Last month, The New York Times reported that Kushner was instrumental in brokering a deal over the radar system—known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD. During a meeting with high-level Saudi officials, Kushner reportedly called the CEO of Lockheed Martin, the system’s prime contractor, and asked her to drive down the price. The CEO later referred to the deal as “historic” and said her company was proud to be a part of it. A White House Official also called the deal “a significant expansion of the over seven-decade long security relationship between” Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
Still, former government officials argue the deal is neither new nor noteworthy. “Both [the U.S. and Saudi Arabia] have an incentive to herald this as a new era in Gulf cooperation. I see this as largely continuity,” Derek Chollet, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs under the Obama administration, told The Times. Indeed, the U.S. has served as Saudi Arabia’s top arms supplier for some time, supplying more than half of the nation’s combat aircrafts. In 2010, the two nations also agreed to one of the largest arms sales in American history, worth an estimated $60.5 billion.
Other experts argue that Trump’s arms deal is simply a re-packaging of previous deals struck by the Obama administration. Throughout his presidency, Obama brokered the sale of around $115 billion worth of military arms to Saudi Arabia. Experts say a fair share of the weapons that appear in Trump’s deal were already approved under the last administration. Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former member of the CIA, has even called the Trump administration’s deal “fake news.” In a Monday blog post, Riedel claimed the sale was nothing more than “a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts.” He went on to explain:
What the Saudis and the administration did is put together a notional package of the Saudi wish list of possible deals and portray that as a deal. Even then the numbers don’t add up. It’s fake news.
Moreover, it’s unlikely that the Saudis could pay for a $110 billion deal any longer, due to low oil prices and the two-plus years old war in Yemen.
Whether the deal is a historic advancement or a public relations spin of an Obama-era achievement, it signals Trump’s commitment to improving relations with Saudi Arabia. In the past, Trump has been critical of the nation’s economic dependence on the U.S., arguing on the campaign trail that Saudi Arabia doesn’t pay “nearly what they should be paying.” Saudi Arabia is “loaded with money to the gills,” Trump said at an April rally in Wisconsin, adding, “The U.S. protects them. We get practically nothing.” In reality, the nation’s economy is faltering. In January, the International Monetary Fund estimated that Saudi Arabia’s economy would grow just 0.4 percent in 2017 due to OPEC cuts in crude oil production.