‘A message needs to be sent’: Rand Paul to challenge Biden’s Saudi arms sale

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), listens as Antony Blinken speaks during Blinken's confirmation hearing to be Secretary of State before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 19, 2021 in Washington, D.C. ( Alex Edelman-Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

Sen. Rand Paul is preparing a motion to oppose President Joe Biden’s sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, a longtime strategic ally of the U.S. despite a long record of repression and human rights violations.

“A message needs to be sent to Saudi Arabia that we don’t approve of their war in Yemen,” Paul said in a statement to McClatchy.

Earlier this month, the Biden administration approved the sale of 280 missiles worth $650 million to the Middle Eastern kingdom to aid its defense against attacks from Yemen, which has been at war with Saudi Arabia since 2015.

While the administration claims the sale is consistent with its goal of ending the conflict with diplomacy, the anti-interventionist Paul has consistently argued against contributing to the Middle East arms race.

According to the State Department, the Saudi arms package would include advanced medium range air-to-air missiles, missile launchers as well as engineering and technical support.

Paul’s move is reportedly gaining traction among Democrats, according to The Intercept, which reported that Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has decided to co-sponsor Paul’s motion.

Meanwhile, four Democrats have written a resolution to object to the missile deal in the U.S. House. One of the four, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, said in a statement, “It is unreasonable to sell arms to Saudi Arabia while they continue to slaughter innocents and starve millions in Yemen, kill and torture opponents and support modern slavery.”

Halting an administration’s sale of military equipment is an onerous endeavor, as many lawmakers support a president’s right to arm U.S. allies. But Saudi Arabia’s

But Saudi Arabia’s global reputation was damaged when a Biden administration report pinned the blame for the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

Paul called for ending weapon sales to Saudi Arabia back in 2018 when he said the evidence overwhelmingly pointed to the crown prince’s involvement.

“I don’t think we can sweep this under the rug,” Paul said at the time on CBS’ “Face The Nation.”

Daniel Byman, a senior fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at The Brookings Institute, said bipartisan animosity has been building against Saudi Arabia for years.

“Some of this was linked to the ties between the kingdom and terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and the U.S. But the kingdom’s repression of dissidents, highlighted by the Khashoggi murder, raised another set of issues. Similarly, the Yemen war and the suffering linked to the Saudi intervention also raised concerns about the kingdom’s foreign policy and the U.S. role in supporting brutal interventions,” Byman said.

But the Biden administration is likely to rally support against Paul’s motion, no matter how much bipartisan support he builds.

Last December, Paul championed a pair of motions with Democrats to oppose a Trump administration sale of fighter jets, drones and missiles to the United Arab Emirates.

“Can a lasting peace be purchased with more weapons? Will selling sophisticated fighter jets and weaponized drones bring more stability to the Middle East?,” asked in a speech on the Senate floor.

Paul was unsuccessful.

The $23 billion arms deal, which was part of the conditions around the Trump-negotiated Abraham Accords, was ultimately signed off by the Biden administration last spring.


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