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Senate Vote on Saudi Arms Deal Fails, But Momentum Against Saudi Alliance Growing

By a closer margin than the last time Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Chris Murphy (D-Ct.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.) tried to block a Saudi arms deal.

SenateSenateA vote to advance a resolution of disapproval of a $510 million U.S. deal to send precision guided weapons systems to Saudi Arabia failed in the Senate by a vote of 47-53.

The resolution received far more support than a similar resolution last year targeting a $1 billion tank deal with Saudi Arabia blocked by the Obama administration.

The vote indicates support is growing to question the foreign policy establishment status quo. This even as President Trump is abandoning the challenges of the underlying assumptions of U.S. foreign policy and the U.S.'s entangling alliances he made during his campaign.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a main sponsor of the resolution, admitted to reporters today the vote was purely symbolic, noting that that the House is unlikely to bring it up and that even if it passed Trump would veto it anyway.

"How do we figure out how to have less war?" Paul asked reporters. "That's the big question. I'm not willing to invade Saudi Arabia to tell them what to do, but we don't have to support them."

Last year's resolution, sponsored like this one by Paul, Chris Murphy (D-Ct.), and Al Franken (D-Minn.), sought to disapprove the sale of Abrams tanks and other arms to Saudi Arabia. It failed by a vote of 71-27 to table the resolution.

Paul called today's vote a "continuation" of the last one.

"We had a vote [last year], and we lost the vote, which I think is a good example of losing the vote but changing the policy," Paul told Reason. "We lost the vote, but then Obama said well maybe we shouldn't give them the special guided missiles, and then Trump has brought it back again."

Paul predicted beforehand that there would be a lot more support from Democrats and most Democrats supported today's resolution, which disapproved of the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen.

The Obama administration expressed concern over the way Saudi Arabia was conducting its military operations in the Yemen civil war when barring the sale last year.

While Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and other supporters of the arms deal argued the precision guided systems would reduce civilian deaths, critics challenged that idea.

"Saudi Arabia bombed a funeral procession," Paul said on the Senate floor, referring to an October 2016 incident. "There was no mistake here, there was no cloud cover, there was no growth or tops of trees and they accidentally bombed a funeral procession. They bombed them and killed 125 civilians in a funeral. They wounded 500."

Rights groups expressed similar concerns.

"Despite increased U.S. support in the form of training and smarter weaponry to lessen civilian casualties, it has become clear that several unaddressed flaws in Saudi Arabia's targeting process, not the precision of the munition or targeting skill, are the principal cause of harm," read a letter signed by Oxfam and 40 other humanitarian groups and sent to every member of the U.S. Senate. "According to analysis released by the American Bar Association, resuming unconditional sales of these weapons to Saudi Arabia violates the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act."

That ABA report found that the U.S. could not "continue to rely on Saudi assurances that it will comply with international law and agreements concerning the use of U.S.-origin equipment."

Oxfam has warned that Yemen, embroiled in a two-year civil war, is on the verge of famine, with nearly 7 million Yemenis facing starvation.

"We need to realize that we are a part of it," Paul said, referring to the ongoing Saudi-led blockade of Yemen, which rights groups say is preventing food and humanitarian supplies from reaching the country. "Am I going to send one of my three sons to fight a war in Yemen?" Paul asked. "I'd have no idea what they were fighting for."

As recently as September 2014, President Obama had pointed to U.S. counterterrorism operations in Yemen as a model for the fight against ISIS and other counterterrorism campaigns. Instead, U.S. actions in Yemen, increased the popularity of the local Al-Qaeda affiliate and helped to destabilize the country.

Much of President Trump's vaunted $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia remains vaporware, or as the Brookings Institution calls it, "fake news." The deal, Brookings senior fellow Bruce Riedel wrote, consists of "letters of interest or intent, but not contracts."

On the campaign trail, Trump talked tough about Saudi Arabia, at one point suggesting the Arab kingdom was responsible for the terrorist attacks on 9/11. He questioned the one-way defense relationship, and called it the world's largest funder of terrorism.

