American foreign policy is a shambles. That's hardly surprising when firepower has come to rival diplomacy as the country's prime instrument of foreign policy. It sets up an inevitable and inconsistent struggle between the Pentagon and the State Department that sometimes produces the very result America acts to prevent.
All you need do is take a look at how Washington has catapulted Iran into regional domination of the Persian Gulf area. America toppled Saddam and Iran emerged the big winner. Now the US is helping Iranian influence spread through the Arab side of the Gulf with its blundering in Bahrain.
Just how American bullets make their way into Bahraini guns, into weapons used by troops suppressing pro-democracy protesters, opens a wider window into the shadowy relationships between the Pentagon and a number of autocratic states in the Arab world. Look closely and outlines emerge of the ways in which the Pentagon and those oil-rich nations have pressured the White House to help subvert the popular democratic will sweeping across the greater Middle East.
A TomDispatch analysis of Defense Department documents indicates that, since the 1990s, the United States has transferred large quantities of military materiel, ranging from trucks and aircraft to machine-gun parts and millions of rounds of live ammunition, to Bahrain's security forces.
According to data from the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the branch of the government that coordinates sales and transfers of military equipment to allies, the US has sent Bahrain dozens of " excess" American tanks, armored personnel carriers, and helicopter gunships.
The US has also given the Bahrain Defense Force thousands of .38 caliber pistols and millions of rounds of ammunition, from large-caliber cannon shells to bullets for handguns. To take one example, the US supplied Bahrain with enough .50 caliber rounds - used in sniper rifles and machine guns - to kill every Bahraini in the kingdom four times over. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency did not respond to repeated requests for information and clarification.
In addition to all these gifts of weaponry, ammunition, and fighting vehicles, the Pentagon in coordination with the State Department oversaw Bahrain's purchase of more than $386 million in defense items and services from 2007 to 2009, the last three years on record.
" We call on restraint from the government," Secretary of State Libya, and Yemen: " The United States condemns the use of violence by governments against peaceful protesters in those countries, and wherever else it may occur."
...In the weeks since, Washington has markedly softened its tone. According to a recent report by Julian Barnes and Adam Entous in the Wall Street Journal, this resulted from a lobbying campaign directed at top officials at the Pentagon and the less powerful State Department by emissaries of Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa and his allies in the Middle East. In the end, the Arab lobby ensured that, when it came to Bahrain, the White House wouldn't support " regime change", as in Egypt or Tunisia, but a strategy of theoretical future reform some diplomats are now calling " regime alteration". said in the wake of Bahrain's crackdown.
...The Pentagon's relationship with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries has been cemented in several key ways seldom emphasized in American reporting on the region. Military aid is one key factor. Bahrain alone took home $20 million in US military assistance last year. In an allied area, there is the rarely discussed triangular marriage between defense contractors, the Gulf states, and the Pentagon.
The six Gulf nations (along with regional partner Jordan) are set to spend $70 billion on weaponry and equipment this year, and as much as $80 billion per year by 2015. As the Pentagon looks for ways to shore up the financial viability of weapons makers in tough economic times, the deep pockets of the Gulf States have taken on special importance.
Beginning last October, the Pentagon started secretly lobbying financial analysts and large institutional investors, talking up weapons-makers and other military contractors it buys from to bolster their long-term financial viability in the face of a possible future drop in Defense Department spending. The Gulf States represent another avenue toward the same goal. It's often said that the Pentagon is a " monopsony", the only buyer in town for its many giant contractors, but that isn't entirely true.
This is the oldest Pentagon scam in the book. When money is tight, find countries that are supposedly threatened, transfer the weaponry you no longer way to them, then get Congress to send you bags of money to buy new stuff to fill up your arsenals.