On his trip to Saudi Arabia last weekend, President Trump touted a $110 billion arms deal (or $350 billion over ten years) the U.S. would be entering into with that country. On Thursday, Sen. Rand Paul sought to throw a wrench in the works by forcing a vote on it.
Paul along with Democratic Senators Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Al Franken of Minnesota have introduced a joint resolution of disapproval that under Senate rules would require members to vote on the arms deal. The senators worry that giving more arms to the Saudis encourages their human rights abuses, involves the U.S. in the Saudi-led war in Yemen and also has concerns about that country’s history of supporting extremists.
“It is time we pause and consider the repercussions before we continue to fuel arms races around the world,” said Paul in a press release. “Given Saudi Arabia’s past support of terror, poor human rights record, and questionable tactics in its war in Yemen, Congress must carefully consider and thoroughly debate if selling them billions of dollars of arms is in our best national security interest at this time.”
Paul asked for a vote last year when the Obama administration pushed through a $1.15 billion dollar deal with the Saudis. Paul’s effort failed with a 26-71 senate vote.
Sen. Murphy commented:
Thousands of civilians are being killed in the U.S.-backed Saudi war in Yemen while terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS are getting stronger by the day. Selling the Saudis precision-guided munitions that are going to be used to target civilians makes us complicit in this humanitarian and national security disaster. Saudi Arabia needs to see that there will be consequences if they ignore U.S. demands and target civilian infrastructure.
“Despite this tragedy, the U.S. continues to sell billions of dollars of weaponry to the Saudis while turning a blind eye to their indiscriminate killing of children, women, and men in Yemen,” added Sen. Franken. “Our bipartisan resolution would block the latest weapon sale and help demonstrate that the U.S. won’t stand for what the Saudis are doing to innocent people.”
While Paul opposes giving aid to Saudi Arabia, he did praise some of the President Trump’s efforts during his recent trip. “I think it is a good idea that he’s telling and encouraging the people who live there to do something about ISIS, if Saudi Arabia would do something about it,” Paul told Breitbart. “The problem is in the past Saudi Arabia has actually been supporting radical groups like ISIS. I don’t really trust them to do it.”
Sen. Paul also believes our weapons will be used to bomb civilians in Yemen, adding, “I think that gives us a black eye in the area and it actually may create more terrorists than it kills.”
Paul expressed his Yemen concerns in an op-ed at Rare in April:
Thousands of civilians have been killed by Saudi bombings in Yemen. The blowback from these civilian deaths will be generations of hatred and likely more terrorism.
It is also possible our involvement in the Yemeni Civil war could allow a situation where the Saudis and the Houthis decimate each other, leaving a vacuum that al-Qaeda fills. Think it can’t happen? Well it’s exactly what happened when America and Saudi-supported rebels pushed back Assad in Syria, leaving a power gap that ISIS filled.
“In recent years, there hasn’t been a military action taken in Yemen by Saudi Arabia that doesn’t have America’s fingerprints all over it,” Paul added.
Trump’s arms deal far surpasses anything the Obama administration tried to arrange with Saudi Arabia, in dollar amount and scope.
The procedure Paul plans to use is the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 which allows a senator to force a vote on an arms sale.
Disclosure: I co-authored the 2011 book The Tea Party Goes to Washington with Sen. Rand Paul.