I don’t recommend watching yesterday’s US State Department press briefing on the $60 billion Saudi arms deal. It’s like taking the Hot Tub Time Machine back to 2003, except—why does Ari Fleischer have hair?
The military reporters in the room asked what were for the most part good questions. Andrew Shapiro, the Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, responded with lazy evasions and Bush-era pap.
The Obama administration’s cynicism is revealed in these exchanges. It’s betting that the American public, thoroughly distracted by Christine O’Donnell’s anti-onanism and Brett Favre’s cock, simply won’t care about a seemingly desperate attempt to intimidate Iran and prevent further collapse in the economy.
Watch Shapiro shrug off the suggestion that throwing gasoline over hot coals just maybe might be a bad idea:
QUESTION: … At a time when Europe has embarked on big defense cuts, does the fact that the U.S. is involved in so many arms sales to autocratic Middle Eastern countries give you pause about where these arms may be in 10 or 20 or 30 years’ time?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: … In terms of where these arms are going to be, I mean, it’s – I’m not sure I fully understand the question…
What’s so hard to understand? This deal seems destined to serve as a case study on the law of unintended consequences.
QUESTION: … In the region in general, is there the possibility that this might spark a conventional arms race, increase the tension in that region rather than guaranteeing it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: No… [I]n our view, this arms sale has the opposite impact…
Care to explain why? No, didn’t think so.
QUESTION: … Who does Saudi Arabia need to defend itself against with these – with this hardware?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Well, I think that they’ve got a number of threats in the region. We’ve worked together closely with them on counterterrorism. It’s a dangerous neighborhood …
And it’s about to get a lot more dangerous.
QUESTION: … [L]et’s not beat around the bush. This is about Iran, right?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: It’s not – no, this is about support —
QUESTION: It’s not?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: It’s not solely about Iran…
Right. As I’ve pointed out before, it’s also about keeping the production lines humming at Boeing and Lockheed plants around the country.
This next bit is interesting:
QUESTION: Right, okay. Now, there’s another package [with Saudi Arabia] in the works, correct, a naval package? Is that right? …
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: I’m not prepared to comment …
Oh, okay then!
QUESTION: Mr. Shapiro, what was the purpose of your visit to Libya?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: It was designed to discuss regional security issues as well as potential demining efforts…
QUESTION: Was there any discussion whatsoever in Libya about the possibility of eventual U.S. arms sales to Libya?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: I’m not going to go into the substance of the discussions, other than to say that I thought it was a productive visit that helped move the relationship forward.
As usual with these press briefings, the questions are more enlightening than the answers. Here’s what I’d have liked to hear someone in the DC press corps ask Shapiro:
“Don’t you think that for an international arms merchant, you’re somewhat underpaid?”