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Blood money: US arms manufacturers are feeding fodder to the unrest in Middle East

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By NewGram Staff Writer

Even as the Middle East rapidly becomes engulfed in a string of proxy wars, sectarian violence, while transforming into a breeding ground for barbaric terrorist groups such as ISIS, the geopolitical phenomenon has brought much euphoria on the faces of American defense manufacturers.

To put the arms race into perspective, here are a few cases in point:

While Saudi Arabia uses F-15 fighter jets bought from Boeing to wage war in Yemen, pilots from the United Arab Emirates fly Lockheed Martin’s F-16 to bomb both Yemen and Syria. General Atomics and the Emirates are on the brink of signing a deal for a fleet of Predator drones to run spying missions in the neighborhood.

Thousands of American-made missiles, bombs and other weapons, are refueling Arab arsenal that has been depleted over the past year.

US Defense Industry officials are awaiting requests from Arab allies fighting the Islamic State — Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and Egypt–for weapons, within a few days.

Countries in the region that have stockpiled American military hardware are now actually using it and are hungry for more. Consequently, American defense contractors are witnessing an upsurge in the dealings of the foreign business department.

Why the boom in sale of armory?

The shift in momentum has erupted ever since the Alliance map was redrawn. In light of the historic de facto alliance between Israel and the Arab nations to stall Iran’s nuclear program, the Obama administration has been more forthcoming in allowing the sale of advanced weapons in the Persian Gulf.

This is in stark contrast to earlier plans of the United States to put restrictions on the types of weapons that American defense firms could sell to Arab nations, so that Israel maintained a military advantage against its traditional adversaries in the region.

Previously, virtually all sales to the Middle East were based on how they affected Israeli military superiority. There has been a shift in ideology with the Obama administration now showering greater support for the militaries of select Arab nations, particularly those that view Iran as a threat in the region. The change in geopolitical stance is expected to shake things up.

According to Industry Analysts and Middle East experts, the high-tech hardware from the defense industry is likely to see an upswing due to the fortitude and the determination of the wealthy Sunni nations to battle Shiite Iran for regional supremacy.

Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said, “When you look at it, Israel’s strategic calculation is a simple one. The gulf countries do not represent a meaningful threat to Israel. They do represent a meaningful counterbalance to Iran.”

Who drives the weaponry demand?

The military coffers of Middle East nations is bulging with money, and with a desire to exert their influence over their nations, they have embarked on a shopping spree. The heavy weight shoppers have been highlighted below:

Qatar

The monarch State of Qatar, another gulf nation, signed an $11 billion deal with the Pentagon to purchase Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin air-defense systems.

While the country maintains a modest military force of approximately 12000 men, The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, found that in 2010–14 Qatar was the 46th largest arms importer in the world.

Now the tiny nation is betting money on making a large purchase of Boeing F-15 fighters to replace its aging fleet of French Mirage jets.

Saudi Arabia

The largest Arab state in Western Asia is also amongst the world’s largest military spenders. In fact, Saudi Arabia has the highest percentage of military expenditure in the world, spending more than 10 per cent of its GDP in its military.

Last year, it spent more than $80 billion on weaponry— the most ever, more than either France or Britain, thereby becoming  the world’s fourth-largest defense market, according the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

UAE

The federation of seven emirates, UAE, has grown its arsenal of weapons significantly over the years. It has purchased modern weapon systems from a wide variety of outside countries, mainly the US, France and Britain.

The Emirates spent nearly $23 billion last year, more than three times what they spent in 2006.

The recent developments in the armory market

Supply follows demand. As money attracts followers, so does the  American weapon manufacturers run after lucre.

Boeing opened an office in Doha, Qatar, in 2011, and Lockheed Martin set up an office there this year.

Lockheed created a separate division in 2013 devoted solely to foreign military sales, and

the company’s chief executive, Marillyn Hewson, said that Lockheed needs to increase foreign business — with a goal of global arms sales’ becoming 25 percent to 30 percent of its revenue — in part to offset the shrinking of the Pentagon budget after the post-Sept 11 boom.

