During a pool spray with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Trump discussed a call he had earlier in the day with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which Trump congratulated Putin on the result of Russia’s recent presidential election.
“I had a call with President Putin, and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory,” Trump said, ignoring concerns about the vote being rigged in the Russian strongman’s favor. “The call had to do also with the fact that we will probably get together in the not too distant future so that we can discuss arms, we can discuss the arms race. As you know, he made a statement that being in an arms race is not a great thing — that was right after the election, one of the first statements he made.”
But Trump’s next comment suggested he’s unclear about what an “arms race” actually is, because his plan to avoid having one seems to involve having a never-ending one.
“We are spending $700 billion on our military, and a lot of it is that we are going to remain stronger than any other nation in the world by far,” Trump said. “But we will never allow anybody to have anything even close to what we have.”
In short, Trump says he wants to avoid an arms race, yet is committed to huge military spending aimed at preventing other countries from approximating American military capabilities. On the heels of Putin publicly bragging about Russia having new nuclear weapons that could overcome US missile defenses, it’s not hard to see how Trump’s line of thinking could lead directly to an arms race.
Shortly after his pool spray with the Saudi crown prince, Trump had another public event where he touted American military product sales to Saudi Arabia.
“I met in May when we were over there, where a promise of $400 billion was made by Saudi Arabia for the purchase of our equipment and other things, and the relationship is probably the strongest that it’s ever been. We understand each other,” Trump said. “Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation and they are going to give the United States some of that wealth hopefully in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world. There’s nobody even close.”
“As I said before, when it comes to the missiles and the planes and all of the military equipment, there is nobody that even comes close to us in terms of the technology and the quality of the equipment,” the president continued. “Saudi Arabia appreciates that. They’ve done tests of everything and they appreciate it, and the understand it very well — probably better than most.”
Trump’s comment about Saudi Arabia understanding the value of good military equipment “probably better than most” might have been a reference to the country’s involvement in the war in Yemen. In January, a United Nations report blamed the Saudi-led coalition’s air attacks for the deaths of 157 civilians in 2017.
During Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if the topic of Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations came up during Trump’s meeting with the crown prince.
“I’m not aware that that came up specifically,” she said.