Billions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia? What a great idea

by Joanne Black / 28 May, 2017
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President Donald Trump meets with Mohammed bin Salman, Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense of Saudi Arabia. Photo/Getty Images

The only times Donald Trump’s presidency has not depressed me are those occasions when I have thought I was reading satire and laughed at its cleverness. Then I realised the joke was on me because I was in fact reading straight reportage. The line has become so fine that as Trump fires his staff, they should be able to seamlessly pick up jobs as scriptwriters at Saturday Night Live.

His first overseas trip is almost a case in point. I would be the first to agree that the elitist world of diplomacy, with its rules like that of an old court, could do with a shake-up. But for a US President to make his first overseas visit to Saudi Arabia and sign arms deals worth almost US$110 billion brings out the survivalist in me. Only arms manufacturers could really believe more weapons in the Middle East is a good idea.

Giving a speech in Saudi Arabia about terrorism, Trump said, “The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them”, implying that the US could wipe out terrorism whenever it chose, but it just had not made it on the President’s to-do list yet. Well, let’s face it – it’s been a busy year. Maybe terrorism crushing will be in next year’s Budget.

The message, though – that the Muslim faith and Muslim countries need to do more to combat the fanaticism and wanton violence of the tiny percentage of Muslims who commit such acts – is the right one. After all, Muslim leaders are more likely to have influence than nominal Christians.

The line that most perplexed me in the speech was the President saying, “For Americans, this is an exciting time. A new spirit of optimism is sweeping our country …” Is it? The only sense of optimism I have noticed lately is the growing sense that impeaching Trump might be possible. For many Americans, that would be exciting indeed.

My husband and I were in a supermarket the other day when my husband, while selecting vegetables, accidentally put them in someone else’s trolley and began pushing it away. A man came up to us and said, “Excuse me, I think you have my cart.” We looked in it and saw immediately that he was right. “Oh, no,” I said. “How mortifying. I am so sorry. We didn’t look properly,” at which he beamed and said, “That’s okay. Worth it to hear the British accent.” “New Zealand,” I corrected. “New Zealand?!” He beamed even more widely. “How wonderful. Welcome to America.”

We do not make a habit of nicking other people’s trolleys, so the circumstances are not usually the same, but the sentiment towards us often is. New Zealand exporters are fortunate that although their distance from markets is great, so is the level of goodwill among foreign consumers towards New Zealand.

I hope the Trans-Pacific Partnership gets off the ground. It is perplexing that trade, on which we all depend for our standard of living, has a bad name.

Our local supermarket here sells strawberries “from our regional neighbours”, as though they went next door and swapped them for a cup of flour. The US produces lots of strawberries but also imports them from Mexico. As consumers, we pay the same price for strawberries “from our regional neighbours” as we do for strawberries from California.

I like supporting growers in poorer countries. I get their strawberries; they get my money. That’s trade. I just need to ensure I then get them in the right trolley.

This column was first published in the June 3, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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