Phillipian Commentary: Saudi Arabia can Handle Iran

The United States military is something that finds its way into all of our lives. 15 percent of U.S. tax dollars fund the military and 1.4 million Americans currently serve. Most recently, the military appeared in the news when President Trump deployed additional U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia in response to Iran-backed drone strikes on Saudi oil fields. As these facilities represent half of Saudi Arabian oil output, and five percent of the global supply, crude oil prices surged as much as 20 percent following the attack, according to Business Insider. While it’s important to ensure the sustainability of Middle Eastern oil exports–which keep oil and gas prices low for U.S. consumers–putting American lives on the line for this cause was not a good decision. In this equation, it’s important to consider, as “The Washington Post” discussed in an editorial, the ethicality of putting U.S. troops’ lives at risk in Saudi Arabia.

First, it’s important to zoom out. In 2015, the Obama administration and Iran agreed to what’s known as the “Iran Nuclear Deal,” but President Trump has since backed out of it. Now, President Trump has decided to embark on a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, with the U.S. and its allies slapping sizable sanctions on Iranian exports. After the recent drone attack, the President announced, in his words, the “highest sanctions ever imposed on a country,” this time targeting Iran’s central bank. In addition to the sanctions, he also announced the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia, which according to an earlier Business Insider survey, was an action that just 13 percent of Americans would hypothetically support.

The first problem is where these troops are going: Saudi Arabia. The country has butchered the deeply-held American value of ‘freedom of the press’ by allegedly killing American journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote for “The Post.” To add insult to injury, the kingdom itself has not faced economic punishment (namely, sanctions) since the incident occurred in October 2018.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has been a major contributor to the humanitarian disaster in Yemen. According to the UN, Saudi Arabian-led airstrikes have caused 65 percent of the over 7,000 civilian deaths there, in addition to being a partial cause of the over 11,000 civilian injuries. The U.S. House and Senate passed a resolution that would require the U.S. military to end support for Saudi Arabia in the Yemen war, but the measure was vetoed by President Trump. By sending our troops and resources to help Saudi Arabia with the Iran conflict, the U.S. is signifying that it’s okay for the Saudis to dedicate their military to this inhumane war in Yemen.

It’s also unclear if Saudi Arabia even needs our help in the conflict with Iran. The kingdom spent 67.6 billion dollars on their military in 2018, while Iran spent 13.2 billion dollars, an almost 10 decrease from 2017, according to the Stockholm International Peace and Research Institute (SIPRI). The SIPRI cited that part of this decrease can be attributed to U.S. sanctions, which have caused the Iranian economy to crater. Most importantly, however, this means that Saudi Arabia spent over five times as much on their military than Iran, which should signify that they are more than equipped to deal with Iranian aggression on their own. The Saudis also own many state-of-the-art American weapons, including fighter jets and missile defense systems. This is a massive leg up against Iran’s armament, which is primarily made up of less-advanced, domestically-manufactured weaponry.

Trump’s deployment of troops into Saudi Arabia is also an escalation in the U.S.’s diplomatic conflict with Iran. Iranian General Hossein Salami said that Iranian forces are “ready for any scenario,” which coincided with a tweet by President Trump that said the U.S. military is “locked and loaded.” Nonetheless, the recent attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities was Iran’s most audacious attack yet, a move of desperation likely due to the country’s cratering economy (IMF has forecasted +40 percent inflation, -7 percent GDP in 2019) under the Trump sanctions. The president’s newest sanctions will have an even greater impact on Iran’s ability to access food and medicine, which could trigger even more audacious attacks.

In the past year alone, Saudi Arabia has allegedly assassinated a “The Post” journalist and has continued to worsen a humanitarian crisis in Yemen. While Iran is a serious threat, the kingdom spends exorbitantly more money on military than Iran, and are well-situated to defend themselves or seek cooperation from others. The President should not have deployed U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia, and going forward, should look to withdraw and resolve, instead of escalate this situation. He should do so not only for the sake of the American people and our values, but for the sake of the troops who are endangered by defending this questionable ally.