Rand Warns Arming Saudis Will Create New Middle East Quagmire

Despite losing a vote to halt a pending U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is confident public opinion is steadily moving against the country’s current close cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to journalists Tuesday afternoon with Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Paul said the vote indicated a growing sea change in Americans’ attitude towards Saudi Arabia.

“We came very close today because the Senate increasingly believes that the bombing campaign [in Yemen], which the U.S. is supporting, is not in the national interest,” said Paul.

The fact that today's resolution received "20 more votes than a similar resolution did in the fall … shows the increasing discomfort that this Congress has with" current policy towards Saudi Arabia, said Murphy.

The vote came after Paul made a determined, if doomed, effort to stir public opinion — and the Senate — in favor of stopping the deal. In an op-ed published Tuesday on Fox News, Paul explained that arming the Saudis will threaten Israel in the long run and escalate the situation in the Middle East.

"If the past is any indication, anytime we sell weapons to an adversary of Israel, the Israelis are forced to purchase more and newer weapons, which only escalates an arms race in the Middle East," said Paul.

Paul also highlighted the Saudis' support for Islamic extremism. "Will our assistance bring an end to Saudi Arabia's history of promoting hatred of America and Israel throughout the world?" he wrote.

"Even Hillary Clinton questioned the loyalty of Saudi Arabia in an email released by WikiLeaks, saying, 'We need … to bring pressure on the governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are providing clandestine financial and logistic support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region.'" Paul quoted.

This point was echoed by Democratic Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on the Senate floor on Tuesday. "We also know that when it comes to the Saudi activity of promoting their version, the most extreme version of Islam, they have been guilty of promulgating Wahhabism, [which has] led to extreme forms of the Muslim faith in some parts of the world. Those are realities," Durbin said.

Paul himself also made an impassioned argument for voting against the deal on the Senate floor on Tuesday. "Should the United States be actively involved with refueling the Saudi planes, with picking targets, with having advisers on the ground? Should we be at war in Yemen?" he said.

"If you remember your Constitution, it says no president has that authority. Only to repel imminent attack, but no president alone has the unilateral authority to take us to war. And yet, here we are on the verge of war."

But despite losing the vote, both senators predicted that it is only a matter of time before public opinion sways Congress to vote against such deals in the future. "I think Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with the military escalation that both President Obama and President Trump have pursued inside the Middle East," said Murphy.

"Americans remember the Iraq War. They don't want us to get involved in another quagmire like it any time soon," he said. "I think that standing with the Saudis and continuing to support military escalation inside the Middle East is probably a political loser for most of our colleagues."

Paul predicted their "position would win overwhelmingly," if put to a public vote. "You.Gov did a survey sometime in the last year or two and they asked the question, 'Do you think Saudi Arabia is a friendly country?'" noted Paul. "Only seven percent of the respondents said, 'friendly country.'"

Last Modified: June 14, 2017, 6:20 am

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