Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci, joining a potentially divisive political battle in the final days of the Reagan Administration, on Friday chastised congressional opponents of American arms sales to the Middle East, saying that “various interests groups and many in Congress” have cost the United States jobs as well as influence throughout the Arab world.
“The real casualty, if the Congress ultimately deals the United States out of a military partnership in the Arab world, will be the peace process itself--a result equally damaging to Israel as well as moderate Arab states,” Carlucci told an Arab-American audience in Huntington, W. Va.
Carlucci’s speech comes just days after three major U.S. Jewish organizations criticized the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful lobbying group, for taking what it called extreme positions on some Middle East issues, such as opposing a recent arms sale to Kuwait. Some observers believe Carlucci has seized that opening to challenge the politically popular notion that support for Israel must rule out U.S.-Arab defense relationships.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), one of the Senate’s most vocal opponents of Middle East arms sales, called Carlucci’s attack “a major political miscalculation” that will cost the GOP votes on Nov. 8.
“I am disappointed that the Reagan-Bush Administration, which has sold over $25 billion worth of sophisticated arms over eight years to the nations of the Persian Gulf, would now complain about congressional restraint,” Cranston said. “Congress has had a modest deterrent effect on a number of irresponsible sales. I wish we had been able to block more sales, including the 1981 Saudi (AWACS surveillance plane) deal and the arms-to-the-ayatollah scheme.”
Carlucci charged critics of the Administration’s proposed Middle East arms sales with “a lack of realism--indeed a strategic confusion” over the Administration’s purpose. His comments come at the end of a year in which two of Washington’s key Middle East allies have turned to other nations for arms after lawmakers blocked their plans to purchase U.S. weapons.
In July, Saudi Arabia, whose plan to buy new U.S.-made F-15 aircraft was withdrawn in the face of stiff congressional opposition last year, turned to Great Britain to supply advanced fighter aircraft. Under the agreement, Saudi Arabia is expected to buy a total of 108 British warplanes, 80 helicopters and six minesweeping ships, worth roughly $30 billion over the next 10 to 15 years.
In September, Jordan also turned to Great Britain for a $700-million purchase of Tornado fighter aircraft, after congressional opposition derailed its plans to buy American F-16 fighters. Jordan currently is reported to be in the final stages of negotiating a purchase of roughly 20 French-made Mirage 2000 fighters, and it has threatened repeatedly to turn to the Soviet Union for arms.
“I see foreign soldiers and advisers on Jordanian and Saudi installations, providing training and maintenance assistance, where American servicemen have served until now,” Carlucci said. “I see tens of billions of dollars worth of jobs going abroad instead of sustaining our key defense industries and bolstering the U.S. economy.”
In September, Congress did overrule AIPAC and a handful of lawmakers, permitting the sale of advanced aircraft and missiles to Kuwait. But the controversial sale, worth $1.9 billion, divided the American-Jewish community over whether to consider Kuwait a front-line adversary of Israel.
Earlier this week, the dispute broke into the open, when top officials of the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith criticized AIPAC for overstepping “the consensus of the organized Jewish community” by seeking to block the Kuwait sale.
Faulted on PLO Issue
The three groups also faulted AIPAC for seeking to shut down the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission at the United Nations and disagreed with the group’s attempts to keep PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat from entering the United States.
James G. Abourezk, founder and chairman of American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said Carlucci’s views “seem to come out of a concerted effort by mainstream Jewish groups to isolate AIPAC. It looks like it’s part of the same movement,” he added.
Abourezk added that the timing of Carlucci’s controversial speech indicates that the Reagan Administration “feels (Republican presidential candidate George) Bush is secure enough to withstand AIPAC’s onslaught. Otherwise, they’d have waited till after the election,” he said.