I already posted Senator Rand Paul’s speech in the Senate about the arms sale and was wondering who gave an opposition speech. Well Senator Murphy helped me out here… it was Lindsey Graham! There is a video for that that I will post later, but for now here is the text (most of it) and video of what Senator Murphy had to say about blocking a portion of the Saudi arms deal. The speech is about 10 minutes long. Compared to Rand Paul, he discussed some other topics.
There is a different president today, but there is a different policy, and that’s what this resolution is about. Senator Graham would have you believe that we are about to vote on the entirety of the $110 billion in arms sales that was proposed, that was unveiled by President Trump on his visit to Saudi Arabia. That is not the case. We are voting today on $500 million of that $110 billion sale. You can still be friends with Saudi Arabia and sell them $109 billion worth of arms rather than $100 billion worth of arms. And the specific set of arms that we are talking about… precision guided munitions that are going to be used to perpetuate the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen were the specific set of weapons that the Obama administration refused to transfer to the Saudis at the end of 2016. We did not take a vote on this in 2016. We took a vote on a different arms sale. But it is not simply that there is a new president and democrats are objecting to arms sales that President Trump is moving forward with. It is that we have a new policy. This specific set of munitions that President Trump is asking us to consent to, President Obama would not sell. The policy is different, not just the personnel.
Let’s talk about why the policy is different. What is happening today in Yemen is a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions. There are 4 famines that exist in the world today. One of them is in Yemen. And only one of those four is caused in part by the United States. The United States supports the Saudi-led bombing campaign that has had the effect of causing a humanitarian nightmare to play out in that country such that 8 million people right now in Yemen are in starvation or on the brink of starvation. Last week we received word that 100,000 people in Yemen now have cholera. CHOLERA?! All of this directly the result of the civil war. And the reason that the Obama administration decided not to transfer the precision guided munitions to the Saudis is because the Saudis were using the weapons that we were giving them to deliberately target humanitarian infrastructure and civilian infrastructure inside Yemen.
The Saudis have made it pretty clear that time is on their side. That they can wait out the Yemeni population and drive them to the negotiating table. They suggest that this humanitarian catastrophe ultimately accrues to their benefit because it will eventually push the Houthis into supporting a better deal than they would otherwise.
And let me give you some direct evidence of how this bombing campaign is leading to the humanitarian crisis. This cholera outbreak that’s been covered in the news began in part because the Saudi airstrikes were targeting water treatment facilities inside Sana’a. This is independent reporting from relief agencies on the ground inside Yemen tell us that the Saudi-led bombing campaign targeting civilian infrastructure, in this case water treatment facilities, has led to the cholera outbreak. And they continue. The bombing campaign that has led to this catastrophe continues. And the reason the Obama administration wouldn’t sell them this specific set of arms is because they did not have confidence that the arms would be used in purely military targets. And so what we are asking for is to hold off on selling these precision guided munitions until we get some clear promise, some clear assurance, from the Saudis that they are going to use these munitions only for military purposes AND that they are going to start taking steps… real steps, tangible steps… to address the humanitarian crisis. Senator Young has been very articulate on the things that the Saudis are doing to stop, to halt, to slow the flow of relief supplies into Yemen today. There are some proactive things that the Saudis could do that they are not that could save millions of lives inside Yemen today.
More broadly, think this is an important moment for US policy in the Middle East. The Saudis are our friends, they are an important stabilizing presence in the Middle East. They have helped to broker a kind of d’etat between Sunni nations and Israel, our sacred ally. They cooperate with us on counterterrorism measures, they share intelligence us. And just because you have a friend doesn’t mean that you have to back every single one of your friend’s fights. My friend asks me to hand him a rock to throw at the neighborhood kids, I’m not gonna do it. But if he wants me to help him stand up to the neighborhood bully then maybe I’ll be there for him. Even with your friends, you decide what fights you join them in and what fights you don’t.
In Yemen, it’s not just me that’s making the argument that that civil war is accruing to the detriment of US national security interests. It’s a broad swath of foreign policy experts, Middle East experts in this city and across this country and across the globe. Why? Because this civil war is radicalizing the Yemeni people against the United States. They don’t perceive this bombing campaign that is killing thousands of civilians as a Saudi bombing campaign, they perceive it as a US Saudi bombing campaign.
Look at the difference in the amount of space that AQAP (Al Qaeda) controls today versus what it controlled before the civil war began. It has grown exponentially in terms of the territory it controls. ISIS has grown as well. These extremist groups, they take advantage of the civil war. And if our priority in the region is about defeating these organizations, then this civil war is not helping in that effort.
Civilians are dying, extremist groups are growing, the Yemeni population is being radicalized against us and to exacerbate matters the Trump administration has walked away from the political process. Secretary Kerry was actively involved in trying to bring the Houthis and Saudi-backed government together. He got close to an agreement, but it fell apart. This administration has not restarted that process. And so for those that want to throw more arms into this contest, I think it’s hard to believe that ultimately that will lead to any ceasefire or to any peaceful transition to a new government if the United States is totally absent from the negotiating table as we are today.
So this is not about objecting to the entirety of the sale. This is not about delivering a broader message to the Saudis. This is about saying that this specific conflict in Yemen, it’s not going well, and it’s hurting the United States. And until we get some real assurances from the Saudis that they are going to pay attention to the no-strike list, until we get some commitments from the Saudis that they’re going to let relief supplies into Yemen to address the famine, to address the cholera outbreak, then lets press pause on this small slice of this arms sale. So I’m proud to join with Senator Paul and others and I hope that my colleagues will see fit to support it when we vote in about an hour and a half.