After a busy two weeks of recommitting to America’s foreign entanglements, the Biden Administration has indicated that it will end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also announced the temporary suspension of F-35 fighter aircraft sales to the United Arab Emirates.
This should be an encouraging development, but it’s hard to see it as anything more than one step forward after many steps back. Most of the Biden Administration’s foreign policy moves so far signal a return to the pre-2016 bipartisan interventionist consensus.
Just one day after Biden took office, more American troops entered Syria, and U.S. forces most likely will be staying in Afghanistan. Biden’s cabinet members’ ties to the defense industry and deeply connected Washington, D.C. consulting firms also show that the administration is unlikely to break from the D.C. swamp on defense policy.
I recently argued that conservatives would do well to resist Biden’s reckless overseas adventurism because it harms foreign nations and cultures. But the defense programs that sustain U.S. imperialism are also a burden on the American people. One of the worst offenders—the F-35 program—is back in the news cycle thanks to Blinken’s announcement.
I’ve previously covered the litany of failures that has accompanied the now-20-year-old project. The Pentagon estimates that maintaining the F-35 fleet will cost $22 billion more in taxpayer money than was originally planned. Some of the current cost overruns include $300 million in extra labor expenses due to defective or lost parts and at least $18 billion in unaccounted-for equipment.
Although members of Congress have investigated these issues, they’ve also exacerbated the problem by pushing the Pentagon to buy extra aircraft in order to protect manufacturing jobs in their districts. This cutting-edge fighter might not be able to fire its own cannon, but it certainly can support defense contractors and reelection campaigns. Conservatives shouldn’t count on Republicans in Congress to take action, but they must continue bringing attention to the billions of dollars wasted on the most expensive weapons program of all time.
Even if the F-35 program wasn’t such a fiscal disaster, America’s choice of partners for the project does not survive honest scrutiny.
The UAE will probably get their fighters in the end, but they shouldn’t. The Emirates are just as complicit in the terror campaign against Yemen as the Saudis are: the UAE operates prisons for Yemeni detainees where masked officers brutally torture inmates. And the rivalry between the two Gulf states means that they often support rival militias, further tearing the country apart. It’s unclear how providing the Emirates with top-of-the-line fighters will make them more of a stabilizing force in the region instead of a better-equipped human rights abuser.
The other program partner in the Middle East is Israel, which not only receives a custom variant of the F-35 but is the only foreign nation allowed to modify the fighter. But Israel hasn’t always respected American defense secrets.
In the 1990s, Israel Aerospace Industries developed the Lavi, a fighter similar to the American F-16. In fact, many of the Lavi’s components were U.S.-built, and the project benefited from at least $1.3 billion in U.S. aid. When U.S. officials finally realized they were paying for an F-16 competitor, they ended support for the Lavi. Israel promptly transferred the technology to China, which went on to field the suspiciously similar J-10—its most advanced fighter at the time. Selling cutting-edge weapons to the UAE, Israel, and other sometimes unscrupulous partners might pay off for now, but America will eventually foot the bill for Middle East instability and leaked military secrets.
The F-35 program is just one example of ill-conceived defense aid. The last time Joe Biden was in the White House, the U.S. government was busily passing out weapons to bad actors. The Obama Administration spent approximately $240 million to train and equip friendly militias in Syria to fight ISIS. The program produced all of 60 U.S.-trained rebel fighters, and many U.S.-backed rebels ended up deserting or defecting.
The Obama Administration also approved at least $300 million in military aid to anti-Russian forces in the Ukrainian civil war, which include neo-Nazi militias like the Azov Regiment. Lawmakers eventually barred Azov from receiving further support, but Ukrainian forces repeatedly have targeted civilians in pro-Russian areas of the conflict zone.
Americans must recognize that foreign aid, rather than empowering democracy and freedom abroad, often fuels instability and violence in some of the world’s most vulnerable regions.
After 50 years of cheering on American interference in world affairs, Joe Biden might not even be aware of the consequences of his administration’s actions. But conservatives cannot allow the Republican Party to enable another four years of reckless spending on foreign interventions. It’s time for a hard look at the weapons we sell and the forces that we enable around the world. Do the American people actually benefit from this process?