McConnell: Efforts to Block Arms Sales to Our Partners in Middle East are Misguided
‘Some of our colleagues seek to block arms sales to two of the United States’ closest partners in the region: Bahrain and Qatar. These resolutions are misguided. They would make the United States a less reliable partner, weaken the influence we have with our friends, and open the door to other, more unscrupulous powers like Russia and China.’
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding an effort in the Senate to block arms sales to Bahrain and Qatar:
“Later today, the Senate will vote on two resolutions that would undermine U.S. influence and credibility in the Middle East and ultimately make the region a more dangerous place. Some of our colleagues seek to block arms sales to two of the United States’ closest partners in the region: Bahrain and Qatar. These resolutions are misguided. They would make the United States a less reliable partner, weaken the influence we have with our friends, and open the door to other, more unscrupulous powers like Russia and China. And there is the small matter that neither of these resolutions would even solve the problem that seems to have motivated them.
“I understand that many members of this body are genuinely concerned about some of the actions of our Saudi partners in Yemen. Fortunately, the Senate has repeatedly expressed these concerns directly through our legislative and oversight authority. And, as I’ve stated in the past, members should share their concerns and discuss these matters directly with members of our administration or with Saudi officials. And if Senators are upset about the State Department’s recent invocation of a national emergency to advance arms sales to Saudi Arabia, they will have an opportunity to vote on that matter.
“So the Senate has ample opportunity to make our voice heard about Riyadh’s behavior. But the two resolutions we’ll vote on today are not that opportunity. Whatever frustrations my colleagues may feel with the course of the conflict in Yemen, taking swipes at our relationships with Bahrain and Qatar is not the right response. Bahrain’s involvement in the Yemen conflict has been limited to defensive border security operations. And for the past two years, Qatar has been completely uninvolved.
“Moreover, both Bahrain and Qatar provide absolutely essential support to our military operations in the region, without which our ability to project power and protect US interests would be severely challenged. Qatar is home to U.S. Central Command’s forward headquarters in the region, with ten thousand U.S. personnel and upwards of one hundred aircraft. It’s the hub for many of our ongoing efforts against ISIS and other regional threats. In Bahrain, you’ll find the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. That’s another seven thousand U.S. personnel — plus assets responsible for command and control of over 3 million square miles of international waters.
“I would remind my colleagues of the briefing we received recently about the growing Iranian threat in the region. I would encourage them to reflect on recent attacks, probably by Iran or its proxies, against civilian vessels in UAE, against civilian airports in Saudi Arabia and UAE, and near our Embassy in Baghdad. In fact, literally just hours ago, two more commercial shipping vessels were apparently attacked off the coast of Oman.
“These attacks may appear directed at the countries that use them to export petrochemicals, or at the international owners of the vessels. But the fact is they threaten the very underpinnings of the global trading system and customary law of the sea that ensures freedom of transit on the seas. We do not know who was responsible for these latest attacks yet, but it is not unreasonable to suspect an Iranian hand in them. I hope in coming days we have clarity about who is responsible, but what is clear is the growing tension and instability in the region.
“At a time of growing threats to US personnel, interests, and partners posed by Iran, do we really want to send this kind of signal to our partners? If we turn our back on them, can we continue to count on the significant support they provide us, or the freedom of maneuver our large presence in their countries affords us? As the State Department has announced, the proposed sales that are at issue today would provide each of these host nations with important enhanced security capabilities, including anti-aircraft systems and support equipment. They will also tie these nations closer to the United States, at a time when our adversaries would happily sell comparable weapons at less cost, and with fewer restrictions.
“In recent years we have seen both Republican and Democrat administrations seek to reduce the U.S. military footprint in the region and have our partners assume more responsibility for their own security. So it is curious that Senators would want to not only sever security ties with these partners but also limit their ability to defend themselves. In each of these cases, the U.S. arms sales in question have followed normal procedures. They’ve been properly screened and vetted. And they’ve been reviewed and approved by both the chairmen and ranking members of the Foreign Relations Committee, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Let me repeat: the Chairmen and Ranking Members of these committees reviewed and approved these arms sales. That’s bipartisan, bicameral support.
“In sum, I would ask my colleagues who support these resolutions whether they have even spoken to the Bahraini or Qatari Ambassadors to discuss any concerns. I would encourage them to visit Doha and Manama to confer with the leaders of these countries and speak with the thousands of American sailors and airmen based there. I would encourage my colleagues to ask our own senior military officials whether we’ll be better off if our partners purchase Russian or Chinese military systems instead of ours. And I would encourage them to ask our diplomats whether America will have more, or less, influence with our partners if we capriciously block their purchase of American weapons. I strongly urge each of my colleagues to reject these resolutions.”
Related Issues: Russia, National Security, Iran, China