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Attacking Congressional Oversight to Sell Weapons to War Criminals

Trump is mad that lawmakers were doing their job.

Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner, and his wife, Assistant to the President Ivanka Trump,at the Murabba Palace with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The Trump administration is considering ending the process of giving Congress informal notification about pending arms sales:

While congressional aides were not surprised by the proposed move, which they said the Trump administration has been considering as far back as two years, a decision to end the informal consultation would be seen as a major slight to Capitol Hill’s oversight authority.

“That would be viewed as going nuclear,” said Juan Pachón, the communications director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez.

Arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE have become a point of contention between Congress and the administration because the president is determined to evade Congressional oversight in order to keep the weapons flowing to the war criminals in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. Last year, the administration abused a provision in the Arms Exports Control Act to declare an “emergency” that didn’t exist in order to expedite arms sales that most members of Congress wanted to block. The bogus emergency declaration led to the passage of several Congressional resolutionsdisapproving of the arms sales, and then the president vetoed those resolutions. That bogus emergency declaration has since become the subject of investigation by Steve Linick, the State Department’s Inspector General, who was then fired at Secretary Pompeo’s urging earlier this year.

Now the administration is considering another way of restricting Congress’ role in overseeing arms sales. Note that this isn’t happening because Congress is blocking arms sales for frivolous or purely partisan reasons, but because the weapons being solid to these governments are used to commit war crimes against civilians in Yemen. Congress is rightly challenging a monstrous policy of arming war criminals, and the president is looking for every loophole he can find to make sure that the war criminals get the weapons. Both houses of Congress have voted more than once to end U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen, and Trump has stubbornly refused to halt our government’s shameful support for the Saudi coalition. Taking away informal Congressional notification of pending sales is an attempt to destroy Congress’ influence over arms sales in general and the U.S. government’s support for the war on Yemen in particular.

The New York Timesreports:

If adopted, the change would effectively end congressional oversight of the sale of American weapons and offers of training to countries engaged in wars with high civilian casualties or human rights abuses.

As we already know, the administration can’t be trusted to make good decisions about these arms sales, and the Saudi and Emirati governments cannot be trusted to have them. In addition to using U.S.-made weapons to kill civilians, both governments havetransferred weapons to third parties in Yemen in violation of their end-user agreements with the U.S. U.S.-made weapons have been given to militias and terrorists, and there have been no consequences for either government for breaking their commitments. The Pentagon’s investigation into UAE violations was effectively a whitewash to allow arms sales to resume.

The Foreign Policyreport continues:

“I’m concerned that this could facilitate the sale of weapons under less than ideal circumstances and could lead to an almost lackadaisical approach to selling weapons with destructive power around the world,” said Andrew Miller, a former National Security Council director during the Obama administration and now deputy director for policy at the Project on Middle East Democracy. “They’re determined to continue flooding the Gulf with weapons.”

This is particularly disturbing when we know that the administration has been working behind the scenes with the Saudi government to facilitate more arms sales through the shady connections between the Saudi crown prince and Trump’s son-in-law:

Equally concerning to some lawmakers is that the administration is sometimes using channels to grease the wheels for arms sales that aren’t visible to authorizers on Capitol Hill, a congressional aide said, including by private communications between Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner and Mohammed bin Salman, the de-facto leader of the country.

“That operates in the background on these things,” the aide said. “It was MBS ringing Kushner that really brought that stuff to a head last year.”

Without meaningful Congressional oversight of arms sales, it will be a free-for-all of selling weapons to some of the worst governments in the world. Given the Saudis and Emiratis’ record to date, there is no telling where those weapons may end up in the future or how they will be used.

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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