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Biden’s $650 Million Arms Sale to Saudi Arabia
By Charles Pierson on December 9, 2021
The vote wasn’t even close.
On December 7, the US Senate voted 30-67 against a joint resolution (S.J. Res. 31) which would have blocked a $650 million US arms sale to Saudi Arabia. Only two Republicans voted in favor of the resolution: Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Senator Mike Lee of Utah who had co-sponsored the resolution together with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Twenty Senate Democrats voted for the sale to go ahead.
It looked like a Biden Administration would usher in a new policy. During the November 20, 2019 Democratic presidential candidates’ debate, Biden was asked about Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist residing in the US was assassinated in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018. The CIA determined that Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had personally ordered the hit.
Biden was asked whether he would “punish” the “senior Saudi leaders” responsible for Khashoggi’s murder. Biden said yes; he would make the Saudis “pay the price” for Khashoggi’s murder. Plus: Biden “would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to [Saudi Arabia].”
This was a dramatic departure from the policy of Biden’s former boss, President Barack Obama. Obama had taken the US into the war on the coalition side in 2015 in an attempt to mollify the Arab states which opposed Obama’s prospective nuclear deal with Iran. Obama provided the coalition with intelligence-sharing, target spotting, spare parts for coalition warplanes, arms sales, and (until November 2018) in-flight refueling of coalition aircraft. President Donald Trump continued US participation in the war, even boasting about all the cool weapons the US was selling Saudi Arabia (“Saudi Arabia is a very wealthy nation, and they’re going to give the United States some of that wealth, hopefully in the form of jobs, in the form of the purchase of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world.”).
Was the $650 million deal with Saudi Arabia a “relevant arms sale”? One would think so. But, according to the Biden Administration, the AMRAAMs are “defensive.”
[U]pon closer examination, the distinction between “offensive” and “defensive” Saudi weapons begins to disappear. So-called defensive weapons are part of a military apparatus that is enforcing a brutal blockade, shutting out aid for Yemen and creating a climate of intimidation and fear. The weapons transfer sends a message to Saudi Arabia, at precisely the moment it is refusing to lift its blockade, that U.S. support is unconditional.
(Sarah Lazare, “Biden Is Wrong. There Is No Such Thing as “Defensive” Saudi Weapons in the War on Yemen,” In These Times, Nov. 22, 2021.)
Capitol lawmakers and civil society groups have sent several letters to Biden beginning in March asking how the Administration distinguishes defensive from offensive weapons and operations. They are still waiting for an answer.
* * * * *
President Biden came out strongly against S.J. 31. Biden seems to have bet all his chips on the possibility of arranging a ceasefire in Yemen, yet the belligerents are still at an impasse. The Houthis won’t agree to a ceasefire until the Saudi coalition lifts the blockade. The Saudi coalition won’t lift the blockade until the Houthis agree to a ceasefire. And around and around it goes.
Congress is considering the annual defense [sic] budget: the National Defense Authorization Act (“NDAA”) for Fiscal Year 2022. This year’s NDAA weighs in at $768 billion. That’s more than President Biden had requested, and a substantial increase from the by no means meagre $740.5 billion NDAA for the year before.
The House version of the NDAA passed on September 23. The bill incorporated an amendment from Representative Ro Khanna that would have forced the US to end its support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, a much more ambitious goal than was represented by S.J. Res. 31.
This good news had to be regarded cautiously. Similar amendments from Khanna to end US assistance to the Saudi coalition also made it into the NDAAs for FY 2020 and FY 2021. Both were stripped in conference. So, it was obvious that Congressman Khanna’s amendment would face an uphill battle again this year.
The slope has now gotten steeper.
On December 7, the House approved a compromise version of the NDAA which omits the Khanna amendment and other progressive measures. The compromise NDAA now heads to the Senate.
 RICHARD J. WALTON, COLD WAR AND COUNTERREVOLUTION: THE FOREIGN POLICY OF JOHN F. KENNEDY (1972), page 141.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs