In a press conference on Friday evening, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, announced that the Trump administration is deploying troops to Saudi Arabia.
The announcement came after days of speculation about whether Donald Trump would authorize military strikes on targets inside Iran. The president was briefed on options Friday, and, in keeping with his predisposition towards avoiding outright conflict, the White House has clearly decided that discretion is the better part of valor – for now, anyway.
Asked by a reporter if “this now represents a full US commitment to defend Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure”?, Esper repeated that the purpose is to “contribute to Saudi Arabia’s defense.”
He and Dunford made it clear that the US expects the same from other nations. “We are looking for other international partners to contribute”, they said.
On Wednesday, the Saudis displayed wreckage from the attacks which Riyadh says “unquestionably” shows they were “sponsored by Iran”. The day before, officials told the media that the US had pinpointed “the exact locations” inside Iran from which the attacks were launched.
Mike Pompeo visited the kingdom this week and spoke to Crown Prince Mohammed. In the hours after the attacks last Saturday, Pompeo was quick to fault Iran directly, as opposed to merely stating the obvious, which is that Tehran provides material support to the Houthis, who claimed the strikes.
“What we would be deploying is to support the kingdom’s defenses”, Esper and Dunford reiterated, in a brief Q&A after the announcement. Pressed for details on the deployment, Dunford said it’s reasonable to say that it will not be “in the thousands”.
Quizzed on whether the world should consider this Trump’s response to Iran, Esper and Dunford said this is the “first step”, and it’s aimed at bolstering defense capabilities, ensuring the free flow of commerce through the Strait of Hormuz and maintaining international norms.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that for all the boasting about US energy independence, this administration has now committed the US military to defending Saudi Arabia’s oil.
Whatever was implicit in terms of America’s willingness to go to the mat for a country run by unelected royals in whose reign the ideology of al-Qaeda and ISIS is institutionalized, is now explicit.