The Paul-Murphy resolution to disapprove the latest arms sale to Saudi Arabia was tabled in a 71-27 vote. The outcome is regrettable, but there was never much chance that there would be enough support to block the sale. The good news is that over a quarter of the Senate opposed the sale, and in the process registered their criticism of the administration’s policy of backing the Saudi-led war on Yemen. That is a much higher number than I expected, and it does show that there is a significant bloc in the Senate that questions the wisdom of U.S. policy in Yemen and views the U.S.-Saudi relationship skeptically. A year ago, there probably would not have so many votes against an arms deal with the Saudis. U.S. involvement in the war came under some extensive public scrutiny, and for the first time members of Congress were forced to go on the record on this question. The public debate itself reflects the extent to which Saudi influence in Washington has waned over the last decade:
“We haven’t seen this much anti-Saudi activity on the Hill in a quarter of a century,” said Bruce Riedel, director of the Brookings Institution’s Intelligence Project and an expert on Saudi Arabia. “Criticism of Saudi Arabia has come out of the closet, and I don’t think it’s going to go back in.”
This criticism is much-needed and long overdue, and this may mark the beginning of a broader souring on the relationship with Riyadh. The bad news for now is that the Saudis and their allies will correctly interpret the vote as a sign that it currently has the backing of most of the Senate, and will continue wreaking havoc in Yemen in the knowledge that they have lots of eager defenders in Washington.