The Biden administration on Wednesday approved the sale of weapons worth more than $23.37 billion to the United Arab Emirates, initiated by former President Donald Trump. According to Reuters, citing congressional aides, the sale includes 50 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, as many as 18 MQ-9B armed drones, and air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions.
The Trump administration then finalized the UAE sale on Jan. 20, literally minutes before President Joe Biden was sworn in. In response, the incoming State Dept. issued a statement saying “the department is temporarily pausing the implementation of some pending US defense transfers and sales under Foreign Military Sales and Direct Commercial Sales to allow incoming leadership an opportunity to review,” explaining that it was a “routine administrative action typical to most any transition, and demonstrates the Administration’s commitment to transparency and good governance, as well as ensuring US arms sales meet our strategic objectives of building stronger, interoperable, and more capable security partners.”
The suspended arms sale to the UAE was one of several major foreign arms sales that were frozen, including an arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Secretary of State Antony Blinken blamed the Saudis for the humanitarian situation in Yemen during his confirmation hearings, in their fight against the Iran-supported Huthi rebels. Some US lawmakers have also criticized the UAE for its role in the war in Yemen. Other lawmakers were concerned about maintaining Israel’s military superiority in the Middle East.
In March, Derek H. Burney, writing in the National Post, suggested that Biden was undoing much of Trump’s legacy in the Middle East and delaying contact with the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia while initiating a dialogue with Iran could be problematic. Burney warned that “instead of building on the Abraham Accords between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, Biden’s actions may jeopardize those agreements.” Besides freezing the arms sales to the UAE, which was the carrot Trump used to draw the Emirates into recognizing Israel, the White House also released an intelligence assessment indicating that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was responsible for planning the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and insisted on speaking to the frail king instead of MBS.”
The Squad, which has been leaning on Biden to adopt a more leftist stance in all his policies, was especially gung-ho on the arms sale to Israel’s new Arab ally. Rep. Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (D-Minn) in late November erupted in a flurry of tweets calling on the then-President-elect to essentially take down every last achievement of his predecessor in the Middle East.
“Trump proposed a staggering $23 billion in arms sales to the UAE, which the administration admitted was linked to the [Abrahamic] deal,” Omar tweeted, boasting, “I introduced resolutions this week to ban these sales.”
Four months into the Biden presidency, the new administration has apparently reached a more rational approach to the Middle East, as well as to the interests of the US military-industrial complex. The State Dept. statement also said it plans “a robust and sustained dialogue with the UAE” to boost its alliance with the West, and stressed that the US “will also continue to reinforce with the UAE and all recipients of US defense articles and services that US-origin defense equipment must be adequately secured and used in a manner that respects human rights and fully complies with the laws of armed conflict.”
Finally, the Biden administration announced it was reviewing military sales to Saudi Arabia, some of which were also closed by Trump, likely weighing Saudi atrocities in Yemen against the need to maintain US good relations with the Kingdom. The results of said review are not out yet, but one hopes it will be less Kumbaya and more Realpolitik.