What does the future hold?

According to American intelligence agencies, the proxy wars in the Middle East could last for years, which will make countries in the region even more eager for the F-35 fighter jet, considered to be the jewel of America’s future arsenal of weapons.

The F-35, manufactured by defense giant Lockheed Martin in 2006, is currently in its testing and production stage. From its futuristic shape to the millions of lines of computer code that act as a kind of artificial intelligence, the plane is a complicated beast.

The plan to sell F-35’s to Arab allies is on holds so as the preserve Israel’s military advantage.

This could change dramatically, if Russian President Vladimir V. Putin decides to sell an advanced air defense system to Iran. The demand for F-35 would magnify immensely due to its ability to penetrate Russian-made defenses.

“This could be the precipitating event: the emerging Sunni-Shia civil war coupled with the sale of advanced Russian air defense systems to Iran. If anything is going to result in F-35 clearance to the gulf states, this is the combination of events”, Mr. Aboulafia, a defense analyst at the Teal group said.

While most Americans feel justified with the ‘military support’–as a strategy to maintain peace and stability in the region, experts feel skeptical about the move to augment arms sales in the Middle East. Some even view it as a leading cause for the escalation in the type, number and sophistication in the weaponry in these countries.

They also point towards the misdirections of the arms against civilian populations, specifically in  the war raged by Saudi Arabia against Yemen, something that Saudi Arabia denies.

Opinion remains divided over the ethical considerations of arms supply. It is quite evident, though, that no war exists without the US.

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Democrats Gain Fundraising Advantage In The US Midterm Elections

In the 2016 presidential election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suffered an upset despite spending $387 million more than billionaire businessman Donald Trump.

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Election
Former U.S. President Barack Obama participates in a political rally for California Democratic candidates during a event in Anaheim, California, September 8, 2018. VOA

In the battle for Congress, Democrats are winning the money game. But will it be enough for them to overtake Republicans?

In what is shaping up to be the most expensive U.S. congressional election in history, Democrats have had a distinct advantage in fundraising over Republicans throughout the midterm election cycle as they seek to break the GOP’s stranglehold on Congress.

While Republicans are widely expected to preserve their slim 51-to-49-seat majority in the U.S. Senate and possibly expand it, polls show the Democrats poised to take back the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time in seven years. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to retake the House.

On the ballot

All 435 House seats as well as 35 of 100 Senate seats will be on the ballot next month. Candidates vying for those coveted seats have raised a record $2.3 billion from individual donors and political action committees (PACs) through Sept. 30, according to the latest filings this week with the Federal Election Commission.

Overall, Democrats outraised Republicans by an unprecedented $410 million. In House races, Democratic candidates raised more than $850 million from individuals and PACs, compared with $577 million generated by Republicans. In Senate contests, Democrats hauled in nearly $490 million, compared with $353 million garnered by Republicans.

The average House campaign spends a little more than $1 million during a two-year election cycle, yet 30 Democrats have raised more than $2 million each so far this cycle.

election
A combination photo shows U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, left, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, right, speaking to supporters in Del Rio, Texas, Sept. 22, 2018 and in Columbus, Texas, Sept. 15, 2018 respectively. VOA

In the most expensive non-special House race this cycle, a closely fought contest in Southern California between Republican Young Kim and Democrat Gil Cisneros has cost more than $20 million. Among Senate contests, the most expensive race is between incumbent Republican Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who have raised a combined total of nearly $100 million.

Republicans fared as well or better than the Democrats in raising campaign cash from corporate PACs, those high-powered fundraising operations with minimal disclosure requirements or spending restrictions. But the Democrats crushed Republicans in raising individual contributions through the internet or campaign fundraising events. O’Rourke, a U.S. House member from El Paso, Texas, reported last week that he had raised a record $30 million during the third quarter from 800,000 contributors.

Federal campaign finance law prevents individuals from contributing more than $2,700 to a congressional campaign committee in any one election, while allowing traditional political action committees to donate up to $5,000. However, so-called independent-expenditure committees, or “super PACS,” can raise and spend unlimited amounts to advance their causes or political parties.

