The press is reporting that President Trump has a new idea which isn’t exactly “new” so much as a new spin on a proposal which has been kicking around for a while now. During his trip to the Middle East he will be rolling out plans for an “Arab NATO” which, in theory, would get the more moderate elements of Muslim nations to band together to fight terrorism and generally maintain the peace while providing a buffer against Iran and other, more radical regimes. Josh Rogin provides some of the few available details. (Washington Post)
When President Trump arrives in Riyadh this week, he will lay out his vision for a new regional security architecture White House officials call an “Arab NATO,” to guide the fight against terrorism and push back against Iran. As a cornerstone of the plan, Trump will also announce one of the largest arms-sales deals in history.
Behind the scenes, the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia have been conducting extensive negotiations, led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The discussions began shortly after the presidential election, when Mohammed, known in Washington as “MBS,” sent a delegation to meet with Kushner and other Trump officials at Trump Tower.
After years of disillusionment with the Obama administration, the Saudi leadership was eager to do business. “They were willing to make a bet on Trump and on America,” a senior White House official said.
It seems as if the prime mover and shaker in these discussions has been Saudi Arabia and they would be one of the early benefactors in the form of a “massive arms deal” with the United States. Nothing too surprising there, since the Saudis have been allies of convenience with us (for lack of a better term) for quite a while now. We’ve regularly engaged in such deals, up to and including selling them fighter jets on a regular basis. That military / economic relationship got a bit rocky under Barack Obama, including an announcement last year that we would be “limiting” some sales of military equipment to the Saudis in a rather half hearted protest of their military campaign in Yemen. Sounds like all has been forgiven and forgotten now.
But as the Post notes, plans like this have been attempted before. Egypt tried to get something similar going a few years ago but the deal quickly fell apart as the proposed member nations began squabbling with each other. The missing element may have been the cooperation and full support of the United States. Who knows? Perhaps the rise of ISIS might have some of them taking it more seriously.
But it’s not going to be a coalition of all the nations in the region, obviously. Most likely it will just be the ones with Sunni majorities. The more Shiite oriented countries (e.g. Iran and Pakistan) probably wouldn’t feel particularly welcome. That makes the situation with Iraq even more complicated, since their own Shiite population has had the nation leaning more and more toward Iran ever since we pulled out.
But hey… can’t hurt to try, I suppose. Trump has so many pots boiling over on the stove back home right now that he could use anything that looks like a win on the foreign policy front to take some of the pressure off. But for this to be more than a paper tiger with a new arms deal tossed in will require some pretty skillful diplomacy. Getting any two of those nations to cooperate very long on anything other than oil production quotas is akin to herding cats. Best of luck, Mr. President.