Raytheon shows the cost of cutting economic ties with Saudis

Ever since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey at the Saudi embassy (and the “worst cover-up in history”), people have been asking what the President plans to do about it. While some are discussing sanctions, others have called for more direct action, including canceling sales of military hardware to the Kingdom. Trump claims it could cost untold numbers of jobs and affect manufacturing. The Boston Globe looked at one specific area where we’d take a hit if those contracts are pulled and it’s located right in Massachusetts at Raytheon.

The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is heightening calls for the United States to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a controversy that could have big stakes for Waltham-based defense giant Raytheon. The company, which employs some 12,000 people in Massachusetts, counts the Middle Eastern power as a major client.

This has placed the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation in the position of choosing between human rights and local industry. And so far Raytheon’s Saudi business has found few defenders.

“I want our companies to make as much money as they possibly can, but I draw the line when it comes to a country that is responsible for this kind of horrific human rights atrocities,” said Representative Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat who this month proposed legislation that would end US military aid and sales to Saudi Arabia pending a State Department investigation of the Khashoggi killing. “This is not an isolated incident.”

First of all, if Raytheon loses those contracts they’re not going to go out of business. Nor does anyone seem to think that it would result in their Waltham facilities shutting down and laying off all their workers. They would definitely take a hit, however, and it could affect employment levels there. But Massachusetts Democrats are clearly ready to accept that fact as collateral damage in order to make a point.

But what point are they specifically making? Saudi Arabia is obviously a bad actor and can’t claim clean hands in any number of human rights abuses, ranging far beyond the murder of Khashoggi. And if that’s your standard for judging the awarding of defense contracts and exports, so be it. But I’m going admittedly engage in some whataboutism here for a moment because this case should be painfully obvious to the casual observer.

If you believe that this murder is a reason to cancel all deals with Saudi Arabia, can we assume that you also feel that all sales and trade deals with China should be immediately terminated? After all, their human rights record puts Saudi Arabia to shame. Shall we cancel our NASA programs involving the International Space Station because the Russians are giving our astronauts rides? (The Russians have been on a bit of a poisoning/murder spree lately themselves, in case you missed it.) And what about all the business we do with Turkey, the place where the murder took place? Erdogan is every bit as much of a thug as the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Perhaps even more at this point.

Or is this a case where Donald Trump is the one resisting canceling the sales deal and it’s politically convenient to demand an end to the contracts so you can criticize him for not taking Khashoggi’s murder seriously? If we want to call out the royal family in Saudi Arabia as human rights abusing monsters, have at it. No argument from me. But these demands for Trump to cancel the contracts also look a bit politically convenient.