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American boots back on the ground in Saudi Arabia

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jul 31, 2019 - 1:07:08 PM

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***image3***The United States is placing troops back on the soil of Saudi Arabia for the first time in almost two decades as tensions intensify with the Islamic Republic of Iran in a region that’s becoming increasingly volatile.

The Saudi News Agency reported July 19 that King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud approved hosting the American Armed Forces in the Kingdom to increase joint cooperation and strengthen regional security and stability. Foreign troops in the Kingdom have historically been a contentious issue and are presently a very controversial policy among lawmakers in Washington.

“The Trump administration has been playing the game of chicken with Iran,” said Bill Fletcher Jr., a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies. “They are being very provocative,” he said.

Mr. Fletcher is not convinced President Trump himself wants war but notes the commander in chief is surrounded by hawkish advisors like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton who are bent on military conflict with Iran.

American troops have not been stationed in Saudi Arabia since 2003 during the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq that brought down Saddam Hussein. The Saudis agreed to allow America to operate from its Prince Sultan Air Base, which was a source of tension throughout the region.

Analysts are raising questions about the implications of the U.S. returning to the Saudi air base. During the first Gulf war in the 1990s, the presence of a foreign army was a rallying cry for groups like Al-Qaida to rally against America. “One of the questions is whether or not this will once again become a rallying cry,” said Mr. Fletcher.

In recent months, verbal chest bumping between Washington and Tehran has worsened. In June, the Pentagon committed to deploy 1,000 troops to the Middle East claiming an imminent threat from Iran on U.S. interests in the Gulf region, which Iran denies exists.

Anti-war advocates say it’s the Trump administration’s policy of “maximum provocation” towards Iran that’s pushing the war envelope.

“America stands on the precipice of another blunderbuss war of choice in the Middle East,” said Paul Kawika Martin, senior director for Policy and Political Affairs at Peace Action.***image1***“A majority of the Senate and House voted to affirm that the constitutional authority over war lies in their hand,” stressed Mr. Martin.

There is a divide between the White House and lawmakers over U.S.-Saudi relations centered around mega arms deals, an ongoing conflict in Yemen and the controversial murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The war in Yemen has claimed more than 10,000 lives and the United Nations says it’s the worse humanitarian crisis in recent times. Both the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted in April to curtail U.S. support of the war in Yemen and Congress later voted in July to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. President Trump vetoed both measures.

“This resolution would weaken America’s global competitiveness and damage the important relationships we share with our allies and partners,” President Trump said in a July 24 statement.

Lawmakers opposed to arms sales to the Kingdom are unhappy with President Trump’s overriding congressional objections to a $8.1 billion arms deal in late May. Citing problems with Iran, the administration invoked a national emergency under the Arms Export Control Act to justify the deal. Lawmakers, however, saw it as a slap in the face of congressional “oversight” and “review” of arms sales to foreign nations.

Saudi Arabia is a major customer for the U.S. military industrial complex, ordering billions of dollars in arms and technology. The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen that includes the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and Egypt is equipped mainly with U.S. weapons systems.***image2***

The flouting of congressional checks and balances on the arms sale shows a cynicism that permeates the Trump administration, Mr. Fletcher pointed out.

“The fact that they are willing to tolerate the murder of Khashoggi, the fact that they are willing to tolerate a very repressive form of Islamic fundamentalism within Saudi Arabia, yet attack Iran for its version of fundamentalism, it’s absurd … hypocrisy,” Mr. Fletcher said.

The Kingdom along with other Gulf nations in what is dubbed the “moderate Sunni axis” and the Zionist state of Israel are allied with America against Iran, its archrival for regional influence and power. Relations soured between America and Iran after President Trump walked away from an Obama era nuclear pact signed by Iran and leading world powers.

American troops being placed in Saudi Arabia also come at a time when Saudi Arabia is becoming isolated in the Yemen conflict against Houthi rebels, reportedly backed by Iran. United Press International reported that UAE forces have started a withdrawal from the conflict, according to Emirati officials. Since 2015 the UAE has provided weapons, funding, training and at least 5,000 troops.

The heightened rhetoric and military maneuvering against Iran is very dangerous, said analysts. “You don’t go to war with Iran willy-nilly,” warned Mr. Fletcher. Iran is also a very large country with a long coastline and wellarmed military.

“This can be a complete disaster for everybody,” Mr. Fletcher said.