May 25th, 2019. President Trump and Sec. of State Mike Pompeo bypassed Congress to approve the sale of $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
According to the Washington Post, the sale included semiautomatic rifles, bombs, laser guidance systems, and repair and maintenance services to the Saudi air forces. On Friday, Pompeo addressed Congress in a series of letters explaining the need to push the sale through using an irregular congressional tactic.
The President has the ability to declare a national emergency, granting him additional executive powers. Trump has already invoked this power twice in recent memory, during the government shutdown over funding for a border wall, and again in order to harshen the sanctions on Venezuela.
None of these actions are allowed under traditional executive power, but the national emergency changes that.
Trump has now declared a national emergency again, this time over the increased aggression with Iran attempting to justify the further arming of allied Arab Gulf states.
Lawmakers, human rights groups, democrats, and republicans have urged the president not to bypass congressional review on this matter since the Saudi-led coalition has perpetrated large-scale civilian killings and famine in Yemen using arms bought primarily from France and the United States.
Yemen War Powers Resolution
Last month, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Ro Khanna (D – C.A.) along with several other democrats pushed a resolution through the House and Senate which would have ended United States support of Saudi Arabia and the war in Yemen which has killed over 50,000 civilians, and left many more in threat of starvation. President Trump vetoed the resolution which garnered decent bi-partisan support.
“This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Trump wrote to the Senate after exercising his veto.
Now, having allowed for the continued non-combative assistance to Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen, Trump is pushing the Yemen envelope even further by declaring that threats from Iran equal a national emergency and that this justifies the $8 billion dollar arms sale.
Iran, a Shi’ite nation, is the mortal enemy of Saudi Arabia, a Sunni nation; and much of the damage caused in Yemen has been under the Saudi pretense that Iran is arming and supporting the Houthi rebels which ousted the Saudi-backed, Sunni governmental party Al-Islah several years ago.
Earlier this month, the United States carried out a number of measures in the region in response to an undisclosed threat attributed to Iran. According to journalist Gareth Porter writing for Truth Dig, the threat was a series mortars that went off within the vicinity of U.S. embassies and other military installations in Iraq and that may have been fired by Iranian-backed Shi’ite militia groups operating in the country.
Following up on the threats, the U.S. moved the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier battle group into the area as a show of force. The New York Times reported that Trump was even presented with a plan to send up to 120,000 troops to Iraq to counter any offensives launched by Iran, but Trump dismissed it as “fake news”.
It seems hard to say for certain if the $8 billion arms sale is meant to deter Iran, who as a sovereign nation has not carried out any attacks on her neighbors, or to continue to load the scales in the Yemen conflict, but many in congress reject both motives.
In last Friday’s letter to congress, Sec. Pompeo stated “Iranian malign activity” required the “immediate sale” of weapons.
“[Iran’s] activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle-East and to American security at home and abroad,” he wrote.
He said the transfers “must occur as quickly as possible in order to deter further Iranian adventurism in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East”.
Many on Capitol Hill are deeply disturbed at this show of executive force, claiming that ignoring the appalling human-rights record of Saudi Arabia both within their own borders and in Yemen is a failure to observe American values, human rights, and national security issues.
Senator Bob Menendez (D – N.J.) ranking member of the Senate Council on Foreign Relations, said in a press release: “I am deeply concerned about the rumors that the Administration plans to bypass Congress and sell weapons to foreign governments, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, one of the worst human rights abusers in the world”.
“In addition to suffering the reputational problems of delivering deadly weapons to governments that clearly misuse them, U.S. defense firms should exercise extreme caution that they are not opening themselves, their officers, and their employees to criminal and civil liability by exporting weapons pursuant to potentially invalid licenses”.
“I will pursue all appropriate legislative and other means to nullify these and any planned ongoing sales should the Administration move forward in this manner”.
“The Congressional review process exists so that the Senate can ask questions about whether a particular arms sale serves our national interests and supports our values, including human rights and civilian protections. I continue to be willing to engage with the administration to get answers to these key questions”.