As first reported by The Daily Beast Wednesday, U.S. officials are eager to sell more arms to Saudi Arabia despite continuing objections from both Democrats and Republicans over Riyadh’s killing of civilians in the six-year-long war in Yemen. Indeed, lawmakers were furious last year when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pushed 22 deals totaling $8.1 billion more in weapons to the Saudis after declaring a bogus emergency over Iran designed to circumvent the will of Congress. Donald Trump vetoed the congressional vote to block those sales. Two weeks ago, at Pompeo’s urging, Trump announced to Congress he would fire Steve Linick, the State Department inspector general who was in the final stages of investigating whether that “emergency” had been declared illegally.
In January 2020, the White House informed Congress that it plans to sell $478 million worth of precision-guided missiles to the kingdom, and to approve licenses to allow missile-maker Raytheon to expand its manufacturing operations inside the kingdom. The foreign affairs committees of both houses of Congress have withheld support for the moves, which blocks them for now, but they fear the White House will complete the deal anyway.
Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a CNN opinion piece Wednesday that the emergency “was a fabricated tale to reward an eager and unsavory customer of US arms.”
The American people have the right to know that while the Trump administration cannot seem to be bothered to build a political coalition to combat the biggest pandemic in a century, the administration has recently managed to find a way to double down on President Donald Trump’s repulsive embrace of Saudi Arabia’s murderous regime. And as usual, it involves arms. The administration is currently trying to sell thousands more precision-guided bombs to the President’s “friend,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. […]
As inconvenient as the President and the Secretary might find Congressional oversight or Inspectors General, we will continue doing our jobs. The question remains: why is the President and his top diplomat working so hard to prop up one of the world’s worst despots?
Perhaps, besides the money, the answer is that Trump is hoping for another big party like the one the Saudis gave him shortly after he lied the oath of office three years ago.
The arms problem, however, predates the Trump regime. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States sells more armaments than any other nation. Between 2014 and 2018, more than one-half of U.S. arms exports went to the Middle East, where one-third of all the world’s arms exports wound up. The Saudis received nearly one-fourth of U.S. military exports in that period. There is no end in sight to this deluge.
Not surprisingly, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who also likes to pal around with the Saudis (including the crown prince), is a big advocate of more arm sales, as is Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade adviser. The New York Times reported two weeks ago that Navarro sees the arms trade as good for American jobs, never mind what the weapons are actually used for. Even that excuse falls apart given Raytheon’s plan to carry out manufacturing in Saudi Arabia.
Paul Pillar at Responsible Statecraft writes:
Arms transfers as a problem in regional destabilization are to be measured not just in the quantity of transfers but also the uses to which the arms are put. Arms from the United States have been used in the harsh crackdowns that have abused human rights in Egypt. They have been used in the also abusive — and periodically very deadly — Israeli occupation of, and assaults on, the Palestinian territories. Most obviously in recent years, U.S. arms provided to Saudi Arabia have helped to turn Yemen into what is commonly described as the worst current manmade humanitarian disaster. The Saudi aerial assault on Yemen has been the biggest factor in making that disaster. According to the Yemen Data Project, the bombing campaign has killed or injured more than 17,000 civilians as of March 2019.
The U.S. arms provided to the Gulf Arabs have been destabilizing in other ways. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have given U.S.-made weapons to militias to buy influence in Yemen. Some of the arms have gone to radical Salafists, including ones with ties to Al Qaeda. Some have even made it into the hands of the Houthi rebels whom the Saudi-led war is supposed to be against.
The United States desperately needs to take a new path in foreign policy. The next administration could do worse than pick Saudi Arabia as the first stop on that journey.