The Trump administration is continuing its potentially volatile courtship of dictators around the world this week. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified Congress that the Trump team would be moving ahead with $8 billion in controversial arms sales to interests including Saudi Arabia without an otherwise legally mandated Congressional review process because, according to him, there is a national emergency situation mandating they act.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) shared bluntly in response:
‘There is no new ‘emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there. This sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress… If we don’t stand up to this abuse of authority, we will permanently box ourselves out of deciding who we should sell weapons to.’
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman James Risch (R-Idaho) shared in response that his team was “reviewing and analyzing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications.”
The issue is that the Saudi-led coalition fighting against rebels in Yemen has repeatedly targeted civilians. Schoolchildren and others have already died from munitions that originated in the United States while in the upper levels of Saudi power, leaders there have led efforts like the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi — an incident Trump has adamantly refused to make any significant part of his stance towards the country, repeatedly questioning whether the Saudi leadership should even be considered culpable. It’s the first country he visited as president, and he and his team have maintained a close relationship in the time since.
Now, the deals that his administration has announced plans to push through provide for “the sale and transfer of mortar bombs, missile, drones, repair and maintenance services to aid the Saudi air fleet, and a controversial sale of precision-guided munitions that lawmakers fear Saudi Arabia may use against civilians in Yemen’s civil war,” in the description of The Washington Post. There are a total of 22 deals adding up to the $8 billion that the Trump team rolled out plans for this week; other beneficiaries include the United Arab Emirates, a close Saudi ally, which has cooperated with them in recent regional domination efforts like a long blockade of Qatar, which although a U.S. ally, has suffered without much pushback from the United States.
There’s continued rising opposition in Congress to these moves. Earlier this year, both chambers — including the Republican-controlled Senate — voted to end U.S. support for Saudi involvement in Yemen, but the president vetoed that resolution.
In the time since, he’s not just continuing on with his trend — he’s upping the stakes of his antagonism in the Middle East, with his team unveiling plans this week for a surge of 1,500 troops to the area to confront a supposed rising threat from Iran (a Saudi adversary) after having already sent an aircraft carrier and strategic bombers to the area.
In the wake of these developments, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s ranking member Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) noted that the Trump team hasn’t even “which legal mechanism it thinks it is using” to get around legally mandated Congressional oversight of arms sales. Relations between the presidency and Congress are continuing to decay, and lives could be on the line.
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