Increasing Dem Disapproval for Saudi Arms Sale

WASHINGTON – After the Trump administration signed a $110 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia, Senate Democrats are expressing growing concern over the arms agreement before today’s expected vote of disapproval. Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced S.J. Resolution 42 back in April to provide limitations on the transfer of air-ground munitions from US to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking from the Senate Subway on Wednesday, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told Jewish Insider, that he will be joining Murphy and Paul in disapproval of the agreement.  Referring to the ongoing Saudi military campaign in Yemen, Van Hollen noted, “I believe that the sale of those weapons will simply prolong humanitarian crisis rather than resolve it.”

Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ben Cardin (D-MD) also announced that he will be backing the S.J. Resolution 42. “I have not been able to get satisfactory explanations from our administration in how they are monitoring the human rights issues in regards to the Saudis as well as their long term plans in arming the Middle East. This is part of a long range of arm sale,” Cardin told Jewish Insider.

Despite not directly impacting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, J Street has come out strongly against the weapons agreement. “Saudi Arabia is currently engaged in a bombing campaign in Yemen that has cost thousands of civilian lives. And it’s not simply a matter of collateral damage: UN experts say some of the worst civilian death tolls have occurred during strikes with no legitimate military target,” J Street emphasized in a statement.

For different reasons, AIPAC has also urged caution regarding the Trump administration’s deal. Calling on Members of Congress to scrutinize the deal, AIPAC says the “sale could dwarf Israel’s defense spending over the same period, including the $38 billion in pledged US security assistance.” The pro-Israel lobby expressed concern that the agreement could hurt Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME).

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), one of the party’s most passionate advocates for human rights in the Middle East, explained that he would not be joining with Paul and Murphy on the resolution of disapproval. The Arizona lawmaker told Jewish Insider, “It’s important for our National Security as we see the Iranians killing Americans and an Iranian (campaign) in Yemen killing innocent men, women and children. I believe the best way to bring about progress is to continue the pressure that I have been exerting upon them for years.”

While explaining that he would back the Saudi Arabian Arms deal, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) stressed, “I hope it will be carefully monitored.” Noting the massive civilian casualties in Yemen, Rubio added, “If they (Saudi Arabia) continue to use it in that manner, we’re going to have a big problem with it. I have a huge problem with Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. But, the pragmatism of the region is one of the considerations.”

However, for many Democrats realpolitik is not a convincing enough reason to support a massive arms deal to Saudi Arabia. “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,” Murphy explained.

Republican Senator Todd Young (R-IN), Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) have all co-signed the resolution among others. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted that he is “inclined to support” the resolution. While it appears that Murphy and Paul’s resolution will likely be defeated given the overwhelming Republican backing, the growing support among influential Democrats for limiting arms sales to a major US ally signals a changing policy towards Saudi Arabia and an increasing willingness of Senate Democrats to invoke human rights concerns in critical foreign policy decisions.

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