US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Don't tread on us (New York Times)

Women who assumed that electing Obama would lift all minority boats are beginning to think: Maybe he's not enough, writes Maureen Dowd.

2. Scrap the 50 per cent tax rate (Wall Street Journal)

In his last budget, Mr. Osborne said he would evaluate the effect of the 50 per cent rate on the merits. He should do so, without bowing to Lib Dem pressure to find yet another way to soak Britain's better off, says this editorial.

3. Capitalism, version 2012 (New York Times)

The ideal 2012 election would be one that offered the public competing conservative and liberal versions of the key grand bargains, the key balances, that America needs to forge to adapt its capitalism to this century, says Thomas Friedman.

4. What Republicans can learn from Britain (Miami Herald)

Moderation was once a conservative -- or at least a Tory -- virtue. But from a British perspective, the Republicans appear to have abandoned the conservatism of Edmund Burke in favor of a repressed and vindictive scorched-earth brand of right-wing politics, says this editorial.

5. Is Mitt Romney still inevitable? (Washington Post)

If you accept a narrow reading of the delegate math, the answer is probably. But if you assume something unexpected will happen and apply the maxim that bad gets worse, Romney will look weaker than ever by this Sunday's talk shows, says Ed Rogers.

6. Letter to the editor (Politico)

The world has changed. Nuclear weapons no longer play a central role in U.S. security. In a world with suicidal terrorists, stolen nuclear weapons and material are the greatest threats to U.S. security -- one the U.S. nuclear arsenal cannot defend against, writes Stephen Young.

7. Hard choices in Afghan war (SF Gate)

Given the options, Obama's strategy remains the only sensible one. Pulling out now would leave the country in chaos and allow the Taliban, who blow up schools and subordinate women, to return at full strength, says this editorial.

8. Santorum wins two in the Deep South (Washington Post)

Expect the Romney team to drive home the message that Santorum isn't gaining in the delegate race, says Jennifer Rubin.

9. U.S. mission suffers blow (Omaha World Herald)

To end this mission and bring our soldiers home, we need to build a trust with Afghan people that can offset the influence of the Taliban while convincing Taliban leaders that the best way forward is to negotiate peace with the Afghan government, writes this editorial.

10. How will it end in Afghanistan? (LA Times)

Many Afghans and non-Afghans fear a Taliban takeover could well lead to civil war. Whatever happens in the Pashtun south and its capital, Kandahar, the Tajik and Uzbek north will almost certainly fight rather than submit to another Taliban dictatorship, writes Sandy Gall.

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Saudi Arabia is a brutal and extremist dictatorship – so why are we selling it arms?

With conflict in Yemen continuing, it’s clear that we’re failing to moderate the actions of “our despots”.

This year, during Pride week, I noticed something curious on top of the Ministry of Defence just off Whitehall. At the tip of the building’s flagpole hung the rainbow flag – a symbol of liberation for LGBTIQ people and, traditionally, a sign of defiance, too.

I was delighted to see it, and yet it also struck me as surprising that the governmental headquarters of our military would fly such a flag. Not only because of the forces’ history of homophobia, but more strikingly to me because of the closeness of our military establishment to regimes such as Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is a sin punishable by jail, lashing and even death

That relationship has been under the spotlight recently. Ministers writhed and squirmed to avoid making public a report that’s widely expected to reveal that funding for extremism in Britain has come from Saudi Arabia. The pressure peaked last week, after a series of parliamentary questions I tabled, when survivors of 9/11 wrote to Theresa May asking her to make the report public. At the final PMQs of the parliamentary term last week, I again pressed May on the issue, but like so many prime ministers before her, she brushed aside my questioning on the link between British arms sales and the refusal to expose information that might embarrass the Riyadh regime. 

The British government’s cosy relationship with Riyadh and our habit of selling weapons to authoritarian regimes is “justified" in a number of ways. Firstly, ministers like to repeat familiar lines about protecting British industry, suggesting that the military industrial complex is central to our country’s economic success.

It is true to say that we make a lot of money from selling weapons to Saudi Arabia – indeed figures released over the weekend by the Campaign Against Arms Trade revealed that the government authorised exports including £263m-worth of combat aircraft components to the Saudi air force, and £4m of bombs and missiles in the six months from October 2016.

Though those numbers are high, arms exports is not a jobs-rich industry and only 0.2 per cent of the British workforce is actually employed in the sector. And let’s just be clear – there simply is no moral justification for employing people to build bombs which are likely to be used to slaughter civilians. 

Ministers also justify friendship and arms sales to dictators as part of a foreign policy strategy. They may be despots, but they are “our despots”. The truth, however, is that such deals simply aren’t necessary for a relationship of equals. As my colleague Baroness Jones said recently in the House of Lords:

"As a politician, I understand that we sometimes have to work with some very unpleasant people and we have to sit down with them and negotiate with them. We might loathe them, but we have to keep a dialogue going. However, we do not have to sell them arms. Saudi Arabia is a brutal dictatorship. It is one of the world’s worst Governments in terms of human rights abuses. We should not be selling it arms.”

With Saudi Arabia’s offensive against targets in Yemen continuing, and with UN experts saying the attacks are breaching international law, it’s clear that we’re failing to moderate the actions of "our despots".

The government’s intransigence on this issue – despite the overwhelming moral argument – is astonishing. But it appears that the tide may be turning. In a recent survey, a significant majority of the public backed a ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and just this weekend the Mayor of London denounced the arms fair planned in the capital later this year. When the government refused to make the terror funding report public, there was near-universal condemnation from the opposition parties. On this issue, like so many others, the Tories are increasingly isolated and potentially weak.

Read more: How did the High Court decide weapon sales to Saudi Arabia are lawful?

The arms industry exists at the nexus between our country’s industrial and foreign policies. To change course we need to accept a different direction in both policy areas. That’s why I believe that we should accompany the end of arms exports to repressive regimes with a 21st century industrial policy which turns jobs in the industry into employment for the future. Imagine if the expertise of those currently building components for Saudi weaponry was turned towards finding solutions for the greatest foreign policy challenge we face: climate change. 

The future of the British military industrial establishment’s iron grip over government is now in question, and the answers we find will define this country for a generation. Do we stamp our influence on the world by putting our arm around the head-choppers of Riyadh and elsewhere, or do we forge a genuinely independent foreign policy that projects peace around the world – and puts the safety of British people at its core?

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.