Trump’s Huge Saudi Arms Deal is a Big Lie
Among the purported accomplishments of Donald Trump’s first presidential trip abroad—the one in which he insulted NATO allies, lost a handshake battle with French president Emmanuel Macron, and labeled Germans “bad, very bad”—the White House was eager to publicize the “tremendous” $110 billion arms and investments deal he struck with Saudi Arabia. According to The New York Times, the agreement was spearheaded by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who personally intervened to close the deal. “Let’s get this done today,” he reportedly told a delegation of Saudis in Washington ahead of the president’s high-profile flight to Riyadh.
“The deal was finalized in part thanks to the direct involvement of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser,” CNN reported at the time. “He shocked a high-level Saudi delegation earlier this month when he personally called Lockheed Martin C.E.O. Marillyn Hewson and asked if she would cut the price of a sophisticated missile detection system, according to a source with knowledge of the call.” Soon after, the president signed the deal in a ceremony with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
There’s just one small problem: according to Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow and director at the Brookings Intelligence Project, the so-called deal is more of a wish list than a matter of fact. Or, to use Trump’s favorite phrase, it’s “fake news.”
Riedel, who worked for the C.I.A. for 30 years, writes that all of his sources in the defense business and on Capitol Hill say “there is no $110 billion deal” but rather “a bunch of letters of interest or intent but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday,” but “so far, nothing has been notified to the Senate for review.” The arms sales division of the Pentagon, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Riedel writes, has labeled them “intended sales.” And here’s the kicker: “none of the deals identified so far are new; all began in the Obama administration.” (The White House did not respond to a request for comment on Riedel’s claims.)
Some of Reidel’s reporting isn’t new—as the Times noted in its story at the time (“$110 Billion Weapons Sale to Saudis Has Jared Kushner’s Personal Touch”), several of the weapons in the proposed package had already been approved under Obama. But leave it to Donald Trump, a brand licensing tycoon who has always been more style than substance, to play up a rough draft of a potential agreement as a groundbreaking diplomatic success. His son-in-law, it seems, has a flair for selling a good story, too.