Trump Chooses Saudi Arabia over Congress
U.S. president approves arms sales to Mideast countries despite opposition from lawmakers
Unable to obtain the usual congressional approval, US President Donald Trump has invoked his emergency authority to approve 22 arms deals totaling $8.1 billion with Arab states.
The contracts include one providing for the manufacture of precision-guided aerial bomb components in Saudi Arabia. According to The New York Times, these are Paveway laser-guided bombs produced by the American defense firm Raytheon.
The White House justified waiving congressional review based on the “increasing tensions with Iran.”
Oraib Rintawi, a Jordanian political analyst, told The Media Line that those with the most to gain from the arms deals were the manufacturers. These firms, he said, supported the American right wing, which did its best to raise tensions in the Middle East so as to increase sales and profits.
“Congress opposes the involvement of the US in wars that cause humanitarian crises. However, Trump does not respect Congress, and prioritizes bringing money into the US,” Rintawi said.
The analyst added that the U.S. president wasn’t acting like he was running a great nation, but rather like a salesman for arms manufacturers.
“During his visit to the Saudi kingdom [in May 2017], he promoted weapons sales in a way that was far removed from conventional diplomacy,” Rintawi said, saying the president acted like a businessman without considering diplomatic norms or human values.
What’s more, the weapons being exported by the US won’t really help the receiving states face Iran, Rintawi said.
“This is evidenced by the previous arms deals with Saudi Arabia, where Riyadh used all of the arms and couldn’t stop the Houthis [rebels fighting in the civil war in Yemen],” he said.
He added that facing and fighting Iran was not about the quantity of weapons, “even if they were American,” but about the capacity of the receiving states.
“There is no value to these arms if they are sent to countries that are incapable of waging war,” he pointed out.
He noted that Riyadh had been fighting the Houthis for almost five years, and the latter is still fighting hard: “If this is the situation with the Houthis, imagine if the war was with Iran itself.”
Rintawi believes that the threat of war with Iran is being used to promote arms deals with Arab states and thus increase profits for U.S. defense firms. Furthermore, he cited the deadlock between Democrats and Republicans, where the president faced a variety of efforts to restrict his actions, as being “another factor behind Trump’s decision to bypass Congress.”
Seven US senators – three Republicans and four Democrats – have introduced 22 non-binding resolutions of disapproval, one for each sale to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates undertaken without the approval of Congress. Moreover, these lawmakers see the deals as transferring technology that is vital to US national security, something running contrary to Trump’s electoral promises.
Brian O’Toole, an American analyst and non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Business and Economics Program, told The Media Line that there were two primary reasons Congress was upset.
“First,” he said, “is that Congress generally has control over defense exports and believes that the administration is trying to usurp that power by going around congressional authorization. Second is that Congress is upset by Saudi Arabia’s actions recently, particularly the war in Yemen that is killing civilians, and by the Khashoggi murder.”
With the latter, he was referring to the death of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of a hit squad sent to liquidate him as he arrived for a private appointment at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul at the beginning of October 2018.
O’Toole added that it was difficult to understand the Trump Administration’s true reasons for pushing the arm deals against the will of Congress.
“It would seem some combination of personal connections between the leadership; Saudi flattery of Trump and his family; Iran; and a trade-off for support of Trump policies in the region, beyond just Iran,” he said.
The deals include the supply of 120 high-precision bombs to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as the maintenance of Saudi F-15 fighter jets and the supply of mortars, anti-tank systems and automatic rifles.
Sulaiman al-Oqeliy, a Saudi writer and analyst who is a member of the Saudi Association for Political Science, told The Media Line that Trump’s decision to proceed without congressional approval had to do with the longstanding foreign policy of the U.S., stressing that Riyadh had been a strategic ally of Washington for nearly 90 years.
“Saudi Arabia is seen as a vital cornerstone of U.S. strategy in the Middle East,” Oqeliy said.
He stressed that the kingdom was under direct threat from Tehran, with Saudi cities being attacked with ballistic missiles and unmanned aircraft used by Iranian proxies at the behest of Iran’s rulers.
“We are defending ourselves in accordance with the United Nations Charter,” Oqeliy said.
On May 24, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the decision to use the Executive Branches emergency powers for the 22 arms agreements, which also involve Jordan, “to deter the Iranian aggression.”
Nizar Abd al-Qader, a retired Lebanese general and now a political and military analyst, told The Media Line that winning the war in Yemen was critical to the security of the Saudi kingdom.
“Saudi Arabia is being threatened from its backyard,” he said, adding that Iran was providing complete support for the Houthi rebels’ efforts to take full control of Yemen.
In addition, Qader pointed out that the Houthis − Tehran’s local strong arm – were threatening Saudi navigation in the Red Sea.
“Saudi Arabia can never be complacent about such dangerous threats,” he said.
He noted that the American strategy in the Middle East was to contain Iran as well as to protect American allies, especially the oil states.
“Trump has taken a major step toward demonstrating America’s credibility in helping its allies in the face of a major threat,” Qader said.