Home/Daniel Larison/Trump’s Bogus ‘Emergency’ to Arm the Saudis and Emiratis

Trump’s Bogus ‘Emergency’ to Arm the Saudis and Emiratis

Rubble aftermath of a Saudi airstrike on a Yemeni neighborhood in 2015. Almigdad Mojalli/Voice of America

Trump is preparing to make a bogus “emergency” declaration to get around Congressional opposition to further arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE:

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is expected to declare an emergency under U.S. arms control laws amid the increased tensions with Iran, a step that would allow it to sidestep normal congressional review and rush billions of dollars in weapons to key Middle East allies, said current officials and people familiar with the matter.

The declaration is expected to come by week’s end, the officials said, allowing the U.S. to move ahead on sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The looming action is drawing opposition from U.S. lawmakers who previously have opposed weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. because of how Washington’s Gulf allies are using the arms in Yemen, where the United Nations says thousands of civilians have been killed by airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led military coalition.

“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove of this sale,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.). “It sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress.”

It goes without saying that there is no genuine emergency that requires the U.S. to rush more weapons to the two governments that are bombing and starving Yemen. Like the president’s other abuses of exceptions written into the laws, he is taking advantage of a provision that was supposed to be used only in extraordinary situations in order to circumvent Congressional opposition to his bankrupt policies. Because Congressional opposition to arming these regimes is stronger than ever, the Trump administration hopes to exploit any loophole it can find to keep funneling weapons to despotic clients as they continue to rain death and destruction on Yemeni civilians. Trump has been doing everything he can to ensure that nothing interrupts the flow of U.S.-made weapons to the war criminals in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, and the upcoming “emergency” declaration is just the latest example of how far he will go to cater to these governments.

The rush to deliver more weapons to the Saudis and Emiratis comes on the heels of another blatant attack on civilians in Sanaa last week. The Saudi coalition bombed a residential area in one of the most densely packed parts of the capital. Dozens were injured, and at least six were killed. The New York Timesreports on the continued Saudi coalition attacks on civilians and the U.S. role in supporting them, and it describes the casualties from the recent airstrike in Sanaa:

After five days of treatment in a shabby Yemeni hospital, Luai Sabri died on Tuesday. The 20-year-old had a cracked skull, a ruptured spleen and a damaged liver, according to a relative, injuries caused by a bomb that dropped from a warplane flown by the Saudi-led coalition.

The airstrike was part of a wave of bombings over the Yemeni capital, Sana, last Thursday that coincided with a spike in tensions between the United States — which supports the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen — and Iran — which backs the coalition’s enemies, the Houthi rebels.

It is practically guaranteed that the Saudis and Emiratis will use additional weapons sent to them by the U.S. to carry out attacks like this one. The coalition has frequently struck civilian targets not because of a lack of training or lack of precision weapons, but rather because their governments aren’t concerned about the civilian lives they take and they deliberately target non-military sites with regularity. Mohamad Bazzi explains:

Radhya al-Mutawakel, co-founder and leader of Mwatana for Human Rights, a Yemen-based organization, told the House subcommittee that the Saudis and their allies simply don’t care about protecting Yemeni civilians. “It’s not a matter of training. It’s a matter of accountability. They don’t care,” she said. “If they cared, they can make it much better, at least not to embarrass their allies.”

According to the Yemen Data Project, Saudi and UAE warplanes have conducted more than 19,500 air strikes on Yemen since the war began, an average of nearly 13 attacks per day. (About a third of these attacks are on military targets, while the rest are classified as nonmilitary targets or “unknown.”) The coalition has bombed schools, hospitals, markets, mosques, farms, factories, roads, bridges, power plants, water-treatment facilities, even a potato-chip factory.

To continue arming the Saudis and Emiratis at this point is to knowingly provide war criminals with the means to commit more war crimes against innocent civilians. The coalition’s appalling record of attacks on civilians is reason enough to halt all military assistance and support for the war on Yemen. The U.S. should have nothing to do with their campaign:

“Stronger levers to hold the coalition accountable are a fantastic idea,” said Kristine Beckerle of Mwatana, which has called on the United States to cut its support to the Saudi-led coalition. “But if your partner appears consistently unwilling to comply with international law, or to minimize harm to civilian life, then at some point you should not be partnering with them at all, as is clearly the case for Yemen.”

Members of Congress should fight Trump’s bogus “emergency” declaration, and there are already signs that Senate Democrats are getting ready to do just that. In addition to Chris Murphy, the ranking Democratic member of the Foreign Relations Committee, the generally hawkish Bob Menendez, has come out very strongly in opposition to Trump’s attempted end-run around Congress:

“The possible consequences of this will ultimately jeopardize the ability of the U.S. defense industry to export arms in a manner both expeditious and responsible,” he said. “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.”

Trump already showed with his veto of S.J.Res. 7 that he has nothing but contempt for the Constitution and the Congress, and this bogus “emergency” confirms it. Congress needs to find a means to block Trump on this to keep a lawless executive in check and for the sake of the Yemeni civilians that the Saudi coalition will otherwise kill with these weapons.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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