WASHINGTON: A bipartisan group of senior Republican and Democratic senators announced today they’re working to pass as many as 22 joint resolutions in coming days to block President Trump’s plan to sell $8 billion worth of weaponry to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The White House says the proposed sales, which include F-15 engines, Paveway Precision Guided Munitions, Advanced Precision Kill Weapon Systems, and Javelin Anti-Tank Missiles for the two countries, are critical to meet the Iranian threat.
But lawmakers were not notified 30 days before the deal was announced. While the laws governing arms exports do not require prior notification, it is a very long-standing precedent. The deal was announced late last month. The growing antipathy on the Hill against the two countries — whose grinding, four-year old war in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians — set the table for this new round high-level congressional pushback. Saudi Arabia has also come under fire for the state-ordered murder of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Turkey late last year.
Details of the proposed arms sales were posted in the Congressional Record on Wednesday.
The administration’s use of national emergency powers to declare an imminent threat from Iran angered lawmakers from both parties, not only because it was attempting an end run around holds that lawmakers had placed on some arms sales to Saudi Arabia, but it cut Capitol Hill out of one of its core foreign policy-making roles.
Normally a close Trump ally, Sen. Graham is one of the Republican leaders seeking to stop the deal. In a Wednesday statement, the senator said that, “while I understand that Saudi Arabia is a strategic ally, the behavior of Mohammed bin Salman cannot be ignored. Now is not the time to do business as usual with Saudi Arabia,” Graham also said he is “very concerned about the precedent these arms sales would set by having the Administration go around legitimate concerns of the Congress. I expect and look forward to strong bipartisan support for these resolutions of disapproval.”
Two other influential Republican senators, Rand Paul and Todd Young, backed the almost two dozen resolutions, along with Democrats Bob Menendez (ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee), Chris Murphy, vice chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee Patrick Leahy, and SASC Ranking Member Jack Reed.
“Selling more bombs to the Saudis simply means that the famine and cholera outbreak in Yemen will get worse, Iran will get stronger, and Al Qaeda and ISIS will continue to flourish amidst the chaos of the civil war,” Murphy said. “Saudi Arabia treats us like the junior partner in this relationship, chopping up U.S. residents and torturing others, all the while demanding we remain silent and sell them more weapons. The U.S.-Saudi relationship needs to change, and it’s clear that only Congress can make that happen.”
The Saudi-led war in Yemen has been a major point of contention between Washington and Rjydiah for several years. Beginning as an air campaign in 2015 to out Iranian-backed Houthi rebels who overthrew the local government, the war has become a bloody stalemate which has claimed thousands of civilian lives. Saudi naval blockades and bombing aid centers and hospitals has also given rise to one of the world’s great humanitarian disasters, with millions at risk of starvation, and thousands suffering from an outbreak of cholera.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution on Tuesday, the US official leading the Pentagon office that coordinates foreign military sales, Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, wouldn’t speak directly to the issue of Saudi arms sales.
“There’s an inherent tension in what we do,” Hooper said. “We want to provide our allies and partners with sufficient capabilities so that they may partner with us to achieve our common security goal. By the same token we want to make sure that those weapons and articles and services are used in a responsible manner, in a manner that is consistent with our values. Sometimes that is tough.”
A group of human rights organizations released a report in March estimating US and British-made bombs have killed over 200 civilians and injured hundreds more during the four year-old Saudi-led effort in Yemen.
Despite claims by the Trump administration that the weapons for the two countries are needed due to an urgent threat from Iran in the region, Sen. Leahy said that just isn’t how these things work.
“The bulk of these weapons will not be delivered for many months or years,” he said, declaring “this administration’s credibility when it comes to arms sales, human rights, and the rule of law is in tatters.”