Biden reneges on campaign pledge with Saudi arms sale

November 5, 2021 - 21:2

TEHRAN - This is what the U.S. candidate in the Presidential campaign race Joe Biden said if he reached the White House “I would make it very clear, we are not going to in fact sell more weapons to [Saudi Arabia] ... we are going to make them in fact the pariah that they are.”

Eight months later, the Pentagon has announced the administration of President Joe Biden has approved a $650 million sale of missiles to Saudi Arabia. The sale is being billed as the Biden White House’s first major weapons deal with the Persian Gulf kingdom. 

In addition to the 280 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles, the military package will also include 596 LAU-128 Missile Rail Launchers (MRL) along with containers and support equipment, spare parts, U.S. Government and contractor engineering, and technical support.

The more balanced approach towards Saudi Arabia that Biden promised during the election has gone out of the window after Raytheon knocked on the White House door. Raytheon Technologies is one of America’s largest weapons manufacturers and will be the principal contractor of the arms sale package. The approval will allow the Saudis to replenish an existing supply of the missiles. 

Despite oil-giant Saudi Arabia being an important partner in West Asia for Washington, U.S. lawmakers have criticized Riyadh for its war on Yemen, a conflict considered one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters. They have voiced their opposition to the approval of many military sales for the kingdom.

A spokesperson for The State Department said it had approved the sale on October 26, claiming that the missile sale "is fully consistent with the administration's pledge to lead with diplomacy to end the conflict in Yemen.” 

Some have questioned how the flow of deadly arms diplomatically ends a conflict? Writing on social media, Author and former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson said “This has nothing to do with making the world a better place and everything to do with fueling our defense economy, America’s economy should not be built around merchandising death.”

Since taking office, advocates and regional experts have denounced Biden for failing to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the death of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi and allowing the country impunity for other human rights abuses.

During the first major foreign policy speech of his presidency, Biden announced the U.S. would end support for Saudi Arabia's offensive operations in Yemen. However, any efforts by the Biden administration efforts to bring about an end to the conflict, which has been fueled by U.S. backed Saudi airstrikes on the Kingdom’s southern neighbor, have been far from successful.

This sale is actually the second to Saudi Arabia that Biden has rubber stamped, the first was for $500 million late last month. The Biden administration approved a new possible sale of military-related maintenance services to Saudi Arabia. Riyadh requested to buy around $500 million in maintenance and support services for the Royal Saudi Land Forces Aviation Command’s helicopter fleet. According to a State Department statement, the purchase would include component repairs, installation of engineering change proposals, aircraft simulator logistics, training and more. Congress has 30 days to review the sale which may face a pushback from Democrats.

A total of 73% of Saudi Arabia’s arms imports came from the U.S., and 13% from the UK.

The State Department claimed the sale will help bolster Saudi Arabia and stability in the region. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency said “this proposed sale will support U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that continues to be an important force for political stability and economic growth in West Asia.”

Saudi Arabia has spent a fortune buying arms from America to prosecute a war that has killed almost a quarter of a million people, the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. Three American administrations have enabled the war. The latest arms package represents an enhancement of Saudi Arabia’s military capabilities.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Saudi Arabia was the world’s largest arms importer from 2015 to 2019, the first five years of the war on Yemen. The prominent think tank that tracks arms sales says Riyadh’s imports of major weapons increased by 130% compared with the previous five-year period. That was despite wide-ranging concern around the world, including in the U.S. and the United Kingdom (two countries who ironically provided most of the arms) about the Kingdom’s deadly attacks in Yemen. 

A total of 73% of Saudi Arabia’s arms imports came from the U.S., and 13% from the UK.

In the five years before the war, U.S. arms transfers to Saudi Arabia amounted to $3 billion; between 2015 and 2020, the U.S. agreed to sell over $64.1 billion worth of weapons to Riyadh, averaging $10.7 billion per year.

Then U.S President Barack Obama could have stopped the war when it started in 2015 by cutting off military, diplomatic, and intelligence support for the Saudi-led coalition that imposed a blockade on its southern neighbor and began tens of thousands of deadly air strikes on different civilian targets. 

At a Senate confirmation process, the Obama administration’s military commander for West Asia, now Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, advised against supporting the Saudi bombing campaign and predicted it would be a failure.

Former President Donald Trump’s administration was very enthusiastic about the war. Trump, who was surrounded by hawks, made his first international trip to Riyadh in May 2017, where he was convinced the Saudis could defeat the Yemeni revolution. He certainly prolonged the war by striking a massive multibillion arms deal with the Saudis. According to the Trump White House the agreement was worth $350 billion over 10 years and $110 billion that took effect immediately. 

This was at a time when Human Rights groups and international organizations had been warning about potential war crimes being committing in Yemen. According to activists, over the years Saudi Arabia has lobbied heavily against international resolutions that would have extended the mandate of UN investigators who have documented possible war crimes in Yemen. Back in 2017 a group of experts set up by the UN Human Rights Council repeatedly found that Saudi air strikes and shelling may amount to war crimes.

But Human Rights Watch said "Saudi Arabia, a leading party to the conflict in Yemen accused of serious violations including likely war crimes, together with its coalition allies, is engaging in a tireless lobbying campaign to deter states at the Human Rights Council from renewing an inquiry mandate [into possible war crimes]."

Even in Washington, U.S.-Saudi military ties have come under the spotlight. Many Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans are critical of American support to the Saudi military. Much of the disagreement in Capitol Hill is focused on the Saudi war on Yemen, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as well as the Kingdom’s record on women’s rights and the role of some Saudi citizens in the 9-11 attacks have also been cited by lawmakers and activists calling for more scrutiny or conditions on arms sales.

Lockheed Martin, another huge American arms contractor whose military hardware has played an instrumental part in U.S-Saudi arms sales is among several American weapons makers who have made massive profit from the war on Yemen. Some experts say the company has cashed in the most. 

The U.S. military–industrial complex is once again the winner, with critics holding the White House responsible for having the power and influence to end this tragic conflict.


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