“For Americans, this is an exciting time,” Trump said in his speech announcing the deal. “A new spirit of optimism is sweeping our country.”
But at least one industry observer urged news organizations to treat the deal’s reported figures with skepticism. “Most of the time,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said to McClatchy, the enormous worth of packages such as the Saudi deal “isn’t reached.”
Regardless of its worth, everything about the Saudi arms deal — except for the $24 billion in military gear that was approved for sale to the Saudis by President Barack Obama and was reportedly part of the package — is pure Trump: It’s big, it’s bold, it involves large numbers and optimistic claims, and it is a fluid, under-negotiation entity that somehow is transformed into concrete fact by the headlines the president adores. Those headlines blare loud enough to drown out the work of meek fact-checkers asking simple questions.
Questions such as: What jobs will the deal create? Where will they be?
A spokesman for Raytheon, one of the companies that along with Lockheed Martin, Boeing and General Dynamics signed memorandums of understanding with Saudi Arabia as part of the deal, was unable to even speculate as to whether or how many jobs the arms package will add.
Is there any way for Raytheon to estimate how many jobs the deal will create? “No,” said the spokesman, Mike Doble.
Lockheed Martin’s chief executive said in a statement that the deal would “support” thousands of jobs in the United States and Saudi Arabia. Boeing said the deal would “create or sustain” jobs in both countries. Neither company would put a specific number on new jobs being created in the United States.
Get past the bluster of Trump’s speech and accompanying tweets and you’ll find a statement on the White House website that details the fine print: “This package demonstrates the United States’ commitment to our partnership with Saudi Arabia, while also expanding opportunities for American companies in the region, potentially supporting tens of thousands of new jobs in the United States.”
“Potentially supporting” were never words that the president uttered in Riyadh. “Jobs, jobs, jobs,” he proclaimed.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer took things a step further Saturday morning, saying that the deal would create “hundreds of thousands of jobs.” In the span of hours, “many thousands” became “hundreds of thousands” of jobs that will either be created, supported or sustained, depending on whose words you choose to hear.
But this is nothing new: Trump’s relationship with jobs numbers has long been defined by questionable and false claims. At least 10 times since taking office, Trump has taken credit for jobs deals that were either in the works before he was elected or have absolutely nothing to do with him or his policies. All told, those deals do add up to “many thousands” of jobs.
As with many things involving Trump, his views as a private citizen are in direct contradiction to what he thinks as president. Monthly jobs statistics, for instance, were not to be believed according to Trump the entrepreneur and presidential candidate, who tweeted more than a dozen times that Labor Department reports were “fake,” “phony,” “false” and “fiction.”
As president, Trump has taken a different view.
“I talked to the president prior to this,” Spicer said during a March media briefing, “and he said to quote him very clearly, ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.’ ”
What’s hard to get at are the real benefits of deals such as the Saudi arms package for American workers. Will the new jobs announced in all-caps breathlessness by the president and his team come to fruition? If they do, how much credit does Trump deserve? For one part of the larger deal, which reportedly comes to $350 billion over 10 years and includes both military and infrastructure spending — the $20 billion that the Saudis pledged to private-equity giant Blackstone to help the firm fund U.S. infrastructure projects — the answer to the latter question is very little. Trump adviser and Blackstone chief executive Stephen Schwarzman said the $20 billion had been in the works for more than a year, easily predating Trump’s administration.
Added to the $24 billion in arms sales that were approved by the Obama administration, Blackstone’s $20 billion brings the total portion of the Saudi deal that Trump can’t rightly take credit for to $44 billion.
In announcing the jobs that Trump claims will be created by the arms deal, he took time to make two other claims that screamed for immediate and thorough fact-checking. Not only have 1 million new jobs been added since Trump became president, but “nearly $3 trillion of new value” has been added to the economy, the president said.
Does that mean $3 trillion more in gross domestic product? New corporate profits? Tax revenue? Doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter that the million-jobs claim is highly debatable. In Trump’s world, the only thing that matters is that it sounds good — a deal, and one that he personally made, on behalf of the American people.