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8 Dec, 2021 07:57

Bipartisan US Senate decision over Saudi Arabia contradicts voters’ wishes

Bipartisan US Senate decision over Saudi Arabia contradicts voters’ wishes

The split US Senate voted 30-67 to reject a resolution that would block the $650 million sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia. American voters of all political stripes strongly oppose the deal.

The shipment of weapons, which includes 280 medium-range air-to-air missiles produced by Raytheon Technologies to replenish the Saudi stockpile, was approved by the Biden administration in November. The attempt to block it was sponsored by Republicans Rand Paul and Mike Lee and Democrat-leaning independent senator Bernie Sanders.

Paul and Lee were the only GOP senators to vote for the proposal, while 28 Democratic lawmakers joined the Republicans to defeat it. The White House spoke against the resolution ahead of the vote, saying it “would undermine the President’s commitment to aid in our partner’s defenses at a time of increased missile and drone attacks against civilians in Saudi Arabia.”

Since launching a military intervention in neighboring Yemen in 2015, Saudi Arabia has maintained a naval and aerial blockade of the country. It disrupted the supply of essential goods like foods and medicines and exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

The determination to sell missiles to Saudi Arabia shown by the White House and the majority of US senators goes against how the American voters feel about it. A fresh poll by Data for Progress showed a strong opposition to the deal, with a net negative of 39% among all voters. The attitude is universal among Americans of Democratic, Republican, and independent affiliation. Even explaining the rationale for delivering the arms to Saudi Arabia didn’t reverse the opinion.

As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden was highly critical of Saudi Arabia. During a debate in 2019, he pledged he would “make them in fact the pariah that they are,” over the 2018 murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi. Speaking of the Yemen war, he said the US would “end the sale of material to the Saudis where they’re going in and murdering children.”

In February, the US announced it was stopping active US support of the Saudi military operations in Yemen, “including relevant arm sales.” Critics of the new deal say it violates the spirit of that commitment. The administration argued the Saudis need the air-to-air missiles to defend against drone and missile attacks launched at them by their opponents.

The vote in the US Senate happened shortly after France reportedly arrested a former member of the Saudi Royal Guard who is suspected of taking part in the murder of Khashoggi. Riyadh blamed the crime on “rogue” operatives and said it tried and punished the responsible parties with lengthy prison terms.