With growing speculation about his relationship with the FBI, and rumours about his links to Russia, Donald Trump will likely be relieved to escape the White House for a few days. Tomorrow he makes the first international trip of his presidency, with Saudi Arabia having the dubious pleasure of hosting him and his entourage.
The visit will be a chance for him to strut his stuff and reaffirm his unbending sense of self-belief on the world stage. Removed from the pressure of tough questions and the growing calls to investigate him and his colleagues, it will be a chance for him to do what he says he does best: make deals. It won’t be grandiose apartments and bad reality TV shows that are the order of the day, though – it will be weapons.
For months now, US arms companies have been in negotiations with Saudi Royalty, with Trump expected to confirm over $100bn worth of sales. The deals, which come at a time when Saudi Arabia is slashing public spending and borrowing billions, are expected to include warships, bombs, missiles and fighter jet components.
The weapons will no doubt serve as reinforcements for Saudi forces in Yemen, where they have been engaged in a brutal two-year-long bombardment, which has killed thousands of people and brought millions to the edge of starvation. It’s been a terrible war right from the start, with US arms companies profiting every step of the way. There is no question that Trump’s political and military support will only throw further fuel on the conflict.
Saudi Arabia isn’t the only Gulf dictatorship Trump has spent his short tenure pushing arms sales to. In March, he told Congress that he would approve a multi-billion dollar fighter jet sale to Bahrain without any of the human rights conditions applied by the Obama administration. Likewise, last week his government approved $2bn worth of arms exports to the United Arab Emirates.
The arms sales should not be viewed in isolation. They are part of a bigger picture. Trump has been in office for less than four months, but he has already overseen air strikes in Iraq that have killed hundreds, a botched raid in Yemen that killed 70 civilians, dropped the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan and taken unilateral military action in Syria. Far from all of his talk of isolationism, Trump is pursuing the same kind of aggressive foreign policy as many of his predecessors.
One place where the message will be heard loud and clear is Whitehall. Successive UK Prime Ministers have pulled out all stops to please US presidents, so it’s no coincidence that Theresa May was the first international leader to visit the White House. While there she posed for photos with Trump and a bust of Winston Churchill and pledged to “renew the special relationship” between the two countries. This week, when asked about Trump leaking national security information to Russia, she reaffirmed the commitment, describing it as the UK’s “most important defence and security relationship.”
Some of the UK’s worst foreign policy decisions of recent years have been those led by cocksure, swaggering American presidents, and unfortunately it looks like history could be about to repeat itself. Will May and her colleagues really say no to ‘The Donald’? The early signs certainly aren’t good. When asked if the UK would be prepared to back the US in further unilateral air strikes against Syria, Boris Johnson told Radio 4 that “it would be very difficult to say no” before suggesting he would be prepared to do so without the backing of Parliament.
Pending next month’s election result, and assuming he hasn’t been impeached by then, Trump is scheduled to visit the UK in October. Like May’s embarrassing hand-holding visit to DC, it will no doubt make for another mutually fawning display of affection for Downing Street and the White House.
Unfortunately there is a lot of damage he can do between now and then. If his first four months in office are anything to go by then we can expect to see even more arms sales, more bombings and more raids – irrespective of the human cost.
Particularly with the backdrop of his relationship with Putin’s Russia, there are serious questions to be asked about what impact Trump’s agenda of arms sales and military might well have on an already troubled region. Now more than ever, the UK must ask if it really wants to maintain such a damaging and destructive “special relationship.”
Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT)