Trump’s Refusal to Halt Saudi Arms Sales Disregards Human Right Violations

On October 2nd, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi writer and journalist known for his criticisms of the Saudi government, went to the Saudi consulate in Turkey. He went there to obtain documents that prove his divorce with his previous wife so that he could marry his Turkish fiancé, who accompanied him to the consulate. However, Khashoggi never came out of the building and his fiancé reported his mysterious disappearance to the Turkish government after the consulate closed.

Turkish officials accused the Saudi government of assassinating him inside the building, and though Saudi officials vehemently denied it at first, they later admitted that he died inside the building. Khashoggi’s disappearance has been condemned on an international level by big corporations like Uber and Google – who withdrew out of Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative, one of the largest technology conferences in the world – and spokespeople for other countries such as Canada and the U.K.

Of all the responses to Khashoggi’s disappearance, the United States’ response has been the most discussed, as Khashoggi was a legal resident and a frequent writer for The Washington Post. Senators on both sides of the aisle, including members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, have called for halts on future arms sales to Saudi Arabia. However, President Donald Trump is reluctant to punish Saudi Arabia because it would hurt the economy as the “$110 billion on military equipment…create jobs for this country” and that he doesn’t “like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States.”

However, President Trump has every reason to cut off arms sales. The “significant” contributions to buying American weapons aren’t as large as President Trump makes it out to be and has no real consequences on the economy. And despite Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent efforts to imagine Saudi Arabia as a modern, trendy country, the country still has a long history of human rights violations that continues to this day, something that the United States chooses to forget in favor of money.

Despite President Trump’s claims that the sales are a big deal to the U.S. economy, there is in reality very little to gain from them. While Saudi Arabia is buying American weapons, it is having difficulty keeping up with payments thanks to decreasing oil prices and the ongoing war with Yemen, which may result in further decreased payments. These deals made with the kingdom only add up to $14.5 billion according to the Pentagon, nowhere close to the $110 billion that Trump is claiming.

And contrary to Trump’s fear that jobs will be lost, not many jobs will be. In the most recent estimates from the Aerospace Industries Association, only about 7,666 workers are making bombs and most of them are sold to the U.S. military, not the Saudi military. This means that the U.S. economy doesn’t need Saudi’s support to keep manufacturing bombs.

Saudi Arabia is also planning on developing its own local weapons manufacturing industry as part of Prince Salman’s 2030 economic development plan, which aims to make Saudi Arabia a more economically independent and energy efficient country. According to the plan posted on its official website (futureinvestmentinitiative.com), this development “will transfer knowledge and technology, and build national expertise in the fields of manufacturing, maintenance, repair, research and development.” Clearly Saudi Arabia will no longer be depending solely on the U.S. for weapons in the future, which will no longer have a significant effect on our economy.

Saudi Arabia’s ugly history of human rights violation, however, should be more concerning to Americans. According to human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (and even Khashoggi himself in his final op-ed) Saudi Arabia has one of the worst basic human rights records in the world. It is one of the very few countries that did not sign the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Despite Prince Salman’s recent efforts to make Saudi Arabia more modern, such as lifting the ban on female drivers and cracking down on corruption, they do nothing to mask the terrible events leading up to these reforms.

Weeks prior to the lifting of the female driver ban in July of this year, dozens of women advocating for women’s rights to drive were arrested. In 2017, during Prince Selman’s campaign to end corruption in the country, hundreds of businessmen and members of the royal family were arrested and imprisoned inside the Ritz-Carlton hotel (the same hotel used to host Future Investment Initiative events), with 17 of them injured from physical abuse and one military officer killed.

On top of these violations, Saudi Arabia is also infamous for suppressing freedoms of speech, with countless stories of arrests, beheadings, and crucifixions of journalists and protestors who dare criticize the government, including Jamal Khashoggi. Our alliance should be raising red flags.

Yet Trump has continued the alliance by turning a blind eye from the crimes of the Saudi government simply because of convenience and money, so much so that the U.S. has actually become integral to Saudi Arabia’s aggressive campaign against its neighbors.

In 2017 when Saudi Arabia severed foreign relations with and blocked Qatar from its airspace, sea routes, and its only land crossing, Trump strangely took credit for engineering the diplomatic crisis. Two months ago, an American-made bomb was dropped onto a school bus and killed 40 children in Yemen. A month later, Trump’s Defense Secretary James N. Mattis commented that Saudi Arabia was “making every effort to reduce the risk of civilian casualties.” This continued support of Saudi Arabia clearly shows the United States’ negligence of human lives.

The alliance with Saudi Arabia should be seen as a dangerous precedent as to the crimes Saudi Arabia can get away with, especially to our own citizens. Trump’s vows of “severe punishment” don’t mean anything, especially if our biggest connection to Saudi Arabia is an economic, transactional one. If the United States wants to be seen as great as Trump envisions, it needs to finally acknowledge its long messy relationship with one of the least free countries in the world.

Ashley Zhou is a second-year software engineering major. She can be reached at adzhou@uci.edu.