Why Does the US Continue to Finance Saudis' Bombing of Hospitals and Schools? Because It's Good for the US War Economy!
September 22, 2016
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Zaid Jilani and Alex Emmons / The Intercept
In a 71-27 vote, the US Senate voted to kill a bill that would've blocked the US from selling $1.15 billion worth of tanks to Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration announced the transfer last month, the same day the Saudi Arabian coalition bombed a potato chip factory. In the following week, the Saudi-led forces proceeded to bomb a children's school, the home of the school's principal, a Doctors Without Borders hospital, and the bridge used to carry humanitarian aid into the capital.
Senate Fails to Block Tank Sales to Saudi Arabia
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(September 21, 2016) - In a disappointing 71-27 vote today, the Senate voted to kill a bill that would've blocked the US from carrying out $1.15 billion in tank sales to Saudi Arabia. The bill had bipartisan authorship, but was overwhelmingly opposed by the leadership.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D - CT), one of the authors, said he never expected to pass the resolution anyhow, but hoped to press Saudi Arabia on its large civilian death toll in Yemen, saying that the Saudis clearly don't want to see debate on the US-Saudi alliance on the floor of Congress.
Nor, it seems, did most of the leadership, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R - KY) saying the bill would mean the US retreating from its role as "guarantor of the international order," and other hawks insisting that the Saudi alliance is far too important to allow the Yemen war crimes to interfere.
The tank sale was a comparatively tiny portion of over $100 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia throughout Obama's presidency, but blocking it would've been seen as a significant sign that the Congress is growing uncomfortable with backing the Saudis on Yemen.
It is unclear how much Saudi Arabia lobbied on this bill, as it was not expected to pass either way, and substantial effort is currently ongoing to try to uphold an Obama veto of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would allow 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for its role in the lead-up to the attack. Both the Senate and House passed JASTA unanimously, but there is expected to be considerable numbers switching sides on the veto override vote.
27 US Senators Rebel Against Arming Saudi Arabia
Alex Emmons / The Intercept
(September 21 2016) -- A Senate resolution opposing a $1.15 billion arms transfer to Saudi Arabia garnered support from 27 senators on Wednesday, a sign of growing unease about the increasing number of civilians being killed with US weapons in Yemen. A procedural vote to table the resolution passed 71-27.
The Obama administration announced the transfer last month, the same day the Saudi Arabian coalition bombed a potato chip factory in the besieged Yemeni capital. In the following week, the Saudi-led forces would go on to bomb a children's school, the home of the school's principal, a Doctors Without Borders hospital, and the bridge used to carry humanitarian aid into the capital.
Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in March 2015, four months after Houthi rebels from Northern Yemen overran the capitol, Sanaa, and deposed the Saudi-backed ruler, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
In addition to providing Saudi Arabia with intelligence and flying refueling missions for its air force, the United States has enabled the bombing campaign by supplying $20 billion in weapons over the past 18 months. In total, President Obama has sold more than $115 billion in weapons to the Saudi kingdom – more than any other president.
After the White House failed to respond to a letter from 60 members of Congress requesting that the transfer be delayed, Sens. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced a resolution condemning the arms sale. Paul and Murphy said they had planned to pursue binding legislation if their resolution was successful.
"It's time for the United States to press 'pause' on our arms sales to Saudi Arabia," Murphy said. "Let's ask ourselves whether we are comfortable with the United States getting slowly, predictably, and all too quietly dragged into yet another war in the Middle East."
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., speaking in support of the resolution, said the "very fact that we are voting on it today sends a very important message to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that we are watching your actions closely, and that the United States is not going to turn a blind eye to the indiscriminate killing of men, women, and children."
The Republican leadership strongly opposed the bill, with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican Whip John Cornyn, Armed Services Chairman John McCain and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker speaking against. Republicans claimed that the Houthi insurgency is an Iranian proxy, blamed President Obama's foreign policy for emboldening Iran, and argued that the war is justified.
