Obama’s arms-sale power grab / Ending congressional role could result in U.S. weapons threatening Israel (WASHINGTON TIMES OP-ED) By Sen. Richard G. Lugar 04/18/12)
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The sale of weapons and other military equipment to our allies and
friendly governments has long been an important element of American
foreign and national security policy. Arms sales can enhance regional
stability, aid in the fight against terrorism, support our friends
and help provide jobs for American workers.
Such sales can be controversial. Therefore, before an arms transfer
goes forward, Congress must approve it after weighing a number of
complex issues regarding the needs of the purchasing country, the
threats it faces, its human rights record, corruption, the regional
balance and proliferation risks, just to name a few. For many years,
Congress and successive administrations have relied on an efficient
and effective system of informal consultation to consider these
issues prior to the administration making a formal proposal to
Now the Obama administration is trying to scrap this proven process
in favor of one that would give it the power to ram through weapons
transfers without fully answering congressional questions and
concerns. This could have severe implications for U.S. national
security and the security of our allies, especially Israel.
This change is both unwise and unnecessary. In a letter to Secretary
of State Hillary Rodham Clinton from me and the two leaders of the
House - Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen,
Florida Republican, and ranking member Howard L. Berman, California
Democrat - we said, “The revised process overturns an informal
consultative process that has been in place for decades built on
trust and mutual interest. As such, it gravely undermines both.”
The “prenotification” consultations usually proceed expeditiously in
both houses of Congress with bipartisan cooperation - the median
committee review time in 2010 was just 21 days. This gives Congress a
chance to ask questions or offer modifications to the proposed sale.
Traditionally, the executive branch has not gone forward with formal
notification of an arms transfer until Congress‘ concerns have been
addressed through consultations.
These talks often result in an arms-sale proposal that is better for
American security than the original. Equally important, the informal
route avoids the public wrangling over an arms sale that often can be
embarrassing and damaging to our relations with the proposed
recipient country. These lessons were learned in the 1970s, when
interbranch contention over arms sales - especially to the Middle
East - caused both branches to embrace a more cooperative process.
But the Obama administration, ignoring these lessons, wants to
jettison the established consultation process and simply send a
formal notification to Congress when it is ready. At that point,
Congress can only block a sale by passing a resolution of disapproval
through both houses.
Because the president can veto such legislation, a two-thirds
majority would be needed in both houses to achieve an override. In
effect, the president would need the support of only a third of one
house of Congress to push through a controversial arms deal opposed
by the majority. This would be a major expansion of executive power
over an extremely sensitive area of policy.
This could have important implications for our ally Israel, to whom
we have pledged to help maintain a qualitative military edge versus
its Middle East neighbors. Should Congress have doubts about a
proposed sale to one of Israel’s potential adversaries, legislators
would have diminished leverage to get their questions answered or to
block consideration of the deal if the president is determined to
force it through.
This is not an idle concern. A recent report by the Government
Accountability Office found that the Pentagon and the State
Department have not been consistent in documenting how arms sales to
Arab countries in the Persian Gulf region advance U.S. foreign policy
Like President Obama’s refusal to ask for congressional approval
before committing U.S. forces to a war in Libya, unilaterally
changing arms-sale procedures is an attempt by his administration to
circumvent a check on presidential power. All presidents going back
to Ronald Reagan have accepted the existing arms-sale approval
process as a necessary power-sharing mechanism that clarifies U.S.
arms transfers, prevents mistakes and unifies our policy. It is time
for Mr. Obama to come to the same conclusion.
Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, is ranking member of the
Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. (© 2012 The Washington Times,
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