As president, Trump made Saudi Arabia his first foreign trip, where he addressed Arab nations on the need to cooperate on fighting terrorism and toured a new counterterrorism center. Paul, earlier today, accused Saudi Arabia of "polluting the world with this anger" of radical Islamist terrorism.

The Saudi arms deal, particularly in the context of Saudi intervention in the Yemen civil war, represents a further entanglement in regional politics, the kind that Trump the candidate said he'd avoid.

The Senate's efforts to scuttle a substantive, materialized chunk of the arms deal are a good start—congressional pressure could thwart further progress on bringing the rest of the $110 billion arms deal to fruition. Where President Trump has dropped his challenges to the foreign policy establishment status quo, Senators on both sides of the aisle, like Paul and Murphy, have an opportunity to pick up from the president and tap into the same popular weariness of the foreign policy status quo Trump did.

Senators can challenge arms deals thanks to the Arms Export Control Act of 1976, which, as Paul explained to the press the last time around, allows senators to force a vote on arms sales by the president.

Additional reporting by Eric Boehm in Washington.

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  • BYODB||

    You can give a retard the smartest weapon in the world and they'll still find a way to either shoot themselves in the face with it, or mow down a group of civilians. Just sayin'.


    Can we please elect Rand as President next time around?

  • timbo||

    He should have never waivered on some of the most stalwart things his dad stood for in the past. The media will use any and all ammo against any real libertarian leaning guy to make him out to be a wimp and flake and pot hungry drug dealer.

    That roadmap is tried and true when the American electorate is as stupid as they are.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Let's see how this Trump thing works out before we bail completely. I'm still hopeful the DNC can get Hillary installed with some crazy plan that just might work.

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    "Here's how Bernie can still win"

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Mohammed, what a bunch of assholes.

  • timbo||

    If we don't perpetuate wars all over the globe forever, then Lockheed, Boeing, McDonald Douglas, GE, Pratt Whitney, et al will not be profitable.

    That is justification enough for over 250,000 estimated civilian casualties in the last 15 years.

    Not to mention that nothing is more patriotic than sending boys to far away lands to die for politicians to enrich them selves. Add in borrowing future generation into debt servitude and you have the blueprint for a failing government and once prosperous free economy.

    This is how a functioning banana republic has to work,....until it doesn't

  • ||

    Be real folks, if America didn't get the contract, British or French would - or even the Russians.

    As far as I know no one is requesting "...... sending boys to far away lands ....." let alone one of Rand Paul's sons!

    Remember ".....Lockheed, Boeing, McDonald Douglas, GE, Pratt Whitney, et al...." employ Americans and pay taxes.

    Furthermore, if we sell the arms so they can fight their own battles that me we may not have to.

    Look, it is frequently said that "guns do not kill people, people kill people" in support of the Second; and we sell guns.

    One could apply that in this case .... we sell the weapons, we do not use them.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Yes, much rather sell them and not use them.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Exactly. At least the conversation is about sellimg the Saudis weapons, instead of deciding if we should send a few hundred thousand of our boys over there.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Its a symbolic vote because the House controls the purse and both it and the Senate have been raising the defense budget for decades. This even though there has been no cold war for almost 30 years.

    I hope Americans are not fooled, even though many of us like Rand Paul.

    Congress approved a partial 2017 budget that included money for extra equipment that the DoD could sell to Saudi Arabia.

    This is an example of something to bitch about Trump about.

    Sorry, back to TDS about Russia stealing the 2016 election.

  • timbo||

    Symbolic nonetheless and I believe Paul even said so yesterday. It does have value if anyone were to be paying attention to what a clusterf*ck we continue to brew over there. Chief among our many disgusting acts to ally with the Saudis and give money to corrupt arabs time and again.

    I can see no value of continuing our preferred détente with the Saudis and not working to have the same with all of the countries over there. The Saudi's should be doing nothing more than kissing our ass since they have nothing but sales to US.
    I love how selective the mindset of the so called conservatives is however. We were pissed when brak made concessions to corrupt arabs. Now even the mainstream media is looking the other way when trump does the same. Hilarious.

  • timbo||

    Symbolic nonetheless and I believe Paul even said so yesterday. It does have value if anyone were to be paying attention to what a clusterf*ck we continue to brew over there. Chief among our many disgusting acts to ally with the Saudis and give money to corrupt arabs time and again.

