In two surprising votes held on Thursday, the Senate rejected bills by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to block US arms sales to Bahrain and Qatar. The Bahrain vote was 43-56, and the Qatar vote was 42-57.
Sen. Paul has been leading pushes against selling US arms to countries with authoritarian governments. In Thursday’s comments he declared that “dumping more weapons into the Middle East won’t get us any closer to peace.” He also urged the US to “stop sending arms to people who abuse human rights.”
The Senate leadership dismissed such concerns, saying that Bahrain and Qatar would find arms somewhere even if the US didn’t sell them. Emphasis on the importance of the two nations centered on them hosting America’s 5th Fleet and Central Command headquarters, respectively. The White House had threatened to veto either of the measures if they’d passed.
Both votes were considered highly likely to pass up until they were rushed to the floor today. The timing appears almost certainly to have been related to Thursday tanker bombings in the Gulf of Oman, and shifted a number of Senators’ votes in favor of continuing the arms sales.
More votes are expected next week, on US arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi votes are also considered likely to pass, as Senate support for the Saudis has soured since the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and war crimes in Yemen, there have been growing calls for the US to limit backing to them.
The Saudi votes are also expected to be an argument between opposing US support of human rights abusers and the administration really wanting the large sales the Saudis are committing to. Expect growing US hostility toward Iran to also figure prominently in the Saudi debates.