimated the total extent of defence sales to the Saudi regime at $110bn, and variously said they would generate 450,000, 500,000 or 600,000 jobs.
According to a report by the Centre for International Policy think tank in Washington, those figures are hugely inflated. The report, US military support for Saudi Arabia and the War in Yemen, argues that Saudi Arabia needs the US far more than the other way round, and the administration is underplaying its hand, if it wants to rein in Riyadh in Yemen – or punish the monarchy for Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Observers of the Trump White House argue that there are other factors in play behind Trump’s staunch defence of the Saudi monarchy, and the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, in particular.
Saudi support is critical to the administration’s priority in the Middle East, exerting extreme pressure on Iran in the wake of Trump’s scrapping of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
There is also a personal financial motive. Saudi block bookings have helped boost otherwise flagging revenues at the Trump’s hotel in New York.
The actual value of US arms sales to Riyadh since Trump took office is $14.5bn, the report says.
Even that figure refers to “letters of offer and acceptance” for new weaponry and support equipment, which is just one step in a longer process involved in arms transactions.
It does not represent actual signed contracts. All of the major sales in the pipeline were initiated by the Obama administration, which was seeking to appease Saudi Arabia to counter-balance the Iran nuclear deal.