What is Trump really up to? It’s almost unknowable. At the same time that the president was pulling (some) troops out of Northeast Syria, giving an antiwar speech, and then sending other troops back into Syria to “secure the oil,” he also quietly sent another 1800 service members into Saudi Arabia. What little Trump did say about it consisted of a peculiar defense of his actions. Faced with the obvious question from a reporter: “Mr. President, why are you sending more troops to Saudi Arabia when you just said it’s a mistake to be in the Middle East?” Trump argued that there was no contradiction in his policy because, well, the Saudis “buy hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of merchandise from us,” and have “agreed to pay us for everything we’re doing to help them.” It seems the U.S. military is going full mercenary in the Gulf.
While I’ve noted that Trump’s recent antiwar remarks were profound – though largely unfulfilled – these words will amount to nothing if followed by a military buildup in Saudi Arabia that leads to a new, far more bloody and destabilizing, war with Iran. Nothing would please the “three Bs” – Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, and former National Security Adviser John Bolton – more than a US military strike on the Islamic Republic, cost and consequences be damned.
It’s just that an Iran war isn’t the only risk associated with basing majority-Christian, foreign American troops in the land of Islam’s two holiest cities. And a brief historical review of US presence in Saudi Arabia demonstrates quite clearly the potential transnational terrorist “blowback” of Washington’s basing decisions. In fact, Trump’s latest deployment constitutes at least the third time the US military has been stationed on the Arabian peninsula.
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