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 SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsIntel leaders: Collusion still open part of investigation Republicans jockey for position on immigration Biden to Alabama: No more extremist senators 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 PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulHouse bill set to reignite debate on warrantless surveillance Authorizing military force is necessary, but insufficient GOP feuds with outside group over analysis of tax framework MORE of Kentucky, Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeWhatever you think the Alabama special election means, you’re probably wrong How the effort to replace ObamaCare failed Overnight Regulation: Trump temporarily lifts Jones Act for Puerto Rico | Bill would exempt some banks from Dodd-Frank | Senators unveil driverless car bill MORE of Utah, Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungThe Hill's Whip List: Republicans try again on ObamaCare repeal Stale, misguided, divisive: minimum wage can't win elections Russian network RT must register as foreign agent in US MORE of Indiana, and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerNevada senators urge airlines to enact new policies after Las Vegas shooting Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada GOP establishment doubts Bannon’s primary powers MORE of Nevada—voted against the sale. Five Democrats broke with their party and assured Trump’s victory: Virginia’s Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTrump: Why isn't Senate looking into 'Fake News Networks'? 5 takeaways from Senate Russian meddling presser Trump: 'America is truly a nation in mourning' MORE, Missouri’s Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillKoch-backed group targets red-state Dems on tax reform Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open Las Vegas highlights Islamist terrorism is not America's greatest domestic threat MORE, West Virginia’s Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinOvernight Energy: EPA aims to work more closely with industry Overnight Finance: Lawmakers grill Equifax chief over hack | Wells Fargo CEO defends bank's progress | Trump jokes Puerto Rico threw budget 'out of whack' | Mortgage tax fight tests industry clout Lawmakers try again on miners’ pension bill MORE, Florida’s Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonSenate panel approves bill to speed up driverless cars Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump proclaims 'Cybersecurity Awareness Month' | Equifax missed chance to patch security flaw | Lawmakers await ex-CEO's testimony | SEC hack exposed personal data MORE, and Indiana’s Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyKoch-backed group targets red-state Dems on tax reform Dems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Agricultural trade demands investment in MAP and FMD 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.

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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 MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Murphy faces criticism from GOP challenger over fundraising email Democrat: Republicans who believe in more gun control afraid of being 'politically punished' MORE, Rand Paul and Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenThe Hill's 12:30 Report The Hill's 12:30 Report John Oliver rips AT&T-Time Warner merger 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 CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Cybersecurity: Equifax CEO faces outraged lawmakers | Dem presses voting machine makers on cyber defense | Yahoo says 3 billion accounts affected by 2013 breach Key Dem: Did Kushner use private emails to talk with foreign governments? Dem senator pitches ideas for gun control after shooting 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 Olin GrahamDurbin: I had 'nothing to do' with Curbelo snub Republicans jockey for position on immigration Overnight Health Care: House passes 20-week abortion ban | GOP gives ground over ObamaCare fix | Price exit sets off speculation over replacement 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 www.codepink.org 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.