Narrowly, Senate passes Saudi arms agreement
Last year, Democrats supported tank deal
Senators narrowly avoided a serious foreign policy rebuke to President Trump on Tuesday, rejecting an effort to cancel his sale of precision-guidance systems to Saudi Arabia to make that Middle East nation’s missiles more accurate.
While opponents said they were trying to send a message to the Saudi government, the effort had a severe veneer of partisan politics. Many Democrats who just last year voted to back a tank deal negotiated by President Obama voted against Mr. Trump’s deal.
In the end, just a handful of Democrats joined most Republicans in backing Mr. Trump, resulting in a 53-47 vote of approval for his deal to proceed.
Senior Republicans had pleaded with colleagues to stay the course, saying Saudi Arabia is a flawed but committed regional ally, and punishing them would only benefit their regional rival Iran. The two countries are engaged in a proxy war.
“If you’re serious about standing up to Iran, stand with Saudi Arabia, as imperfect as they are,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican.
Opponents of the deal, though, said Saudi Arabia is an inconstant and worrisome ally.
Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who led opposition to the deal, pointed to speculation that Saudi officials may have had knowledge of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and may have helped arm the Islamic State militants. He also ticked off a long list of civil rights violations against women and religious minorities in the country.
“This barbaric nation should not be getting our weapons,” he said.
The legislation would have prevented transfer of hardware and technical information to help arm jet fighters and guided missiles.
Mr. Paul had also been an opponent of Mr. Obama’s tank deal, making him consistent in his opposition.
But a number of Democrats who backed Mr. Obama opposed Mr. Trump now, leaving Republicans to question their motives.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the human rights situation in Yemen — site of the proxy war — has worsened, and he feared selling the components to help improve Saudi missile performance would make “further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis.”
“The sale of these weapons could encourage further bad behavior,” Mr. Schumer said.
He also blamed the Saudi state for spawning the radical philosophy that has spurred the new spate of attacks in recent years.
“It’s got to end,” he said. “My vote for this resolution of disapproval hopefully can send a message to the Saudis that their behavior, in regard to Wahhabism, must change. It’s hurting the world and will eventually hurt them.”