US general: Weapons sales are a ‘low hanging fruit, everyone’s interested’
According to CENTCOM Commander Gen. Kenneth Frank McKenzie, the United States intends to sell the Egyptian government F-15 fighter jets, and that it should be welcome news to everyone. “I think we have good news in that we’re going to provide them with F-15s,” Gen. McKenzie said during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week, adding that the dealmaking “was a long, hard slog.”
This statement is the latest proposal for new U.S. military sales to Egypt, despite significant concerns from Congress and outside critics about human rights abuses, particularly those linked to aerial bombardment.
Along with the unofficial announcement of the F-15 sales to Egypt, Gen. McKenzie confirmed that the United States is also exploring options to sell Saudi Arabia more “advanced aircraft and advanced air defense systems.” This, despite the Biden administration’s pledge to end sales of equipment enabling Saudi military offensives in Yemen.
For the UAE, Gen. McKenzie said that the Emiratis “expressed an interest in the F-35 fifth generation fighter and we are in process with them right now to see how that’s going to work out.” This $23 billion sale, first offered by the Trump administration after the UAE normalized relations with Israel, was put on hold due to U.S. concerns about Emirati efforts to partner with China on security, which could give the Chinese access to America’s most advanced military technologies.
Gen. McKenzie assured the Senate committee that “with our weapons, come our values.” Yet just days prior to the hearing, the Saudi government carried out a mass execution, beheading 81 people, 41 of whom were Shiite, a persecuted minority in Saudi Arabia and killed for engaging in anti-government protests. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led war on Yemen carries on, which has killed almost half a million civilians. And Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s, government routinely detains and tortures dissidents, including U.S. citizens.
McKenzie and the Biden administration evidently consider the sale of weapons and the disbursement of military aid to supersede such evidently minor concerns. In September of 2021, the administration was set to withhold $300 million worth of military aid to Egypt, largely determined by the Secretary of State’s approval that the Egyptian government is taking steps to address human rights concerns. Instead, the administration halted $130 million, while releasing the other $170 million to Egypt despite its government’s persistent human rights violations.
The State Department then went forward with approving $2.5 billion in foreign military sales to Egypt. More than $2 billion would go towards the C-130J-3- Super Hercules Aircraft, while $355 million would go towards Air Defense Radar Systems. The State Department announced the possible sale on January 25, the anniversary of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution that overthrew President Mubarak and sought to rid Egypt of dictatorship.
Likewise, despite Biden’s alleged commitment to ending support for Saudi military offensives in the war in Yemen, in December, the State Department notified Congress of over $650 million in new arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The sale was justified on the basis of supporting the Kingdom in defense against attacks from Yemen’s Houthis.
The weapons sales have not come without pressure from members of Congress. In January, Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), co-chairs of Congress’s Egypt Human Rights Caucus, released a statement calling on the Biden administration to do more to pressure Egypt. “Rewarding such a cynical move would make it even less likely that Egypt will take our requests on human rights or any other issue seriously in the future,” they said in a statement in regards to the Egyptian government benefiting from military sales amidst “broader campaign of repression, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial punishments”.
On the Republican side, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has emerged as a consistent critic of the disconnect between the administration’s stated commitment to human rights and its decisions on military sales. The Senator has made multiple attempts to compel the administration, most recently proposing a bipartisan joint resolution of disapproval for the arm sales to Egypt. “The United States cannot proudly affirm human rights to be at the center of our foreign policy, while it arms a regime at war with its own people,” he wrote for Responsible Statecraft, referring to the administration going forward with the $2.5 billion arm sales to Egypt.
Sen. Paul’s efforts have extended to cut off military sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE as well. In December 2020, he introduced a joint resolution of disapproval of arm sales to the UAE, while in November 2021 introduced a resolution of disapproval for the U.S. arm sales to Saudi Arabia. Both resolutions gained little overall traction in changing course in Congress.
Gen. McKenzie’s announcement this week regarding F-15 sales to Egypt highlights that these transactions are clearly not contingent on the buyer adhering to American values, and rather a continuation of unnecessary and inhumane arm sales to leaders who continually commit human rights abuses. In the hearing, Gen. McKenzie described U.S. aerial defense systems as “low hanging fruit — everyone’s interested in it,” highlighting the willingness of the U.S. to profit from military sales even if it means sacrificing U.S. values.