by William D. Hartung
As expected, this week President Trump vetoed three Congressional resolutions that would have blocked the sale of tens of thousands of guided bombs and other equipment to Saudi Arabia because of its indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Yemen. In three separate veto messages, the administration presented an amalgam of all of its worst arguments for continuing to back the Saudi war effort.
Trump’s veto message on Senate Joint Resolution 36, which would have blocked the coproduction and transfer of over 64,000 bombs and bomb components to Saudi Arabia, is indicative of the weakness of the administration’s case for continuing to enable mass slaughter by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
The main arguments in the veto message are outlined and refuted below.
Counter Iran and Its Proxies in the Region: The Houthi rebels are not proxies of Iran. They have their own grievances and their own reasons for fighting, going back decades and related to their belief that they have been denied political input and economic equity within Yemen by the prior and current regimes. While the Houthi receive some weaponry from Iran, they do not take orders from Tehran. If anything, the continued, unbridled U.S. backing of the Saudi war effort and the humanitarian catastrophe it has caused will only drive the Houthi closer to Iran than they would otherwise be.
Enhancing Competitiveness in Key Markets: From the beginning of his administration, President Trump has vastly exaggerated the benefits to U.S. companies and American workers of arms deals with Saudi Arabia, claiming at one point that they would support 500,000 U.S. jobs. The real figure is in the 20,000 to 40,000 range, one-tenth to one-twentieth of Trump’s claim, and less than three one-hundredths of one percent of the U.S. labor force of roughly 160 million people. And many of those jobs will be based in Saudi Arabia as a result of coproduction arrangements, like the one for Raytheon Paveway bomb components that Senate Joint Resolution 36 would have stopped.
Providing Precision-Guided Munitions to Limit Civilian Casualties in Yemen: This has been a standard argument for sending guided bombs to Saudi Arabia since the start of its intervention in Yemen in 2015. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Saudi Arabia is even attempting to avoid civilian targets. The Saudi air force has bombed water treatment plants, hospitals, marketplaces, civilian neighborhoods, weddings, a funeral, and even a school bus, including many targets that were explicitly marked as civilian facilities that should not be attacked. Saudi Arabia has possessed U.S. precision-guided munitions for years, and it has had no impact on the civilian death toll caused by the air war.
Defending U.S. Citizens and Military Personnel in Saudi Arabia: The Houthi-led coalition that is fighting Saudi Arabia and its allies in Yemen has on occasion launched missile strikes across the Saudi border in retaliation for Saudi air strikes in Yemen, including one that hit the Riyadh airport, wounding 26 people. While concerning, these strikes pale in comparison with the devastating humanitarian crisis in Yemen sparked by the Saudi-UAE-led intervention, which has killed thousands of civilians and put millions at risk of famine. The best way to deal with the cross-border strikes is to end the air war and the strike/counterstrike dynamic that it has fueled, not up the ante through continuing attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen.
Stopping Bomb Sales Will Undermine the Peace Process: This may be the most cynical argument of all. The Trump administration’s unequivocal military support for the Saudi regime is prolonging the war, not setting the stage for peace. If anything, it is Congressional opposition to the war that has helped get the Saudi/UAE-backed government to the peace table, however difficult the process may be, and helped persuade the UAE to scale back its involvement in the war.
Congressional opponents of the provision of U.S. arms and military support to the Saudi intervention in Yemen will now have to regroup and look for new avenues to end U.S. support for the war. There are two promising amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act that have passed the House and await their fate in a House-Senate conference on the bill. The first, co-sponsored by representatives Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Adam Schiff (D-CA), would end the supply of maintenance and spare parts to Saudi coalition aircraft involved in the war in Yemen. The second, spearheaded by Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), would stop sales of air-to-ground munitions to Saudi Arabia for one year. Advocates for ending the Saudi-led killing in Yemen and their allies in Congress will continue to look for ways to end U.S. support for the war, despite the Trump administration’s fatal embrace of one of the world’s most repressive regimes.