Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Mark Hensch / The Hill & Rep. Tulsi Gabbard & Bryan Schatz / Mother Jones – 2017-05-25 00:37:55
Sen. Rand Paul to Force Vote on
Massive Saudi Arms Deal
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(May 23, 2017) — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) intends to force a vote in the Senate on the record US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a deal which the Trump Administration has estimated will be worth some $350 billion over the decade. Paul is expected to introduce the bill on Wednesday.
The Arms Export Control Act gives senators 10 days to bring up opposition to arms sales, and Paul will have to act particularly fast this time because the Senate is leaving Friday for the Memorial Day holiday, during which they take an entire week off.
Sen. Paul argued that increasing US armament of the Saudis would mean deeper US involvement in the Saudi invasion of Yemen. That of course is something many in the Trump Administration want at any rate, so for them that is seen as a bonus, if anything.
Sen. Paul has been supported in the past in trying to rein in Saudi arms sales by some Democrats, particularly Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). It is unclear at this point if he has much support, though the arms industry’s eagerness to secure this lucrative deal is likely to have them lobbying against his efforts.
Paul Plans to Force Vote on
$110 Billion Saudi Defense Deal
Mark Hensch / The Hill
(May 23, 2017) — Sen. Rand Paul intends to force a vote on a $110 billion defense deal President Trump signed with Saudi Arabia, according to an aide to the Kentucky Republican.
Paul is expected to introduce a measure to disapprove of the sale later on Wednesday, the aide said, over concerns that the deal may pull the US into Yemen’s civil war.
The move will allow Paul to force a vote in early June. Under the Arms Export Control Act, he can bring the measure up on the Senate floor after 10 calendar days, but the Senate is leaving town on Friday for a week-long Memorial Day break. The Senate in September overwhelmingly rejected a similar move from Paul to halt a $1.15 billion arms sale between the US and Saudi Arabia.
Paul argued that that deal, which the Obama administration approved last August, would interject the US in Yemen’s civil war. Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition supporting the former Yemeni government.
Trump last Saturday signed a deal with Saudi Arabia aimed at addressing the kingdom’s defenses amid threats from terrorist groups and Iran. The package is expected to include US missiles, bombs, armored personnel carriers, Littoral Combat Ships, terminal high altitude area defense missile systems and munitions.
“That was a tremendous day,” Trump said of the deal, according to a pool report. “Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments into the United States and jobs, jobs, jobs.” Trump was visiting Saudi Arabia as part of his first foreign trip as president, which includes stops in Israel and the Vatican.
Jordain Carney contributed to this report
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Condemns New US Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Press Release
WASHINGTON, DC (May 20, 2017) — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) today condemned the Trump Administration’s new $460 billion arms deal with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — $110 billion immediately and $350 billion over the next 10 years — a country with a devastating record of human rights violations at home and abroad, and a long history of providing support to terrorist organizations that threaten the American people.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest sponsor and propagator of the extremist Wahhabi Salafist ideology that fuels terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda. Based on Saudi Arabia’s history and track record, there is a significant likelihood these weapons will be used against innocent civilians or end up in the hands of terrorist groups.
“Saudi Arabia has spent hundreds of billions of dollars spreading their extreme Wahhabi Salafist ideology around the world, creating fertile ground for terrorist organizations like ISIS and al-Qaeda to recruit, while simultaneously providing direct support to terrorist groups who pose a direct threat to US interests and who are fighting to overthrow the Syrian government.
The hypocrisy in the Trump administration’s actions toward Saudi Arabia began in February 2017 with the newly-appointed CIA Director Mike Pompeo presenting Saudi Crown Prince bin Nayef with the George Tenet Award in recognition of Prince bin Nayef’s ‘excellent intelligence performance, in the domain of counter-terrorism and his unbound contribution to realise world security and peace.’
This hypocrisy continues now as the Trump administration talks tough against ISIS and terrorism, while selling weapons to, supporting, and praising a country that beheads dissidents, oppresses women, persecutes religious minorities, atheists, and LGBT people, and is the greatest supporter of terror groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS in the world today.
This arms deal will enable Saudi Arabia to use US-made weapons in their war crimes against Yemeni civilians in a brutal civil war, and continue perpetuating human rights atrocities at home and abroad,” said Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has introduced H.R. 608, the bipartisan Stop Arming Terrorists Act, which would prohibit any Federal agency from using taxpayer dollars to provide weapons, cash, intelligence, or any support to armed militants who are allied with al-Qaeda, ISIS and other terrorist groups, and it will prohibit the US government from funneling money and weapons through other countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar who are directly or indirectly supporting terrorists.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard also recently sent a letter to Secretary Mattis urging an end to the United States’ military participation in Yemen’s civil war, where 19 million people need emergency support and which has never been authorized by Congress, and calling for a Congressional briefing on the White House’s strategy in Yemen.
The (Possibly Illegal) Art of a $100 Billion Saudi Arms Deal
Trump desperately wants a win in Riyadh,
but Washington could make that impossible
Bryan Schatz / Mother Jones
(May 19, 2017) — As Donald Trump heads to Riyadh today on his first international trip as president, he brings with him a gift: a massive arms deal reportedly worth more than $100 billion for Saudi Arabia. According to Reuters, the deal is specifically being developed to coincide with the visit, where he will meet with Saudi leaders and discuss the war in Yemen.
