Senate Votes to Arm Middle East; House Votes to Ban Trump’s Nukes

June 16th, 2019 - by Jason Ditz /

US Senate Upholds Arms Sales to Bahrain and Qatar:Votes fail after tanker bombings in region

Jason Ditz /

 (June 13, 2019) — In two surprising votes held on Thursday, the Senate rejected bills by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to block US arms sales to Bahrain and Qatar. The Bahrain vote was 43-56, and the Qatar vote was 42-57.

Sen. Paul has been leading pushes against selling US arms to countries with authoritarian governments. In Thursday’s comments he declared that “dumping more weapons into the Middle East won’t get us any closer to peace.” He also urged the US to “stop sending arms to people who abuse human rights.”

The Senate leadership dismissed such concerns, saying that Bahrain and Qatar would find arms somewhere even if the US didn’t sell them. Emphasis on the importance of the two nations centered on them hosting America’s 5th Fleet and Central Command headquarters, respectively. The White House had threatened to veto either of the measures if they’d passed.

Both votes were considered highly likely to pass up until they were rushed to the floor today. The timing appears almost certainly to have been related to Thursday tanker bombings in the Gulf of Oman, and shifted a number of Senators’ votes in favor of continuing the arms sales.

More votes are expected next week, on US arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi votes are also considered likely to pass, as Senate support for the Saudis has soured since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and war crimes in Yemen, there have been growing calls for the US to limit backing to them.

The Saudi votes are also expected to be an argument between opposing US support of human rights abusers and the administration really wanting the large sales the Saudis are committing to. Expect growing US hostility toward Iran to also figure prominently in the Saudi debates.

SecDef: US Arms Saudis to Prevent Russia, China From Arming Them

Jason Ditz /

 (June 14, 2019) — Facing growing opposition from Congress on arms sales to Saudi Arabia, the Trump Administration’s officials are lining up to dismiss concerns about whether Saudi war crimes and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi might warrant ending those sales.

The go-to administration argument was expressed by Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan on Wednesday, when he insisted the US must sell the Saudis all the arms they want or risk losing those sales to Russia and China.

State Department officials were making the same argument, and while it’s plainly not a moral argument, it doesn’t appear to be factually correct either. Indeed China has long attempted to bolster its own relationship with Saudi Arabia, but has conceded that even without the US there isn’t a practical way for China or Russia to supplant those huge arms deals.

That argument may be all the administration has, however, as officials were very dismissive of Congressional questioning, declining to offer any details of their attempt to circumvent Congress by declaring a “state of emergency.”

Many in Congress are particularly angry about this declaration, since some of the arms in question aren’t to be delivered to the Saudis for more than a year, which hardly justifies the administration trying to skirt a 30-day oversight period.

House Panel Approves $733 Billion Military Bill, Drops Low-Yield Nukes

Republican amendment backing tactical nukes failed

Jason Ditz /

(June 13, 2019) — The House Armed Services Committee has passed a $733 billion version of the annual military spending bill. The vote was 33-24, largely along party lines, and will send this version to the House floor for a vote.

Once the House passes a version of this bill, it must be reconciled with the Senate version. That’s going to be a big job this year, as there are some major differences in the bills on some key subjects of debate.

One of the biggest issues is the question of low-yield nuclear weapons. The House bill ends funding for the low-yield nuclear missiles, and bars their deployment. A last-minute Republican amendment in committee to preserve the weapons failed.

Low-yield nukes are intended by the Pentagon to be more usable, tactical weapons, that would have a much lower threshold for deployment. This was the source of support among hawks, but also the source of much opposition, concern that more usable nukes would usher in an era where nuclear warfare is more routine.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) angrily condemned the failure of the amendment, saying that not having the option of tactical nuclear war  “does not make sense to me,” and that he didn’t understand abandoning the plan after it had already been funded in the past.

Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chair Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) said the tactical program is such a tiny fraction of the US nuclear force that it isn’t even a rounding error, so it is misleading for hawks to call it vital to the arsenal.

The House bill also adopted a measure that would create a Space Corps as a separate branch of the US military. The Senate bill also has a similar force, but with different language and differences in approach to establishing the force.

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