Thursday, November 22, 2018

Will America Put Morality Ahead of Defense Industry Greed

Today is Thanksgiving and many Americans while giving thanks for their good fortune and families will slide into accepting the myth that since its founding, America has been a force for good in the world.  Buying into this myth requires that one ignore the ugly parts of America's history: slavery, genocide committed against Native Americans, the stealing of Hawaii and the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy, the dubious motivations behind the Spanish American War, the Vietnam disaster, and now support for the Saudi Arabian war against Yemen.  Der Trumpenf├╝hrer this week signaled to tyrants and brutal regimes that if they spend enough money on American arms sales, they have a blank check  to commit murder and atrocities against civilians. The immediate context of Trump's message was Saudi Arabia's murder of a U.S. based journalist and the wholesale slaughter of civilians in Yemen.  Sadly, to Trump's base, since those dying in Yemen are not white, they merit only a shrug of the shoulders.  Having a Yemeni client who has described to me the ordeal of his wife and children trying to escape Saudi attacks on civilians (they escaped the episode described to me, but many women and children in boats did not), the horrors ought to make "godly Christians" demand American support to Saudi atrocities stop immediately. A long piece in the Washington Post looks at the growing support in Congress to take action against the brutal regime in Saudi Arabia and to halt arms sales that facilitate the murder of civilians.  Here are article excerpts:

The powerful U.S. defense industry is facing a rare challenge to its influence on Capitol Hill as support for arms sales to Saudi Arabia has rapidly eroded following the killing last month of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi government operatives.
The defense industry’s typically aggressive lobby has gone quiet as gruesome details of Khashoggi’s death have leaked and American intelligence officials have laid blame at the feet of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Even as President Trump has reiterated his support for continued sales of U.S. weapons to the kingdom, congressional opposition to those sales and to U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen has mounted in recent weeks . . . .
Growing bipartisan support for Senate legislation to cut off the arms sales marks a historic disruption in a seemingly inviolable arms-for-oil trade relationship that stretches back decades and is an unusual setback for one of the most influential lobbies in Washington.
In the coming weeks, key senators are expected to push for a vote on a measure that would impose sanctions on Saudi officials responsible for Khashoggi’s death and suspend many weapons sales to Saudi Arabia until it ceases airstrikes in Yemen that have killed tens of thousands of civilians.
The bill represents one of the first major breaks between congressional Republicans and the White House, which has embraced Saudi Arabia as a key Middle Eastern ally — a strategy driven by Jared Kushner, . . .
Trump’s staunch support for the kingdom in the face of the CIA’s conclusion that Mohammed ordered the assassination of Khashoggi — a Washington Post contributing columnist — has triggered a backlash on Capitol Hill amid intensifying opposition to the war in Yemen.
In an interview Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump confidant who previously opposed efforts to restrict arms sales to Saudi Arabia, suggested lawmakers might tie federal funding to Saudi sanctions. . . . . “When it comes to the crown prince, it is not wise to look away,” said Graham, calling the crown prince “a wrecking ball” on the global stage.
Other lawmakers who have backed arms deals with Saudi Arabia in the past and are now reconsidering their support include Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), according to recent votes and congressional aides.
In the House, lawmakers are signing on to several proposals that would curtail Saudi deals, including one offered by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) . . . . McGovern’s district is home to Raytheon, which sells hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia each year and whose corporate PAC has been a top campaign donor for McGovern in recent years.
“I care very much about jobs,” said McGovern, who was an early critic of the war in Yemen. “But I don’t want to create jobs by selling weapons to governments that murder journalists in cold blood and then lie about it.”
U.S. defense companies have spent between $125 million and $130 million annually on lobbying in recent years, plus tens of millions more on contributions to federal candidates, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Since the start of the war in Yemen, the defense industry — working alongside lobbyists for Saudi Arabia — has successfully beat back congressional efforts, supported by human rights groups, to end or curtail U.S. support for the air war in that conflict.  For now, the defense lobby is keeping a low profile, . . .
Officials from Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics all declined The Post’s requests for comment on the future of arms sales to Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s death.  . One executive said defense contractors are waiting to see whether the crown prince will be replaced before determining a course of action.
U.S. defense contractors “are really in a duck-and-cover mode, hoping to tie themselves to this as little as possible,” said a prominent defense executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern that publicly discussing the issue would be bad for business. “To say that we’re going to support this because we have a few thousand jobs at stake . . . we don’t want that,” the executive said.
Intense criticism of airstrikes [in Yemen] on civilians led the administration to halt the sale of nearly $400 million in precision munitions guidance systems to Saudi Arabia in December 2016, at the end of the Obama administration. Three months later, the Trump administration reversed that decision and approved a resumption of weapons sales.
Since then, weapons produced by American companies have been tied to some of the worst episodes of civilian casualties. 
The bomb that killed more than 50 people, including at least 40 children, on a school-bus field trip on Aug. 9 was manufactured in the United States by Lockheed Martin, a CNN investigation found. Raytheon bombs have been blamed for other airstrikes that killed civilians, including an April 23 attack on a wedding that left 22 people dead.
Since Khashoggi’s killing, contacts with key congressional offices by Raytheon lobbyists have dropped, according to aides.  “If I was Raytheon or Boeing or Lockheed, I would keep my damn trap shut and my head low because this is bad for the Saudis,” said a Republican Senate aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid about the defense lobby.
Lockheed has made selling to foreign governments a key target for growth, with Saudi Arabia a major driver of that effort, according to one defense analyst. A photo of the crown prince during his April visit to a Lockheed facility in Silicon Valley remains on the company’s website, even as other corporations have distanced themselves from Mohammed since Khashoggi’s slaying.
n a statement Tuesday, Trump questioned the CIA’s conclusion that the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing . . . . Many congressional lawmakers — including some Republicans — reacted with disgust at his dismissal of the CIA’s assessment.
“I never thought I’d see the day a White House would moonlight as a public relations firm for the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia,” Sen. Bob Corker (R.-Tenn.) tweeted.
The dynamic is setting up a showdown between Trump and Congress as pressure to curtail Saudi arms deals and the U.S. role in Yemen builds from human rights groups and some conservatives. The Charles Koch Institute, a nonprofit group founded by the billionaire libertarian industrialist, has been warning a bipartisan group of lawmakers about the consequences of continued U.S. involvement in Yemen, foundation officials said. 
As you gather around your dinner table today to feast with friends and families, keep in mind civilians are likely dying in Yemen thanks to American arms and Trump's political fellatio of the Saudis.  Those dying may have brown skin, but they are just as human as you or eye - or our children, nieces and nephews or grandchildren.  Morality and decency ought to count for more that arms merchants' greed. 

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