And its success seems to be crucial to the president, whose son-in-law Jared Kushner has personally intervened in the deal’s development. According to the New York Times earlier this month, in the middle of a meeting with high-level Saudi delegates, Kushner greased the gears by calling Lockheed Martin chief Marilyn A. Hewson and asking her to cut the price on a sophisticated missile defense system.
Other details of the package, though, have been somewhat shrouded in mystery — Congress, which will have to approve any new arms deal, has to yet to be notified of specific offerings — but it is said to include planes, armored vehicles, warships, and, perhaps most notably, precision-guided bombs.
It’s that last detail in particular that is making many in Washington sweat. The Obama administration inked arms deals with the kingdom worth more than $100 billion over two terms, but it changed course in its last months.
As Mother Jones has regularly reported, the Saudi-led war against the Houthi armed group in Yemen has been fueled in part by American weapons, intelligence, and aerial refueling, and it has repeatedly hit civilian targets, including schools, marketplaces, weddings, hospitals, and places of worship.
Civilian deaths are estimated to have reached 10,000, with 40,000 injured. In response, the Obama White House suspended a sale of precision-guided bombs to the country in December.
But now, despite the kingdom’s track record, President Trump is aiming to revivethe deal. “Lifting the suspension on precision-guided munitions is a big deal,” says William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. “It’s a huge impact if it reinforces the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, and also the signal that it’s okay with us. It’s saying, ‘Have at it. Do what you want.'”
Jeff Abramson, a senior fellow at the DC-based Arms Control Association adds, “Obama’s record [on arms sales] wasn’t stellar in any way, but in this instance on precision-guided munitions he finally got a bit of spine and said we need to put a pause on this, because the United States is functionally contributing to this humanitarian disaster.
Trump is ready to jettison any human rights concerns,” he says, noting that the administration has all but explicitly stated as much. Of course the White House has already excised “human rights” from the top of its agenda; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has announced plans to cut 2,300 diplomatic and civil service jobs and, in a speech to State Department employees outlining the administration’s “America First” strategy, Tillerson argued that pushing US values on other countries, such as protecting human rights, “creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.”
Following that logic, this arms package might just exemplify the elusive “America First” doctrine. “It’s good for the American economy,” a White House official told Reuters of the deal, suggesting that it would result in jobs in the defense sector. According to analysis by Abramson, Trump’s first 100 days in office resulted in $6 billion worth of notified arms sales — eight times that of Obama’s, whose first 100 days totaled $713 million.
But Trump may come against more opposition to the deal than he anticipates. Last year, expressing outrage over Saudi Arabia’s actions in Yemen, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) won the support of 27 legislators to vote against a billion-dollar deal to supply Saudi Arabia with Abrams tanks.
The deal still went through, but their opposition marked a shift in how lawmakers viewed arms deals to the kingdom and was the first time that Congress publicly debated the wisdom of the United States’ role in the war in Yemen.
At the time Murphy said, “There is a US imprint on every civilian death inside Yemen, which is radicalizing the people of Yemen against the United States.” The two senators also drafted legislation that would suspend certain types of weapons sales to Saudi Arabia until the country could demonstrate that it would protect civilians.
This April, they reintroduced a similar bill, this one aimed specifically at air-to-ground munitions. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn), a co-sponsor, said the bill “would help protect innocent civilians and hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions . . . We need to stand up for our values and ensure that the US no longer turns a blind eye to the indiscriminate killing of children, women, and men in Yemen.”
Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have continued to highlight the need to address the Yemen war through humanitarian means, as well as limiting US support.
Even if Congress doesn’t put up a fight, which seems unlikely, Trump’s new deal may fall prey to other obstacles. Earlier this week, the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights released their expert opinion on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and concluded that future sales may not pass legal muster.
“In the face of persistent reports of wrongdoing, Saudi Arabia has failed to rebut allegations or provide detailed evidence of compliance with binding obligations arising from international humanitarian law,” the report states.
“Under these circumstances, further sales under both the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act are prohibited until the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia takes effective measures to ensure compliance with international law and the president submits relevant certifications to the Congress.”
Furthermore, Hartung isn’t convinced a deal of such tremendous proportions can realistically come to fruition unless it incorporates deals previously made under the Obama administration — especially considering that it won’t include big ticket items like the F-35 fighter jet, an offer that would make Israel deeply uncomfortable.
“Where are they gonna get $100 billion worth of stuff to sell?” Hartung asks. “I don’t see where it is going to come from — are we going to ship our whole Navy over there? Under Obama, under Foreign Military Sales, they offered $115 billion in weapons over his two terms.
“This would be a one-shot deal that would be almost equal to that, and the Obama numbers were a record,” he says. “It seems like part of this is: Trump just likes big numbers. It’s like when he claims credit for jobs he didn’t really help create.”
If it’s for optics, there’s one clear benefit. “Even if it doesn’t happen, it’s got the short-term benefit of Trump showing that he cares about the Saudis,” says Hartung, suggesting that it possibly could be political theater as the two countries mend ties and as the US tries to project hard power in the region.
Of course, what Trump often fails to realize is that optics go both ways. In addition to what human rights groups have called indiscriminate bombing of civilian targets, on multiple occasions, the Saudi coalition has blocked humanitarian aid from entering Yemen, contributing to the growing catastrophe that’s left millions on the brink of starvation and millions more who have been forced to flee their homes.
“It appears that war crimes are being committed in Yemen, and if the United States is supporting that war, in a way it is also culpable for those war crimes,” says Abramson. “Most Americans don’t want their country to be engaged in war crimes. That’s another reason why we really need to pay attention to this.”
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