“There is a tremendous amount of small-dollar energy going on the Democratic side,” said Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

“Democratic House candidates are raising small-dollar donations from donors across the country, who are doing what they can trying to win the House back for Democrats. Republicans are trying to counteract that with third-party groups and outside spending.”

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Fundraising edge, cash on hand

Moreover, Democratic challengers have outraised Republican opponents in a majority of several dozen House races seen as highly competitive. And as the campaign enters its final two weeks, data show Democrats have more cash on hand than Republicans, something that will allow them to fund a last-minute push to mobilize voters.

Sarah Bryner, research director at the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization, said the Democrats’ enormous fundraising edge is “fairly significant and fairly unusual.”

“The trend with election spending is just almost always up due to a variety of factors,” Bryner said. “But this election cycle we have a huge crop of well-funded Democratic challengers and that’s going to increase spending across the board as the incumbents they’re facing try to counteract that spending.”

Money is the lifeblood of American campaigning. Candidates and their consultants use funds to buy expensive TV airtime, pay for personnel and other campaign expenses, and hold events to raise more funds. Advertising represents the single largest expense of a congressional campaign.

Money will continue to pour in throughout the last two weeks of the campaign, helped by some deep-pocketed benefactors seeking to tip the balance in key races

election
Michael Bloomberg, a former New York City mayor and U.N. Special Envoy for Climate Action, speaks in Washington. VOA

Last week, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he was giving $20 million to the Democrats’ Senate super PAC. Most of the money will go toward buying TV airtime for embattled Democratic candidates. That brings to nearly $100 million the amount the billionaire businessman has contributed to the Democrats this cycle, making him one of the largest donors.

“Given the rise of super PACs in the post-Citizens United era, it’s possible for people to make those huge donations late in the game,” Bryner said, referring to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that found spending limits on outside organizations unconstitutional.

“Right now, this is the Wild West in the United States,” said Martin Frost, a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and now president of the bipartisan Association of Former Members of Congress. “People can put as much money as they want in politics. Some of that money is disclosed and some of it is not.”

With Republican incumbents struggling in several dozen key races, party leaders and groups have begun to cut their losses, pulling funding from races they think the Democrats will win and reallocating resources to more competitive contests.

In its first act of triage in late September, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC, canceled a planned $3.1 million ad buy in two districts in Michigan and Colorado where the Republican incumbents are struggling, the Associated Press reported. That was followed by similar moves in several other congressional districts.

election
Michael Steele, then-Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman, announces that he is dropping his re-election bid, Jan. 14, 2011, during the Republican National Committee Winter Meeting in Oxon Hill, Md. VOA

Infusions of cash or pulling the plug

Parties perform spending triage all the time. But the infusion of cash, such as Bloomberg’s $20 million donation, has put added pressure on the Republicans to pull the plug on uncompetitive races.

“What happens is races that are at the margins, where it’s just going to be a tough slog regardless, they’ll pull out of those races … and they’ll reallocate those resources into races where that $20 million by Bloomberg now may make a difference,” said Michael Steele, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Just how much of a difference the Democrats’ money advantage will make remains to be seen. Money is not always a guarantor of electoral success.

Also Read: President Donald Trump Key Force In Driving The Midterm Elections

In the 2016 presidential election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suffered an upset despite spending $387 million more than billionaire businessman Donald Trump. In a special election for a congressional seat in Georgia last year, Democrat Jon Ossoff lost to Republican Karen Handel despite a $20 million fundraising advantage.

And O’Rourke’s massive fundraising advantage has failed to cut into Cruz’s substantial seven-point lead in the U.S. Senate race in Texas.

“A lot of people make a big deal about money and sort of think that’s the dark angel of American politics, but I can tell you there are … as many races there where the person with the most money loses as there are where that individual wins,” Steele said. “So at the end of the day, candidates still have to make a credible message, they still have to be credible themselves for the voters … to actually utilize the benefit of those dollars that are getting poured into that campaign.” (VOA)