The Senate voted last Tuesday to override a bill that attempted to block Trump’s $500 million weapons sale to Saudi Arabia. The weapons sale will continue, despite objections.
The override, led by Democratic Senators Rand Paul and Chris Murphy, was out of concern that the sale of weapons to the kingdom could lead to further civilian casualties in the growing civil war in Yemen.
“Today I stand up for the thousands of civilians who are being killed in Yemen,” Senator Paul said. “Today I stand for the millions of voiceless children in Yemen who will be killed by the Saudi blockade. Today I stand up for saying we, the United States, should no longer be fueling the arms race in the Middle East. It’s come to no good.”
The Yemen Civil War has been the source of a massive humanitarian crisis and one of the causes of the global refugee problem. It began in 2014, when Houthi rebels, backed by Iran from the north, united with vigilante groups and took over the Yemen capital—Sana.
This sent the legitimate government into exile—mainly fleeing to Saudi Arabia. Starting in 2015, Saudi Arabia began assisting the Yemeni government in getting their country back. They created military forces that are bombing the rebels and trying to get them out of the capital so the rightful government can be restored. This would seem to be the right thing to do, and the United States has long been an ally of Saudi Arabia.
But, as in most countries in the Middle East, the Saudi Arabian military is not an entirely benevolent force. To put the full force of the United States behind them as an ally is a questionable move. The entire conflict and all the military forces involved have been a part of war crimes. They have used child soldiers and have been guilty of civilian attacks.
The ongoing conflict has resulted in a blockade in regions of Yemen, which has caused food shortages and famine. While many of the Yemeni people support the U.S.-backed Saudi intervention, in doing so, they are ultimately allowing the food shortages. The further criticism Congress had was that the weapons could end up with terrorists, a likely possibility in that region of the world. Also, since Iran is indirectly supporting the Houthi rebels, and Saudi Arabia is backing the Yemeni government, then the entire conflict is basically an ancient war Persian-Arab war. The underlying conflict of the Yemen civil war is varying factions of Islam that want to control the region.
But, the opposing factions, that is, those that supported the bill argued that by aiding the Saudi Arabian forces, they are more capable of facing down Iran, which would help put an end to the endangerment of thousands of lives in the Middle East.
“This package of defense equipment and services support the long-term security of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region in the face of Iranian threats, while also bolstering the Kingdom’s ability to contribute to counterterrorism operations across the region, reducing the burden on the U.S. military to conduct those operations,” the White House said in a statement when the deal was first struck.
Further, the denial of weapons to Saudi Arabia would only harm diplomatic relations with the country. Trump also believes that weapons sales increases jobs in the United States.
“There is no classified intelligence that shows they have ever intentionally bombed civilians — as a matter of fact, intelligence down there shows that they didn’t,” Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said.
The vote to continue the sale, 53-47, was a narrow margin. But Murphy expressed that while the vote may have been blocked, it at least sent a message. “Regardless of whether the number is 48 or 51 or 45″ in favor of blocking the deals,” Murphy said before the vote, “this is an important message to the Saudis that we are all watching. And if they continue to target civilians and they continue to stop humanitarian aid from getting into Yemen, this vote will continue to go in the wrong direction for them.”
“This may very well not be the last time they have to ask again for permission for more arms,” Paul said in an interview with The Intercept. “And I think as the famine gets more desperate, as the blockade continues, maybe we can convert a few Republicans who may care about the famine and the deaths.”
The sale of weapons was agreed upon in May when President Trump visited Saudi Arabia. It was a $110 billion sale, to be fulfilled over ten years time. The move was expected to create jobs for Americans, as the weapons and aircraft will still need to be produced. The Senate wanted to block $500 million of that sale, which included precision-guided munitions and laser guided bombs.
However, this is just a small piece of that sale, which means there will be many chances for Congress to stall the rest of the sale in the future.