Democratic voters were jubilant when former astronaut Mark Kelly ousted GOP appointee Martha McSally in the party’s sole Senate seat pickup of the 2020 elections. They will be distinctly less excited to see their new Senator use his first major vote to break with the party and approve one of the last pieces of the outgoing President Trump’s bloodstained agenda.
On Wednesday, Sen. Kelly (D-AZ) joined his fellow Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema to spurn the efforts of his fellow Democrats to block the Jared Kushner-sponsored sale of F-35 fighter jets and Reaper drones to the repressive slaver kingdoms of the United Arab Emirates, delivering one last win to a Trump administration on its way out the door.
“On a vote of 46-50, the Senate failed to advance a resolution disapproving of the Reaper sales, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) joining Democrats and Arizona’s Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema joining Republicans. The second vote, on blocking the F-35 sale, failed 47-49, with Kelly splitting his votes,” reports POLITICO.
The $23 billion sale includes 50 fighters, 18 drones, and a generous stockpile of missiles, which the Trump team arranged for the UAE as a reward for its normalization of relations with Israel.
The last time the United States delivered these kinds of sophisticated weapons systems to a Middle Eastern petrokingdom, the Saudi Arabian buyers immediately began a gruesome war against the Houthi rebels of Yemen, sending American-bought missiles into markets and weddings with wanton abandon. Thousands of innocents, including a schoolbus full of kids, have died in the relentless airstrikes.
Up until recently, the UAE has been an eager participant in the bloodletting of Yemen, sending both ground troops and fighter jets while training and sponsoring their own militia groups in the area. This behavior, along with reports that the UAE has been striking secret deals with al-Qaida fighters, has left the few Senators who are not callously indifferent to the real-world consequences of American retail militarism opposed to the sale.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who is wrong about almost everything, had a rare moment of honesty on the Senate floor on Wednesday: “It’s as if we intentionally don’t want to consider all of these issues. This is not a country we should be giving our most sophisticated weaponry to.”
“There is no doubt that the U.A.E.’s recent normalization agreement with Israel is a big deal, and there is a level of arms transfer that could make sense for an important partner in the region. But the Emiratis’ recent behavior in Yemen and Libya, where U.S. weapons were misused and given to radical militias, on top of their active and growing defense relationships with China and Russia, should give everyone pause,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT).
Mark Kelly has had a previous relationship with the UAE; earlier this year, he returned $55,000 to Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan that he had been paid to give a speech with his brother Scott Kelly in June 2018.
It does not bode well for the next four years that our newest Senator’s first act was to defy his party and deliver a win for President Donald Trump and his fellow autocrats in the UAE. It is hard to understand how the voters of Arizona would be concerned about whether or not a Middle Eastern kingdom that they likely have never heard of has the tools to commit war crimes from the sky. While Raytheon does operate a large manufacturing facility in Tucson, the company already has a $70 billion contract backlog with the Department of Defense — something tells us they will be just fine without this deal.
Nothing good can from pumping yet more arms and munitions to a repressive autocracy that foments instability, breaks bread with terror groups, and shows a monstrous disregard for human rights in a region full of similar states jockeying for power and influence.
Time and time again, the American Senate has shown it is appallingly indifferent to the tremendous human cost of distributing weapons to anyone willing to pay, their hands and those of their apathetic voters are permanently stained red with the blood of the world’s poor. Coming on the heels of Joe Biden’s proposed appointment of missile maker Raytheon board member Gen. Lloyd Austin III as Secretary of Defense, the likelihood that our role in fueling the unending slaughter abates any time soon is very bleak indeed.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.