Senate votes to continue arming Saudis As Yemenis suffer the consequences
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On June 13, while Beltway politicos were focused on the Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsMcCaskill attended reception at Russian ambassador's residence in 2015 Sessions: Supreme Court travel ban order a victory for separation of powers Russia recalling ambassador at center of Trump campaign controversy: report MORE hearing, a momentous vote critical to the future of the Middle East occurred on the Senate floor. It was a vote about whether or not to support the Trump administration’s plan to sell precision-guided munitions to the Saudi regime; Trump won by a slim margin of 53 to 47.

The vote broke down mainly along party lines. Four Republicans— Sens. Rand PaulRand PaulThree more GOP senators announce opposition to healthcare bill Rand Paul: Trump 'open to making bill better' Senate GOP delays ObamaCare repeal vote past recess MORE of Kentucky, Mike LeeMike LeeThree more GOP senators announce opposition to healthcare bill Senate GOP delays ObamaCare repeal vote past recess Club for Growth opposes Senate ObamaCare repeal bill MORE of Utah, Todd YoungTodd YoungThe Hill's Whip List: GOP undecided, 'no' votes pile up on ObamaCare repeal bill Senate votes to continue arming Saudis As Yemenis suffer the consequences Overnight Defense: Mattis defends Trump budget | Senate rejects effort to block Saudi deal | Boeing to cut 50 executive jobs MORE of Indiana, and Dean HellerDean HellerBehind closed doors, tensions in the GOP Pro-Trump group pulls ads targeting GOP senator on ObamaCare repeal Three more GOP senators announce opposition to healthcare bill MORE of Nevada—voted against the sale. Five Democrats broke with their party and assured Trump’s victory: Virginia’s Mark WarnerMark WarnerOvernight Finance: GOP divided over welfare cuts in budget | Lawmaker loses M on pharma stock he pitched | Yellen says another financial crisis unlikely in our lifetimes Overnight Cybersecurity: Obama faces new scrutiny for Russia response | UK parliament cyberattacked | Election hacking fears put heat on DHS | Feds appeal to Supreme Court over data warrants Election hacking fears turn heat on Homeland Security MORE, Missouri’s Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillMcCaskill attended reception at Russian ambassador's residence in 2015 Senators question need for HHS cyber office Overnight Cybersecurity: Obama DHS chief defends Russian hack response | Trump huddles on grid security | Lawmakers warned about cyber threat to election systems MORE, West Virginia’s Joe ManchinJoe ManchinFood Network star honors veterans with dessert feast Dems face identity crisis This week: Senate races toward ObamaCare repeal vote MORE, Florida’s Bill NelsonBill NelsonWeek ahead in tech: Lawmakers turn focus to self-driving cars Senate panel unveils aviation bill with consumer protections, drone fix Driverless cars speed onto political agenda MORE, and Indiana’s Joe DonnellyJoe DonnellyLawmakers sport LSU gear at baseball game in honor of Scalise Senate votes to continue arming Saudis As Yemenis suffer the consequences Overnight Defense: Mattis defends Trump budget | Senate rejects effort to block Saudi deal | Boeing to cut 50 executive jobs MORE. Activists denounced the Democrats who broke ranks and accused them of caring more about contributions from weapons makers than the lives of Yemeni children.

In anticipation of the vote, a coalition of peace and humanitarian aid groups launched a vigorous campaign to support the anti-weapons resolution sponsored by Sens. Chris MurphyChris MurphySaudis say Qatar demands are non-negotiable Senate Dems step up protests ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Dems push for more action on power grid cybersecurity MORE, Rand Paul and Al FrankenAl FrankenOvernight Energy: EPA moves to repeal Obama water rule GOP senator calls for tight scrutiny on AT&T's proposed Time Warner merger Howard Stern: I have a 'man crush' on Al Franken MORE. Thousands of activists around the nation emailed, called, and visited their senators. Among the more clever tactics was a teach-in on Saudi Arabia in the D.C. office of Sen. Ben CardinBen CardinLawmakers wary of Trump escalation in Syria Senators urge Trump to do right thing with arms sales to Taiwan Dem senators urged Obama to take action on Russia before election MORE (D-Md.) by activists who refused to leave until the senator released a public statement against the sale.

On the other side were lobbyists for the Saudi government and the weapons industry. Officials from the Trump administration also lobbied extensively, spending hours before the vote frantically making phone calls and holding briefings with lawmakers when they realized the vote would be a close one.

The vote reflected an unprecedented level of opposition in the Senate. Murphy and Paul tried to pass a similar resolution of disapproval during Obama’s presidency last fall, but the measure failed by a 71-27 vote. “Today’s vote total would’ve been unthinkable not long ago, but Congress is finally taking notice that Saudi Arabia is using U.S. munitions to deliberately hit civilian targets inside Yemen,” said Murphy. The more cynical interpretation would be that Democrats are more willing to criticize Saudi weapons sales under a Trump administration than under a Democratic one.

Moreover, the sale of Raytheon precision-guided munitions is only a small portion of the massive $110 billion sale President Trump boasted about after his trip to Saudi Arabia in May, and there is no move in Congress to challenge that larger transfer.

The precision munitions were selected because they would be used in the Saudi-led war in Yemen and reports have shown that the Saudi air force has used U.S. weapons to bomb schools, hospitals, residential neighborhoods and water infrastructure. 

Humanitarian groups clearly outline the devastating consequences of these strikes; a Yemeni child dies every ten minutes from the consequences of the war and an outbreak of cholera has sparked a national emergency.

Some senators, including Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamOvernight Cybersecurity: New ransomware attack spreads globally | US pharma giant hit | House intel panel interviews Podesta | US, Kenya deepen cyber partnership Graham gets frustrated in public ‘unmasking’ debate GOP senator: Don't expect Trump to 'have your back' on healthcare vote MORE (R-S.C.), justified the sale because of Iran’s support for the Houthis; others, including Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), saw the benefits in terms of jobs back home. Others argued that precision-guided munitions were less likely to cause civilian collateral damage, despite the fact that the most deadly bombings by the Saudi-led forces used precision weapons and that the problem was not the bombs but the targets the Saudis picked.

“The Saudis will tell you they need these precision-guided missiles to more effectively target Houthi military assets inside Yemen,” said Murphy  “The fact is, they have deliberately targeted humanitarian and civilian assets within Yemen. They are purposefully trying to create a humanitarian nightmare to starve the Yemenis to the negotiating table. The United States should not be a part of that strategy.”

It was after Saudi Arabia bombed a funeral hall in October 2016, leaving 150 dead, that the Obama administration put a temporary hold on a sale of precision-guided munitions, a decision quickly reversed by the Trump administration.

With the green light for this sale and the larger weapons package, the U.S. government will continue to arm a regime responsible for the spread of Wahhabi ideology and terrorism around the world. More weapons to the Saudis will exacerbate the tragic plight of the people of Yemen, the upheavals raging throughout the Middle East, and the backlash by terrorist groups in the West- all the while fattening the profits of the weapons makers. But why waste our time on such frivolity when we can be mesmerized by the national obsession over Russian interference in our democracy?

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection.

The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.