Peace-loving people around the world and anti-war Democrats in Congress hailed reports Wednesday that the Biden administration is imposing a temporary freeze on arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pending a review of billions of dollars worth of weapons deals with the repressive regimes approved during the presidency of Donald Trump.
"[Biden] has made clear that we will end our support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and I think we will work on that in very short order."
—Secretary of State Antony Blinken
The Wall Street Journal reports unnamed officials said sales covered by the moratorium include nearly half a billion dollars worth of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and F-35 fighter jets to the UAE. The latter are part of a $23 billion deal approved by the Trump administration under the Abraham Accords, the peace agreement signed between the repressive Gulf monarchy, Israel, and the United States last August.
Critics, including CodePink's Medea Benjamin and Ariel Gold, lambasted the deal—which Gold called "peace through weapons sales"—as a thinly-veiled attempt to "give an Arab stamp of approval to Israel's status quo of land theft, home demolitions, arbitrary extrajudicial killings, apartheid laws, and other abuses of Palestinian rights," and a bid to boost Trump's flagging reelection odds.
HUGE NEWS: The Biden administration just froze arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. @POTUS this is your chance to do the right thing and CANCEL those sales completely! The last thing our world needs is more weapons!
Take action: https://t.co/47K5fucCOC
— CODEPINK (@codepink) January 27, 2021
More importantly, Saudi Arabia is leading a war against Yemen—fought with U.S. weapons, logistical, and political support—that has killed thousands of civilians in aerial bombardments and tens of thousands more in an economic blockade that has exacerbated famine and intensified human suffering on a mass scale.
In 2019, the UAE began withdrawing most of its forces from the war against Yemen and handed control of its operations to Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. has also been bombing Yemen since the early years of the so-called War on Terror, a global campaign that has claimed at least hundreds of thousands of lives in more than half a dozen Muslim countries.
The United Nations—which has called the situation in Yemen the world's worst humanitarian crisis—last September recommended that the International Criminal Court investigate possible war crimes committed by all sides in the six-year civil war.
Congressional lawmakers opposed to ongoing U.S. involvement in the war applauded Wednesday's news as a positive development even as they called on the administration and others to go further:
Good. This is an important first step in ending our material support for war globally, and the genocide in Yemen in particular. I encourage the Biden administration to continue down this path.
Next step: an end to ALL arms sales to countries that violate human rights. https://t.co/7GDH6JRp1T
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) January 27, 2021
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Despite being one of the world's worst human rights violators, Saudi Arabia has long enjoyed warm relations with the United States, regardless of the political party of the president in the White House or the balance of power in Congress.
During the previous administration, Trump touted the billions of dollars worth of warplanes, missiles, warships, and other weapons the Saudi regime purchased from U.S. corporations, while reportedly boasting, "I saved his ass" about Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman after the heir to the throne was accused by the CIA and other international intelligence agencies of ordering the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In July 2019, Trump vetoed a bipartisan congressional resolution that would have forced an end to U.S. military funding and involvement in the five-year war. The Senate, then under Republican control, subsequently failed to override the veto.
While the Biden freeze stops far short of ending U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war, it does reflect campaign promises made by the president to halt weapon sales to the Riyadh regime, which he called a "pariah."
This is a bold and moral step. @ABlinken @jakejsullivan deserve enormous credit for making this a priority and caring about the humanitarian catastrophe. Thank you to all the progressive activists who have fought for years to get to this moment. https://t.co/q43PK8cAyu
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) January 27, 2021
During his Senate confirmation hearing last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed to "take a hard look" at the Trump-approved sales.
"We have real concerns [about] the policies that our Saudi partners have pursued," Blinken said during the hearing, "and accordingly, [Biden] has said we will review the entirety of the relationship to make sure that, as it stands, it is advancing the interests [and is] respectful of the values that we bring to that partnership."
Blinken added that Biden "has made clear that we will end our support for the military campaign led by Saudi Arabia in Yemen, and I think we will work on that in very short order."
While peace advocates welcomed news of the arms sale freeze, military-industrial complex executives took a longer-term view.
"Look... peace is not going to break out in the Middle East anytime soon. I think it remains an area where we'll continue to see solid growth."
—Greg Hayes, Raytheon CEO
On Tuesday, Raytheon CEO Greg Hayes reportedly told participants in a company earnings call that the planned sale of 7,500 Paveway precision-guided bombs to "a customer in the Middle East [who] we can't talk about" had been removed from the books in anticipation of the moratorium.
However, Hayes offered this sanguine prognostication: "Look... peace is not going to break out in the Middle East anytime soon. I think it remains an area where we'll continue to see solid growth."