WASHINGTON ― The U.S. Senate on Thursday rejected Sen. Rand Paul’s measures to block sales of munitions to Bahrain and Boeing AH–64E Apache helicopters to Qatar.
The vote on Bahrain was 43-56 and Qatar 42-57, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., announced their opposition Thursday. The White House earlier this week threatened to veto the measures.
Paul, a Kentucky libertarian who rails against military interventionism, repeated accusations that Bahrain and Qatar support terrorists and argued their repressive authoritarian governments clash with America’s pro-Democratic values. He argued ahead of the vote that the U.S. only maintains these allies as a misguided means to check Iran.
“Dumping more weapons into the Middle East won’t get us any closer to peace,” Paul said. “A ‘yes’ vote today is a vote for sanity. A ‘yes’ vote is a vote to quit sending arms to people who abuse human rights.”
Paul’s attempt comes as lawmakers are voicing frustration both over the president’s invocation of an emergency to sell arms to Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led military coalition fighting in Yemen ― a coalition that includes Bahrain.
Paul targeted Saudi Arabia in his floor remarks.
“What are they doing with all the weapons we give them? They’re bombing civilians in Yemen,” he said. “They have been using our bombs and up until recently they were refueling their bombers with our planes. We’ve got no business in the war in Yemen. Congress never voted on it. It is unauthorized, it is unconstitutional and we have no business aiding the Saudis in this massacre.”
Inhofe and McConnell argued the U.S. must maintain its alliances in the Mideast and that Paul’s resolutions were the wrong vehicle to express discontent. Inhofe also argued that “if we renege on these arms sales,” American competitors Russia and China would step in.
“Everyone understands that Bahrain and Qatar are going to get arms anyway,” Inhofe said. “They’re either going to get them from us or from our adversaries.”
The administration notified Congress last month it approved a sale to Qatar of 24 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and related equipment worth up to $3 billion. The sale to Bahrain amounts to dozens of missiles, hundreds of bombs and related equipment worth $750 million and made by American firms Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing.
The White House veto threat noted that Bahrain is an “important security partner” and is home to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, the forward-deployed U.S. Marine Central Command, the Combined Maritime Force and more than 17,000 U.S. citizens.
“Among other things, Bahrain supports United States activities and priorities related to anti-piracy efforts in the Arabian and Red Seas, and is an important partner in countering Iran’s nefarious activities and in countering al-Qa’ida and ISIS throughout the region,” the statement reads, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.
“By helping to support thousands of jobs across 41 States, this [sale] also promotes United States economic security and strengthens our defense industrial base,” the statement continues.
The Senate also rejected Paul’s attempt to block an arms sale to Bahrain late last year.
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.