President Donald Trump declared a national emergency over Iran on Friday, which allowed him to side-step Congress and move forward with a $8 billion weapons deal with Saudi Arabia as well as the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the supposed threat from Iran to justify the national emergency and said that the sales — along with the impending deployment of 1,500 troops to the region — was a one-off necessity in order to help “deter” Iran.
The deal encompasses 22 pending transfers to the three Gulf countries, and includes weapons such as precision-guided munitions, fighter aircraft and anti-tank missiles. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, told Reuters that the move was about deterrence, not war.
But the move infuriated Congressional leaders nonetheless, who had previously voted to end US military support for Saudi Arabia out of concern that the weapons would be used in the ongoing campaign in Yemen, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed — many by American-made weapons — and millions more are suffering from the threat of famine and disease.
“I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump Administration has failed once again to prioritize our long term national security interests or stand up for human rights,” Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) said in a statement. “The Saudi government’s flagrant human rights abuses are clear… Yet, rather than stand up against those who murdered Jamal Khashoggi and are working against U.S. interests, the Trump Administration decided to do an end run around the Congress and possibly the law.”
“There is no new emergency reason to sell bombs to Saudi Arabia to drop in Yemen,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) tweeted earlier this week as rumors of the deal began to circulate. “The Saudis been dropping the bombs on civilians, so if there is an emergency, it’s a humanitarian emergency caused by the bombs we sell the Saudis.”
Lawmakers also remain incensed over the Trump administration’s response to the murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last October by a Saudi hit squad. When asked last November whether the journalist’s murder would be a sticking point in any prospective weapons deals with the Saudis, Trump responded with an emphatic “no”.
“I don’t like stopping massive amounts of money that’s being poured into our country,” Trump said. “They [the Saudis] are spending $110b on military equipment and on things that create jobs for this country.” In a later, extraordinary statement Trump further doubled-down on his defense of the Saudis, saying that “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
In March, the Senate displayed a rare show of bipartisanship when it voted 54-46 to end support for the U.S. role in the war in Yemen. Trump however then promptly vetoed the legislation which the Senate then tried, and failed, to override in May.