One can imagine the scene: President Obama sitting around a picnic table with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, sipping lemonades beneath the spring blooms in Camp David Maryland.
"Listen fellas, in all seriousness, buy whatever else you want, but the F-35’s aren’t for sale," Obama might say during the meeting scheduled for Thursday.
One leader stifles a laugh, another chokes on his drink, and together they shrug and nod, "yeah, sure, no problem."
Only a possible scenario, of course. Thursday’s meeting hasn’t happened yet. But the White House has made it clear that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will not be part of the arms negotiations.
"I think they understood this is not a case of the GCC countries coming with a shopping list and we’d have to tick off those of the items that they wanted that we would agree on," said Robert Malley, the National Security Council’s Mideast coordinator.
Coincidentally, King Salman of Saudi Arabia has canceled his attendance at the Camp David summit, and the White House has been emphasizing that the king’s decision was in no way related to the F-35.
"We do not and never anticipated this to be a summit that only focused on one capability, like the F-35, for instance," deputy National Security Advisor to Obama said.
While some have suggested this couldn’t be the case, that surely King Salman’s absence is in response to the F-35 not being part of the discussion, but the Saudi government has also emphatically denied that correlation.
"This is not related in any way, shape or form to any disagreement between the two countries," Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters on Monday. "I think this idea that this is a snub because the king did not attend is really off base."
In other words: Why would we be mad? We have absolutely no interest in buying those planes.
And why would they? The F-35’s track record is far from stellar. The most expensive weapons system ever developed, the F-35’s development has so far cost a staggering $390 billion, and despite that high price tag, the jet has been plagued with problems.
Last month, two separate reports surfaced which indicated that the jet’s engines may be unreliable.
"Program data shows that the reliability of the engine is very poor (less than half of where it should be) and has limited the program’s progress toward its overall reliability targets," reads a report from the Government Accountability Office.
A software error was also revealed last month, indicating that the jet’s primary guns would be unable to fire, and that 2019 is the earliest that glitch can be repaired. This is only one of several mechanical issues which have been reported. US officials have also expressed concern that a crucial chip used in the plane’s hardware could contain a glitch which would allow hackers to crash any F-35 remotely.
On Monday, Nick Harvey, a former UK defense chief, said there wasn’t "a cat in hell’s chance" of the fighter being combat-ready by 2018.
"You could argue it was already one of the biggest white elephants in history a long time ago," Harvey said, speaking to the Independent.
Perhaps King Salman’s absence from the arms summit isn’t a sign of Saudi Arabia’s frustrations with not being able to buy the F-35, but rather a sign that the king has decided his country would be better off not buying any American weapons at all.