By Daniel DePetris
In what can only be described as a classic news dump, the Trump administration has announced plans to deploy 500 additional troops and more defense equipment to Saudi Arabia. This increase, according to U.S. Central Command, “provides an additional deterrent, and ensures [the U.S.’s] ability to defend our forces and interests in the region from emergent, credible threats.”
The movement of U.S. forces to Saudi Arabia is clearly intended to put pressure on Tehran while the Iranian regime answers American sanctions policy with retaliation. Far from establishing deterrence, however, a larger U.S. military presence on the soil of Tehran’s regional adversary will make an already dangerous situation worse. This move won’t make Iran stop its bad behavior—but it will put more U.S. soldiers at risk.
A simple cost-benefit analysis of a military deployment to Saudi Arabia quickly exposes how wrongheaded President Trump’s decision is. This deployment should be canceled before it begins.
Equating more military firepower with American credibility is a stale argument the Washington foreign policy establishment has used for decades, often to cover for foolhardy policies voters would otherwise oppose on their merits.
Iran presents a national security problem to its neighbors, which notably does not include the United States. Tehran’s material and financial support to non-state, armed proxies in multiple Arab countries has been a critical component of Iranian national security policy for decades, and poses no new or emerging threat to the U.S. Meanwhile, Tehran’s ballistic missile program is also a regional issue. Plus, it’s a development neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia are already responding to by increasing their own missile capacity.
More American troops aren’t needed: Iran is not wealthy or strong enough to become a regional hegemon. Its economy is riddled with mismanagement, corruption, and cronyism, and the U.S. embargo has cut its main commodity, crude oil, off from the market. Iran’s entire economy is about the size of the state of Michigan.
Beyond its economic weakness, Tehran has no true allies in Middle East other than a Syrian regime saddled with debt, ruined by civil war, and overrun by a variety of anti-government militias. And while Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is an impressive force schooled in the dark arts of asymmetric warfare, the Iranian military as a whole is isolated from Western defense firms and unable to import the best defense technology the world has to offer. Additionally, it spends a mere fraction of what the Gulf Arab monarchies devote to their national defense.
In short, if Iran is a threat, it’s a threat the region is capable of managing on its own. Sending more American troops to Saudi Arabia—in addition to the 35,000 U.S. military personnel already stationed in the Middle East—unnecessarily makes a regional problem an American concern. There is then little incentive for Iran’s neighbors to take responsibility for their own defense. More American boots on the ground are a gift Saudi Arabia simply doesn’t deserve.
It’s also a gift with a major unintended consequence.
Under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has taken a wrecking ball to the Middle East’s balance of power. Saudi Arabia’s behavior has become so reckless that a bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress voted to end U.S. military support to the Saudi war in Yemen. Other lawmakers are rightly demanding a complete review of the entire U.S.-Saudi relationship.
And yet, like parents who spoil their children for years, the Trump administration continues to give Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt. The Saudis, meanwhile, are happy playing along and continuing to use America for their own ends.
That is unacceptable. The United States military exists to defend the American people from threats overseas and protect America’s core national security interests. It does not exist to do Saudi Arabia’s bidding. No other nation (ally, friend, or partner) gets to decide when and where U.S. forces are deployed, and no other country is entitled to American protection.
Renting out U.S. troops for Saudi Arabia's defense when no imminent threat to Americans exists is, bluntly, a terrible idea. It doesn’t serve the U.S. national interest or help Washington offload local problems to those best equipped to deal with them. The American people are the only losers in this deployment decision.
This piece was originally published by The Washington Examiner on July 25, 2019. Read more HERE.