"Let's be clear about what the arms sale is all about. It's about giving a nation that's under attack by Iranian-sponsored militia the arms it needs to defend its people and its territory," McCain said. "Make no mistake, this aggression is fueled by the Iranians."
The Saudi government frequently describes the Houthis as an Iranian proxy in order to justify their bombing campaign. Numerous US diplomats and experts on Yemen, however, have argued that Iranian support for the Houthis is very limited, and that the war in Yemen is a civil war, not a proxy war.
Coalition airstrikes are responsible for the majority of the 10,000 people killed in the conflict, and according to data collected by the Yemen Data Project, nearly a third of all Saudi air raids have hit civilian targets, including markets, factories, mosques, schools, or hospitals.
Ray Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, praised the vote of the dissenting senators. "Today, for the first time since the war in Yemen began, 27 senators voiced the first cries of dissent against our government's unconditional and unlimited support for the Saudi-led coalition," Offenheiser said in a statement. "Concern in Congress regarding the situation in Yemen and the US's heartless and disjointed approach to it will only grow stronger."
The measure still may have a chance in the House, where Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., has introduced a companion resolution. In June, the House almost passed a measure banning the transfer of internationally banned cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, but the amendment was defeated 204-216.
After the vote, Murphy tweeted:
Never before have so many Senators gone on record supporting a rethink of the US-Saudi relationship. Didn't win, but a strong message.
Lots of Senators who voted for the sale mentioned to me how good it felt to be openly debating foreign policy in the Senate again.
Wolf Blitzer Is Worried Defense Contractors
Will Lose Jobs if US Stops Arming Saudi Arabia
Zaid Jilani, Alex Emmons / The Intercept
(September 9, 2016) -- Sen. Rand Paul's expression of opposition to a $1.1 billion US arms sale to Saudi Arabia -- which has been brutally bombing civilian targets in Yemen using US-made weapons for more than a year now -- alarmed CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Thursday afternoon.
Blitzer's concern: That stopping the sale could result in fewer jobs for arms manufacturers.
"So for you this is a moral issue," he told Paul during the Kentucky Republican's appearance on CNN. "Because you know, there's a lot of jobs at stake. Certainly if a lot of these defense contractors stop selling war planes, other sophisticated equipment to Saudi Arabia, there's going to be a significant loss of jobs, of revenue here in the United States. That's secondary from your standpoint?"
Paul stayed on message. "Well not only is it a moral question, its a constitutional question," Paul said. "Our founding fathers very directly and specifically did not give the president the power to go to war. They gave it to Congress. So Congress needs to step up and this is what I'm doing."
Watch the exchange:
Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen in March 2015, and has since been responsible for the majority of the 10,000 deaths in the war so far. The US-backed bombing coalition has been accused of intentionally targeting civilians, hospitals, factories, markets, schools, and homes. The situation is so bad that the Red Cross has started donating morgue units to Yemeni hospitals.
The war's incredible humanitarian toll has generated an increasing outcry in the United States. Earlier this month, more than 60 members of Congress signed a letter asking the administration to delay the most recent arms shipment.
Ordinarily, under the Arms Export Control Act, Congress has 30 days to block arms sales proposed by the administration -- but by announcing the arms sale in August, most of those 30 days fell during Congress's August recess. That 30-day window expired Thursday night and the White House has not granted the request for extra time.
The Obama administration has sold more weapons to the Saudis than any other administration, pledging more than $115 billion worth of small arms, tanks, helicopters, missiles, and aircraft.
So yes, it's a legitimate moral issue. What it's not is a legitimate economic issue.
If you're worried about jobs, military spending is not where you look. It's an inefficient way to create jobs, because it has a lower multiplier effect -- meaning how much it ripples in the wider economy. One study from 2011 found that $1 billion put into military spending would create approximately 11,200 jobs, but that same amount of money put into education creates 26,700 jobs.
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