US President Donald Trump (L) shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud during a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017.
MANDEL NGAN

Trump clings to a Saudi arms deal that doesn’t actually exist

Donald Trump has spent the last several days defending his indifference toward Saudi Arabia’s apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi by pointing to a $110 billion arms deal. The president pushed the line in his “60 Minutes” interview, and he referenced it again in his latest Fox Business interview that aired this morning.

“They have a tremendous order, $110 billion. Every country in the world wanted a piece of that order; we got all of it. And what are we going to do? I’ve had some senators come up, and some congressman, and they say, ‘You know, sir, what I think we should do is, we should not take that order.’

“I say, ‘Who are we hurting?’ It’s 500,000 jobs, it’s ultimately going to be $110 billion. It’s the biggest order in the history of our country from an outside military. And I say, we’re going to turn that down? Why would we do that?

This comes four days after Trump bragged to reporters that he “worked hard” to complete the arms deal, which he added will create “450,000 jobs.” (It’s apparently grown by 50,000 jobs since the weekend.)

As we discussed the other day, there’s room for a debate about competing goals and values. By the Republican’s calculus, the White House must be prepared to look the other way on Saudi Arabia murdering a U.S.-based journalist because they’re buying $110 billion worth of military equipment. It’s a posture devoid of morality and principle, but by appearances, the president is comfortable with that. Some of his allies might even agree.

The trouble, again, is that the $110 billion arms deal that Trump believes he worked so hard to complete doesn’t actually exist.

The Washington Post reported over the weekend that the figure “is fanciful and unlikely to come to fruition – and in any case many of the purported deals are long in the future…. This is an example of a politician believing his own propaganda.” The piece added that the $110 billion figure “is not real.”

Josh Rogin added yesterday, “Trump’s claim of $110 billion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia as announced last year is hugely exaggerated, considering that number mostly refers to deals struck during the Obama administration and new deals that haven’t yet materialized.”

TPM’s Josh Marshall fleshed this out, explaining that at least for now, the deal “doesn’t really exist.”

The $110 billion sum, the administration official said, was made up of “Letters of Offer and Acceptance and future defense capabilities under development listed in a Memorandum of Intent to support Saudi Arabia’s defense needs.”

Think of that as two buckets: letters of offer and acceptance (LOAs), and a memorandum of intent (MOI). Neither represent concluded deals – far from an “immediate investment,” as Spicer claimed – and in any case, the $110 billion figure is inflated and takes credit for deals initiated during the Obama administration. […]

Most of the deals Trump has refused to block in response to Khashoggi’s suspected murder are nascent proposals, at best, and many may never see the light of day.

I won’t pretend to know what Trump genuinely believes, as compared to what he pretends to believe, but at face value, the president appears to have convinced himself that a $110 billion arms deal that isn’t real must be protected above any moral considerations.

By any fair measure, that’s ridiculous.

Donald Trump and Saudi Arabia

Trump clings to a Saudi arms deal that doesn't actually exist