In the tense Senate battle over the sale of AWACS planes and related military hardware to Saudi Arabia, thousands of words were written and spoken about the presumed power of the "Jewish lobby." Enough anti-Semitic (translation, anti-Jewish) sentiment was whipped up to cause Unitarian Sen. William Cohen of Maine, who has one Jewish parent, to vote for the AWACS sale. Cohen's vote was against his own better instincts, cast in fear that disapproval of the AWACS sale would work against both Israel and American Jews.
The fact that the "Jewish lobby" lost is evidence that it must be less powerful than the business lobby that is based on oil and other trade interests in the Persian Gulf. Yet, I do not hear those who profess to worry about the "divided loyalty" of Americans of Jewish faith--thus churning up anti-Semitism--express concern about a business lobby that puts its dollars-and-cents stake in the Persian Gulf ahead of anything else.
Federal Election Commission records show that oil industry contributions to congressional campaigns doubled between 1978 and 1980 to more than $4.5 million, a primary source of the financing for the growing conservative majority in both the Senate and House. According to a recent report in The Boston Globe, Harold Scroggins, a lobbyist for the Independent Petroleum Producers Association, explained it this way:
"We came to a decision some time ago that the only way we could change the political fortunes of the petroleum industry was to change Congress." The oil industry opened the pocketbook wide in an effort to defeat liberal Democrats and other incumbents in the Senate, and it was very successful. And in 1982, the oil lobby says it will focus on taking control of the House. "It just so happens that the only way to get rid of Speaker Tip O'Neill and liberal chairmen is to take over the House. It's just a practical necessity," says Scroggins.
The whirlwind offensive for the AWACS sale was led by the PR-conscious Mobil Corp. Mobil is so flush with profits from high-priced oil that it is now seeking to bolster its oligopoly status by buying up the Marathon Oil Co., after having been thwarted in an effort to gobble up Conoco that made even the Reagan administration choke. In an advertising campaign (I wonder if it claims this stuff as a business expense) Mobil stressed "the economic partnership" that could grow between the Saudis and the United States, and listed some of the 700 corporations it said could do $35 billion worth of business with the Saudis.
Mobil's clear message was that the Saudis would punish those 700 companies if the Royal House of Saud didn't get its AWACS. The same theme was contained in a Mailgram sent Sept. 29, 1981, by Harry J. Gray, chief executive officer of United Technologies Corp., and George David, president of the Otis Elevator Co., to their big brass peers. They asked other company presidents or CEOs to wire their senators urging them "to sustain the president's position."
Among other points, Gray and David cited Saudi "restraint" on oil prices, and alleged that Saudi purchases of $5.7 billion in U.S. goods last year supported nearly 250,000 American jobs at home. Newsweek magazine also gave Whittaker Corp. President Joseph F. Alibrandi a platform through its "My Turn" column in the Aug. 24 issue to make the same points, a piece he thoughtfully photocopied and sent on to all members of the Senate just before the vote.
Gray, David and Alibrandi ignored, of course, the now well-documented fact that the motive for Saudi oil price and supply policy is self-interest. The day after the AWACS sale was approved, the Saudis lifted oil prices $2 a barrel and cut production by 1 million barrels a day. This is an effort--defined by Sheik Yamani himself--to shrink supplies and keep the price above a true market level. Remember the propaganda until now about how the Saudis "engineered" the oil glut, all for the benefit of the good old U.S.A.? Now, they're planning to engineer the shortage.
Another element in the pro-AWACS lobbying effort on Capitol Hill consisted of letters from American businessmen in Saudi Arabia putting the idea of a Saudi blacklist of American companies on a personal level.
For example, Dr. Jerrold L. Wheaton, a consultant to the international division of National Medical Enterprises, wrote from Dhahran to selected members of Congress on July 18 that "Americans have only a bare 20 percent of the business available in Saudi Arabia. Those of us who work here have no doubt that the percentage would rapidly decrease to 5 or less if the sale of the AWACS and F15 augmentation packages are refused."
"What . . . motivate s me is the frustration of watching American business restricted by U.S. law, try to compete in this market place, and the concern that a negative decision concerning the AWACS sale will completely eliminate American private enterprise from competing for the Arab dollar. Our companies and our country need those dollars, and it takes all our ingenuity to compete favorably using the ground rules of the corrupt practices or unfair practices act, which are ultimately unfair only to us."
So there you have it: the real pressure behind the sale of AWACS is not to save face for Reagan or to promote "peace" in the Middle East. It is a crass and grubby reach "for the Arab dollar"--helped by a little bribery here and there if necessary. That, coupled with the Pentagon's effort to lower the unit-cost of the AWACS plane, is what built the groundswell for the Saudis. When you have the oil-cum-business lobby and the Pentagon's generals in tandem, that's the military-industrial complex--remember President Eisenhower's farewell warning?--on the move. Against that kind of power, don't lose too much sleep over the "Jewish lobby."