Why Does Trump Defy Congress to Arm the Saudis?

With the nation in tumult over racial violence and a pandemic, it’s easy for some things to go unnoticed.

With so many bad things going on simultaneously, it’s easy for some things to go unnoticed or be forgotten. Earlier in May, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick was fired by President Trump. This was done at the request of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The initial suspicion was that Pompeo didn’t appreciate being investigated for using an employee as a personal servant for himself and his wife. But it was later revealed that Linick “was in the final stages of an investigation into whether the administration had acted illegally when officials declared the emergency” with respect to Iran to justify an arms sale to Saudi Arabia. Specifically, Linick was trying to establish whether this bit of jujutsu passed constitutional muster.

Republicans and Democrats were enraged last year when the administration declared an emergency over Iran to bypass Congress and move forward with an $8 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf nations…

…Bipartisan outrage erupted in Congress last year over the United States’ relationship with Saudi Arabia after the administration’s tepid response to the death of Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and Virginia resident. Lawmakers have also blamed the administration for aggravating the Yemen crisis and for the killing of civilians there in the five-year civil war, which has helped create the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis.

But each time lawmakers have tried to curtail Washington’s relationship with Riyadh, Mr. Trump has intervened. The president used his first veto to reject legislation that would have ended the United States’ military involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and he later vetoed a bipartisan measure blocking the sale of billions of dollars of munitions to the kingdom.

I guess it’s a judgment call whether a president can circumvent a congressional hold on an arms sale by disingenuously citing the threat of a separate country. But the administration is apparently preparing a repeat performance:

The new proposal would effectively build off the sale pushed through over Congress’s objections last year, sending an additional 7,500 precision-guided missiles from Raytheon to Riyadh on top of the 60,000 bombs Saudi officials bought last summer, according to a congressional aide who described it on the condition of anonymity because it had not yet been officially turned over to Congress. As of December, roughly a third of those munitions had been delivered.

Perhaps more significant, it would allow Raytheon to expand an already approved relationship with the Saudis to build high-tech bomb parts in Saudi Arabia.

Two weeks ago, the FBI inadvertently published the name of a Saudi diplomat who helped two of the 9/11 hijackers while they were in the United States. It’s unlikely the man did this on his own initiative. Separately, the FBI reported that one of the gunmen in the 2019 terrorist attack on a military base in Pensacola was sent here by the Saudis to train despite being in regular contact with al-Qaeda. Congress has already made it clear that it does not want any further involvement in Yemen’s civil war and that it wants to halt arm sales to the Saudi kingdom.

President Trump has justified the continuance of these sales by arguing that they create jobs, but the new Raytheon deal is only creating jobs in Saudi Arabia. It’s unclear why the administration is so hellbent on defying Congress, but personal enrichment or bribery has to be considered a possible motive. The foreign service is strongly opposed to the sales at the senior level, and Kushner’s Middle East peace initiative is as dead as the dodo.

Congress can only stop the sales if they can override a presidential veto, which is unlikely. Plus, those sales will still be premised on a phony state of emergency with Iran. It’s easy to see why the inspector general needed to be removed from the picture, but Congress should try to get its hands on the preliminary report he circulated within the State Department in March before the COVID-19 outbreak curtailed his investigation.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com