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Saudis hire former US lawmaker to secure arms deals

24 November 2016 14:37

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Saudi Arabia has reportedly hired a powerful former US lawmaker to lobby White House and Congress during president-elect Donald Trump’s tenure on allowing arms sales to the kingdom.

Riyadh added heavyweight former California Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon to its already formidable team of lobbyists at a time when US lawmakers seek to block arms sale to Saudi Arabia over its war on Yemen.

Saudi Arabia is under fire for human rights abuses in its two-year military campaign against Yemen, where US-made planes have bombed hospitals, schools and key infrastructure.

Over the summer, 64 US lawmakers signed a letter decrying the sale of cluster munitions to the kingdom, and in September, a bipartisan coalition nearly blocked a multi-billion dollar sale of tanks and other military equipment to the Saudi regime.

Between 2011 and 2015, the longtime GOP lawmaker was the chair of the powerful House Armed Services Committee, which oversees the Pentagon and its multibillion dollar foreign-military sales program to Saudi Arabia.

According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, McKeon was among the top five recipients of defense contractor money in the US House of Representatives.

McKeon is expected to push for continuity in the US-Saudi relationship amid the transfer of power from Barack Obama to Trump.

On his registration form, McKeon indicated he would “provide consulting and government relations counsel” and that he would “undertake specific advocacy requests with regard to legislative and public policy matters.”

McKeon also joins the Saudi lobby at a key moment when the Saudi regime has been hiring a fleet of firms to try to undo the law letting 9/11 victims’ families sue for its alleged connection to the attackers.

The September 11 attacks in the US which killed nearly 3,000 people and caused about $10 billion worth of property and infrastructure damage.

US officials assert that the attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda terrorists but many experts have raised questions about the official account. They believe that rogue elements within the US government orchestrated the 9/11 attacks in order to accelerate the US war machine and advance the Zionist agenda.

Analysts argue that Saudi Arabia only played a minor role in 9/11, but the operation was essentially carried out by Israeli and American intelligence agencies to destroy seven countries deemed enemies to Israel in five years.

By signing on as a Saudi lobbyist, McKeon will be lobbying his former colleagues to keep arming Saudi Arabia at a time of uncertainty for the US-Saudi alliance. Amid the transfer of power from Barack Obama to Trump, McKeon is expected to push for continuity in the US-Saudi relationship.

His years of experience on the House Armed Services Committee would put him in a privileged position to push Congress to continue to allow arms sales to Saudi Arabia, said Seth Binder, program manager for Security Assistance Monitor.

US arms sales continue “despite the growing concern over the increasing number of possible human rights violations committed by the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing in Yemen,” Binder added.


A body is being pulled out from under the rubble of houses destroyed by Saudi airstrikes in Sana’a, Yemen, in June 2015. (Photo by AP) 

According to the Center for International Policy (CIP), the Pentagon approved over $10 billion in military sales to Saudi Arabia during McKeon’s tenure as head of the House Armed Services Committee.

While McKeon was chairman, sales to Saudi nearly doubled, as the Pentagon signed off on massive tank, fighter aircraft and munitions deals.

McKeon received over $700,000 in campaign contributions from defense contractors over the course of his career — including from companies that sell arms to Saudi Arabia.

For example, McKeon collected nearly $200,000 from Lockheed Martin, which recently signed an $11.9 billion deal to sell combat ships to Saudi.

Boeing, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman all sell arms to Saudi Arabia and contributed generously to McKeon’s campaigns.


Former California Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon shakes hand with a military official in this undated photo.

William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, called McKeon’s move into lobbying, “the military-industrial complex at its worst.”

“Hiring the former head of the House Armed Services Committee to run interference for them makes sense from the Saudi perspective,” he said.

“McKeon will be helping old friends like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, major campaign contributors of his who are profiting handsomely from the US-Saudi weapons trade.”

The former congressman now runs his own lobbying firm, the McKeon Group, which registered earlier this month to represent Saudi Arabia.

McKeon will be working in a partnership with Democratic-aligned lobby shop the Glover Park Group alongside 17 other firms and individuals the kingdom has hired to guard its interests in Washington.

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