Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee had a chance to question a top State Department official today, on why the Trump Administration issued an emergency declaration, in order to justify moving forward on a massive arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
Members of Congress shared their concerns about why the Trump Administration chose to declare a “national emergency” in order to justify an $8-billion-dollar arms deal, and they argued that the only real emergency was that the White House knew it wouldn’t get approval from Congress.
“It appears as if you have determined that the emergency is that Congress won’t agree with you… well, you told us what you wanted to do. We didn’t approve, and so you declared an emergency,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA).
Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump Administration had declared a national emergency in order to immediately complete 22 pending arms transfers toSaudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
The deal was worth more than $8.1 billion, and Pompeo claimed this was a one-time event. He said the reason the deal was considered an emergency was because of ongoing threats from Iran.
Similar sentiments were shared by the assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs when he was questioned by the House Foreign Affairs Committee today.
“The process has been in place. We value the process. We’re not walking away from the process, but in this particular case, an emergency necessitated a declaration to move forward,” said Clarke Cooper, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.
But members of Congress argued that there was not enough of a threat from Iran to justify the Trump Administration’s refusal to go through the proper channels. They also noted that such a massive arms deal without the proper oversight could create a situation similar to the one in Syria—where the Obama Administration justified arming groups of what it called “moderate rebels” in an attempt to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“We’ve heard reports of arms going into the hands of people we don’t want them to, and what are the guarantees we have that this equipment won’t get into the hands of radical Islamic terrorists, like the five or six different ISIS terrorist groups that are in that region?” saidRep. Ted Yoho(R-FL).
As one of the main recipients of this arms deal, there is also concern about how Saudi Arabia will use the weapons it receives. Members of Congress noted that by continuing to provide weapons to the Kingdom, Washington is sending the message that it fully supports the War in Yemen, which has resulted in the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis. They also questioned the administration’s claims that it has attempted to prevent civilian causalities by providing Saudi Arabia with “precision-guided” munitions.
“So let’s talk about the targeting integrity with the next image we have here. This is actually a school bus that was hit by one of these pave ways. More than 40 children died when this precision guided weapon hit a school bus. More than 50 people killed, more than 40 of them school children,” said Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA).
One of the biggest questions that remains following this hearing is why US allies in the region need such a massive arsenal of offensive weapons to defend themselves from Iran, and on that, the State Department official refused to give a straight answer.