Stop calling everything “Fake News”

Brookings’ Bruce Reidel says that Donald Trump’s $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia is “Fake News”:

I’ve spoken to contacts in the defense business and on the Hill, and all of them say the same thing: There is no $110 billion deal. Instead, there are a bunch of letters of interest or intent, but not contracts. Many are offers that the defense industry thinks the Saudis will be interested in someday. So far nothing has been notified to the Senate for review. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the arms sales wing of the Pentagon, calls them “intended sales.” None of the deals identified so far are new, all began in the Obama administration.

An example is a proposal for sale of four frigates (called multi-mission surface combatant vessels) to the Royal Saudi navy. This proposal was first reported by the State Department in 2015. No contract has followed. The type of frigate is a derivative of a vessel that the U.S. Navy uses but the derivative doesn’t actually exist yet. Another piece is the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense system (THAAD) which was recently deployed in South Korea. The Saudis have expressed interest in the system for several years but no contracts have been finalized. Obama approved the sale in principle at a summit at Camp David in 2015. Also on the wish list are 150 Black Hawk helicopters. Again, this is old news repackaged. What the Saudis and the administration did is put together a notional package of the Saudi wish list of possible deals and portray that as a deal. Even then the numbers don’t add up. It’s fake news.

I have many issues with calling this “fake news.” For one thing, what Reidel is describing is a lie. Trump lied about his “deal” with the Saudis. Why can’t we just call it a lie?

For another thing, classifying it as fake news implicitly makes it seem like selling $110 billion in weapons to arguably the most destabilizing regime on the planet is a good thing and that Trump has failed here. “HA HA! Trump says he sold the Saudis all these weapons, but really he just pathetically faked it to try to seem cool!” Well, no, in fact selling weapons to Saudi Arabia is an incredibly bad thing and frankly we should be criticizing Trump, Obama, and whoever else for even considering it. Even expressing intent to sell weapons to these people is worth criticizing. Josh Marshall kind of gets this right but the point is lost amid all the LOL TRUMP SMDH stuff.

That leads to another problem, which is that while this $110 billion deal may not be real, the story surrounding it is. It’s not fake news that Saudi Arabia has suddenly been emboldened by Donald Trump to try to starve the nation of Qatar into submission. It’s not fake news that the Saudis have poured massive resources into creating a new regional coalition that uses counter-terrorism as a fig leaf to escalate tensions with Iran. It’s not fake news that the US president is now basically getting his Middle East policy briefings via Riyadh just because the Saudis projected a 20 story picture of him onto a hotel and spent a couple of days treating him the same way they treat their own feeble-minded, sclerotic, authoritarian royals. That shit’s all real, and it’s the context for that fake arms deal. Labeling the whole thing HASHTAG FAKE NEWS delegitimizes some very real problems.

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