After a week of endless negative headlines, President Donald Trump desperately wants a win, something that will change the subject from the Russia investigation. And he will do whatever it takes to achieve that, including human rights violations.
As Trump embarks on his first international trip as president, he has one goal in mind: a massive arms deal reportedly worth more than $100 billion for Saudi Arabia
According to Reuters, the deal is specifically being developed to coincide with the visit, where he will meet with Saudi leaders and discuss the war in Yemen. And its success seems to be crucial to the president, whose son-in-law Jared Kushner has personally intervened to secure the deal.
Sensing that the cost might be a problem, several administration officials said that during a meeting with high-level Saudi delegates, Mr. Kushner picked up the phone and called Marillyn A. Hewson — the chief executive of Lockheed Martin, which makes the radar system — and asked her whether she could cut the price, according to the New York Times. As his guests watched slack-jawed, Ms. Hewson told him she would look into it, officials said.
Other details of the package, though, have been somewhat shrouded in mystery. But there’s a problem with that: Congress, which will have to approve any new arms deal, has to yet to be notified of specific offerings—but it is said to include planes, armored vehicles, warships, and, perhaps most notably, precision-guided bombs.
It’s that last detail, in particular, that is making many in Washington sweat.
As Mother Jones reports, the Obama administration inked arms deals with the kingdom worth more than $100 billion over two terms, but it changed course in its last months after it was reported that the Saudi-led war against the Houthi armed group in Yemen has been fueled in part by American weapons, intelligence, and aerial refueling, and it has repeatedly hit civilian targets, including schools, marketplaces, weddings, hospitals, and places of worship.
But despite the kingdom’s track record, President Trump is aiming to revive the deal.
“Lifting the suspension on precision-guided munitions is a big deal,” says William Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. “It’s a huge impact if it reinforces the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, and also the signal that it’s okay with us. It’s saying, ‘Have at it. Do what you want.'”
Jeff Abramson, a senior fellow at the DC-based Arms Control Association adds, “Obama got a bit of spine and said we need to put a pause on this because the United States is functionally contributing to this humanitarian disaster.”
But Trump is so desperate that he is “ready to reject any human rights concerns,” Abramson says, noting that the administration has all but explicitly stated as much. In fact, Rex Tillerson argued that pushing US values on other countries, such as protecting human rights, “creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests.”
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn) said, “There is a US imprint on every civilian death inside Yemen, which is radicalizing the people of Yemen against the United States.”
This April, Murphy and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) reintroduced a bill aimed specifically at air-to-ground munitions. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn), a co-sponsor, said the bill “would help protect innocent civilians and hold Saudi Arabia accountable for its actions… We need to stand up for our values and ensure that the U.S. no longer turns a blind eye to the indiscriminate killing of children, women, and men in Yemen.”
Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have continued to highlight the need to address the Yemen war through humanitarian means, as well as limiting US support.
“It appears that war crimes are being committed in Yemen, and if the United States is supporting that war, in a way it is also culpable for those war crimes,” says Abramson. “Most Americans don’t want their country to be engaged in war crimes. That’s another reason why we really need to pay attention to this.”