Last week’s mass shooting at Pensacola Naval Air Station shouldn’t have come as a surprise. A Saudi national, in Florida for flight training, murders a bunch of Americans? We’ve heard that story before. One would think that after the last 20 years or so, U.S. military officials and policymakers would have noticed a few patterns and adapted accordingly.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001 were Saudis. Al-Qaeda chieftain Osama Bin Laden was a Saudi. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, was a Saudi. Saudi Arabian charities for many years formed the core of Sunni Islamic terrorism.
For all the blather in Washington, D.C. about Iran being the “leading state sponsor of terrorism,” I know of no examples of Persian terrorists murdering Americans on American soil. And yet, despite the ample historical evidence of terrorist activity perpetrated by Saudis, the United States, at this very moment, is training some 850 Saudi military officers and soldiers in our own backyard.
Three American servicemen are now dead because of it. This didn’t need to happen. Why does America need to train Saudi Arabian soldiers and airmen? Whose “interest” does this serve?
I am a Marine aviator who studied in the classrooms and halls of the same Building 633 where the recent terrorist attack took place. Those dead men were my brothers in arms. The shooter hosted a watch party for videos of mass shootings with other Saudi students the night before his attack. His Twitter feed allegedly contained anti-American and anti-Israel messages. This was, for all intents and purposes, an insider attack facilitated by our own government—against all reason and common sense.
When I first arrived at NAS Pensacola, I was surprised at seeing dozens of Saudi students in my courses and loitering in the halls. Like most Americans I was unaware that the United States trained Saudi military personnel. Sure, the NATO allies made some sense, but the Saudis?
One look at the money, however, explained it all.
The Saudis are the leading purchaser of American weapons and military equipment. From 2012-2017, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia purchased 20 percent of all U.S. weapons exports to the tune of some $9 billion a year. The State Department claims another $110 billion will be spent by Saudi Arabia in the next 10 years. The “blanket order” technical military and flight training, under which the Saudi gunman ostensibly was brought to the United States, makes up $1 billion of that sum.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, registered Saudi Arabian agents in the United States spent more than $24 million in the 2018 election cycle. The financial reach of the Saudi regime’s lobby is extensive. It includes former Republican congressmen such as Howard “Buck” McKeon and Ed Royce of California, as well as contracts with at least 39 different PR firms. Of course, this is to say nothing of Saudi money and influence entering the United States under the table.
This level of foreign influence in our elections and military affairs is unacceptable. Saudi money may be good for Raytheon and Lockheed Martin’s bottom line, but it isn’t good for me or my fellow American citizens.
Some things need to change.
First, all military personnel should have the right to conceal carry personal firearms on military bases. At present, our military bases are veritable gun-free zones where only a select few, namely military police and duty officers, can possess firearms. Ensign Joshua Kaleb Watson, who was murdered trying to stop the gunman, was unarmed while on duty.
Watson heroically confronted the killer, took five bullets, and still managed to direct first responders to the threat before he died. He was an expert with firearms, and a leader on the Naval Academy rifle team. If we cannot trust a man like Watson with a gun, who can we trust? If our government continues to insist on letting snakes into our midst, it ought at least give its own men in uniform a fighting chance!
But they shouldn’t need it. We should be as secure as possible on our own soil. That’s what America First means.
Second, every Saudi military student in every branch of service on every U.S. base should be expelled and returned to Saudi Arabia immediately. At the very least, every Saudi pilot in the American pipeline should be removed permanently. The risks are simply too great.
As terrible as Friday’s insider attack was, we should be thankful the attacker only used a handgun. I do not have personal knowledge of what stage of training this particular Saudi pilot was in, but I do know that Saudi pilots are allowed to fly solo, twice, during the standard package of instruction.
These foreign pilots are allowed to fly, without instructor supervision, a 1,100-horsepower, 6,000-pound trainer aircraft called the T-6B. Within its range are the cities of Pensacola, Atlanta, New Orleans, Nashville, Tallahassee, and Mobile, Alabama. Each of these cities have prominent buildings, sports arenas, and public spaces filled with thousands of civilians.
Should a pilot go rogue and decide to turn his trainer into a flying bomb there is virtually nothing to stop him from conducting a repeat performance of 9/11 with an American military aircraft. The sky is still the wild west, and a terrorist playing dumb on the radio could easily reach his target. This is insanity. Have we learned nothing in the last 20 years?
And all of this is to say nothing of the resources these foreign pilots chew up. The Navy and Marine Corps are struggling to push the requisite number of American pilots through our training pipeline. Why clog it with Saudis?
I’ve studied alongside tremendous individuals from Italy, France, Norway, and Spain. Each of these men were worth their salt, and displayed high-quality knowledge of aviation and English. They had the airmanship and work ethic to match their minds.
The Saudis were a different story. Among the foreign pilots I’ve encountered in my experience, the Saudis displayed the highest concentration of cheaters and liars. The Saudis clogged up the water survival qualification course with their repeated failures and displayed such poor airmanship that instructors dreaded taking them in the air—though they never dare mutter their reservations above a whisper.
And what, exactly, is all this training for? Saudi pilots have used American aircraft and American expertise to bomb civilians in their ongoing war against the Houthis in Yemen. This is disgusting. Top brass love to virtue signal about their opposition to war crimes in complicated battlefield cases involving American soldiers and Navy SEALs, but when it comes to the Saudis butchering innocents with American weapons and training, they look the other way.
And who can blame them? Holding the Saudis to account might hurt their chances of landing plumb jobs in the military-industrial complex once their career of “public service” ends.
The calls for extreme vetting from the president, Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and others will do as much good in the future as they did on Friday morning. Willingly letting foreigners from countries with a history of terrorism train in the United States is idiotic.
In America today, soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines sit vulnerable to foreign threats on their own bases as the Pentagon and politicians—Republican and Democrat alike—line their pockets with Saudi money. This isn’t winning. This isn’t America first. It’s time for a change.