President Trump has asserted rarely used emergency powers to sidestep congressional objections, and give the green light to an arms deal involving Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the leaders of several congressional committees that Trump was claiming a national emergency existed because of a purported threat from Iran and was, as a result, giving permission for 22 arms deals with around $8 billion.
A number of members of congress, which had already voted for the US to terminate its support for Saudi’s military operation against Yemen – a resolution Trump vetoed – fear the weapons could be used in those bombing operations, which have resulted in widespread civilian injuries.
Some legislators had warned earlier this week that Trump, frustrated with congress holding up weapons sales like a major deal to sell Raytheon Co precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, was considering using a loophole in arms control law to go ahead with the sale by declaring a national emergency.
“I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump administration has failed once again to prioritise our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favours to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” said senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee.
“President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove … There is no new ’emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there,” said senator Chris Murphy.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade, a a UK-based activist group, agreed.
“This unprecedented move shows the terrible depths that Trump and his administration will sink to in order to continue arming and supporting the brutal Saudi regime,” said Smith. “Saudi forces have inflicted a terrible humanitarian catastrophe on Yemen. It simply would not have been possible without US-made weapons. The arms sales that Trump is pushing today could be used to commit atrocities and abuses for years to come.”
Members of the Saudi team that killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi last fall received training in the United States.
A critic of the Saudi regime, Khashoggi was killed and dismembered Oct 2 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a team of 15 agents sent from Riyadh.
His body has never been recovered.
Trump said punishing Saudi Arabia, as recommended by Congress, would be too costly to American jobs.
The US Senate, after a closed-door briefing by the CIA, adopted a resolution naming crown prince Mohammed bin Salman as “responsible” for the murder, while Trump refused to publicly take a stand.
“There’s not a smoking gun, there’s a smoking saw,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said after a CIA briefing.
Trump’s emergency powers for Saudi Arabia happened on the same day he announced the deployment of 1,500 troops to the Middle East.
The actions were the latest by the Trump administration as it highlights what it sees as a threat of potential attack by Iran, and follows decisions to speed the deployment of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as send bombers and additional Patriot missiles to the Middle East.
The deployments, decried by Iran as escalatory, have come amid a freeze in direct communication between the United States and Iran that has raised concerns about the increasing risk of an inadvertent conflict.
The decision on troops marks a reversal of sorts for Trump, who only on Thursday said he thought no more forces were needed.
Trump has sought to detangle the U.S. military from open-ended conflicts in places like Syria and Afghanistan.
Trump has defended Saudi Arabia, in part, because he’s done millions of dollars worth of business there.
Son-in-law Jared Kushner also has a massive amount of business dealings in Saudi Arabia.
Trump registered eight companies during his presidential campaign that were tied to hotel interests in that country.
The companies were registered under names such as THC Jeddah Hotel and DT Jeddah Technical Services, according to financial disclosure filings.
During a rally in 2015, the day Trump created four of those companies, he said he gets along well with Saudi Arabia.
“They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
After his election, Trump said on Fox News he “would want to protect Saudi Arabia.”