The White House said last month it was making an emergency provision within the country’s arms control law to enable the billions of dollars of arms sales to the Saudi kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, the US’s strongest allies in the Persian Gulf. The recourse helps the president spare congressional review for the exports.
The Trump administration had cited “alleged threats from Iran” to justify resorting to the provision.
R. Clarke Cooper, the State Department’s assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday where he was grilled over the $8 billion “’emergency” arms sale to Saudis.
Democratic members of the House committee said the president’s action violated the law because there was no actual emergency.
They also said Trump’s action shows that the United States is tolerating worst human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen.
“There is no emergency. It’s phony. It’s made up. And it’s an abuse of the law,” said Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The US has been supporting a 2015-present Saudi-led war against Yemen that seeks to bring back the impoverished country’s former Riyadh-backed officials. The American patronage has featured aerial refueling, which the US only stopped earlier in the year after the Saudi-led coalition grew independent of it, as well as logistical and commando support.
Tens of thousands have died since the onset of the war, and the entire Yemen has been pushed close to the edge of outright famine.
A year after the war was launched, Trump made his maiden foreign visit to Saudi Arabia, announcing more than $100 billion in arms sales to the kingdom.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Tuesday that four Republicans will join Democrats to oppose the arms sale to Saudi Arabia next week in the Senate.
Cooper, however, said the arms sales and US military buildup in the Persian Gulf were needed to counter what he called increasing threats from Iran to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
“These malign – even provocative actions mark a new evolution of the threat Iran poses to the security of hundreds of thousands of Americans who live and work in the [Persian] Gulf states, and to the security of the region and our partners,” Cooper said.
Democrats denounced Trump’s bypassing of Congress on the arms sale to Saudi Arabia and US support for Saudi war in Yemen.
Representative Brad Sherman, a Democrat, said, “You tell us that you want to send a message with this to our adversaries. It appears that your adversary is Congress and the message is loud and clear: ‘We will stretch every statute beyond the breaking point in order to make the Congress irrelevant to the decision-making process.’”
“The arms sales you’re talking about are controversial. There is significant opposition in Congress. And rather than confront that, you go around it,” Sherman added.
“In what ways is the United States holding Saudi Arabia accountable for war crimes it has committed by murdering civilians on multiple, multiple occasions in Yemen and causing a famine in Yemen?” asked Democratic Representative Andy Levin.
Representative Ilhan Omar said the US relationship with Saudi Arabia “in its current form is immoral.”
“But it is not only immoral, it is counterproductive to our national security,” Omar added.
Lawmakers had been holding up the sales amid concerns about civilian casualties in the war and fury at Saudi Arabia over its killing of US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last year. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and outspoken critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was killed and dismembered last May after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, but the US administration refused to let the murder adversely affect its Saudi ties.