The Saudi Arabian-led war with Yemen has been raging for more than two years, with massive loss of life and humanitarian impact on the Yemeni side. Nonetheless, the United States continues to support the Saudi coalition through arms sales and military logistics support. Two multi-billion dollar deals were secured for Saudi allies Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. An International Business Times review of federal documents found that those countries are represented in Washington by powerful lobbying firms that have given substantial campaign contributions to politicians tasked with overseeing foreign policy and arms sales.
In May, the UAE secured a $2 billion arms deal for 160 Patriot missiles manufactured by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon. In September, a weapons deal to Bahrain worth $3.8 billion was approved. Bahrain’s deal included 19 F-16 jets made by Lockheed and 221 anti-tank missiles produced by Raytheon. Saudi Arabia also received its own package, with $500 million worth of precision-guided munitions and 40 Blackhawk helicopters, both of which were secured through lobbying by former Republican Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon, as IBT previously reported .
According to the latest United Nations figures , 5,144 Yemeni civilians were killed, primarily through Saudi airstrikes, since the war began in 2015. The war has caused massive internal displacement and crippled infrastructure, leading to a cholera epidemic that the World Health Organization estimates 650,000 people in Yemen have contracted the disease and millions are severely food insecure.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE have sprawling networks of influence in Washington, but the main power brokers for Bahrain and the UAE are Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld and DLA Piper, the latter of which represents both Gulf monarchies. Justice Department filings reviewed by IBT show that the UAE pays Akin Gump roughly $57,000 a month for its services and DLA Piper another $15,000 per month. Bahrain pays DLA Piper nearly $53,000 per month, according to the latest available records.
Last week, IBT published an investigation detailing how lobbyists for foreign powers contributed and fundraised nearly $10 million for political campaigns in the 2016 election cycle. The practice of registered foreign agents giving to politicians raises questions of them acting as financial pass-throughs for foreign nationals who cannot otherwise contribute to campaigns directly themselves.
Since 2015, the political action committees of Akin Gump and DLA Piper, as well as their employees, have contributed $255,370 to senators currently sitting on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, according to Federal Election Commission data reviewed by IBT. Congress is notified whenever a large foreign military sale is given State Department approval and given the opportunity to block the sale. Such a move would normally originate in the powerful SFRC or the corresponding House committee that is tasked with managing international relations.
For instance, in June, Sen. Bob Corker, who chairs the SFRC, said he would block any future arms sales to Gulf Arab states. But in September, Corker signaled that he would allow the deal to pass unimpeded.
According to its FARA filings, DLA has regularly been contact with Rep. Darrell Issa, holding frequent meetings and phone calls. Issa expressed early support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen,saying in March 2015: “We must make it clear that we will support our allies and punish our enemies through steadfast resolve and decisive action.”
DLA’s power in Washington also comes from the revolving door of former elected officials who now work as lobbyists, including Saxby Chambliss, a two-term Republican Senator from Georgia, who was the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which also plays a significant role in international affairs.
Support for the deal also came from the defense companies themselves. Lockheed Martin specifically lobbied both the House and Senate in support of the F-16 sale to Bahrain in the third quarter of this year, according to federal lobbying disclosures reviewed by IBT. As Congress’s role in the foreign military sales process is only to step in and block a sale, such lobbying activity is directed at preemptively assuring that a block vote does not materialize.
Raytheon similarly lobbied on “issues associated with Congressional notifications of proposed foreign military and direct commercial sales,” which refers to Congress’s ability to block foreign weapons sales, as well as U.S. defense cooperation with countries in the Middle East.
Alex Kotch contributed reporting to this story.