    I can see no value of continuing our preferred détente with the Saudis and not working to have the same with all of the countries over there. The Saudi's should be doing nothing more than kissing our ass since they have nothing but sales to US.
    I love how selective the mindset of the so called conservatives is however. We were pissed when brak made concessions to corrupt arabs. Now even the mainstream media is looking the other way when trump does the same. Hilarious.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    My understanding is that this is a sale and not military aid.

  • timbo||

    True but still taking care of all of the Washington buddies and corrupt governments abroad. Building airplanes to sell to bankrupt nations likely becomes a transaction that goes through the import export bank. Misallocation of capital in almost every scenario.

  • FreeToFear||

    Sale, yes... but its we ordered extra to be built and then sell them for the same price (less?) that we bought them for... couldn't we at least run a markup on them?

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    So now the libertarian case is against free trade. Makes sense.

  • timbo||

    Not really free trade though. This echoes more favoritism to perpetuate the military industrial complex. An arms sale to the Saudis seems particularly reprehensible given their actions in Yemen and Qatar.
    Seems rather hypocritical as well to supply arms to the Saudis given the crap they pull on their citizens. I have also read in multiple sources that are not complementary to each other that the Saudis funded many of the radical madrasses all over the Middle East and Europe. They seem like scum government of the highest order.

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    There's no 'M' in this scenario, at least not the way it's meant in the whole MIC.. This is a company selling to a nominally (yes, I know) friendly government. Tell me again the libertarian case for interfering in that transaction. Tell me how this is materially different from lifting the cuban embargo.

  • timbo||

    Absolutely fair point. I would refer back to the point that it is not free trade when favoritism occurs. Let's take almost any Boeing sale to foreign countries. The import export bank becomes involved most of the time which is a back door tax payer guarantee of a potentially failed loan. The Saudis are bankrupt. You are correct that company a should be able to sell to company b no matter what no matter where as long as it does not involve yours and my money in principal.

  • ||

    Citation required regarding the bankruptcy of Saudi Arabia.

    When the British did the 48 billion GBP Al Yamamah deal back in the 80's to sell Tornado aircraft etc, they required payment in oil.

    This was a brilliant contract because the value of the contract was fixed and the amount of oil received varied according the price of said commodity.

    I don't think Saudi Arabia is bankrupt in oil terms.

    JAT

  • timbo||

    The Saudis have been in deep trouble since the oil price crashed. They have since attempted many manipulations of the oil markets to chase competitors out so they could achieve recovery. They have attempted to sell shares of their sovereign wealth fund which no reputable accounting firm can verify the real value of the stock. During the Arab Spring, which occurred in SA as well, they suppressed the dissent violently The dissent was the result of the government cutting back on subsidies and government funded welfare and cheap goods. All signs of a failing government that is running out of cash until oil comes back up.

  • timbo||

    I should clarify. The kingdom is not bankrupt per se. They are struggling to support their propped up economy and paying out of pocket to suppress further dissent.
    They cannot afford military arms any more than we can.
    This whole deal is smelly to say the least.

  • FreeToFear||

    No, this is the Government of the United States selling arms that we've purchased from the defense contractors to a third government. The libertarian case is that these are arms that I (as a taxpayer) am selling to a third party of questionable repute. If, as a firearm vendor, I know that the person trying to buy my gun has been beating his wife, I'm probably not going to send him a gun. Likewise as an arms dealer by way of the US government I'm not going to be selling arms to the Saudis at cost.

    I recognize that Raytheon et al are not allowed to sell directly to the Saudis, but thats a free trade issue I'd be happy to see redressed legislatively. I'm uncomfortable with the state department being the go between for these sorts of morally questionable deals

  • mtrueman||

    " I'm uncomfortable with the state department being the go between for these sorts of morally questionable deals"

    I agree. This is clearly a job that only the UN is fit for.

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    I wonder what changed in between last year and this year that so many more senators were willing to support it this time. Anyone got any ideas?

  • mtrueman||

    I don't think the senate trusts Trump. This deal may well be tied up to Trump's greenlighting the Qatari fiasco. The whole thing stinks.

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