November 15, 2018

Van Hollen Statement on S.J.RES.65 and U.S. Arms Sales to Bahrain

Today, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) released the following statement regarding S.J. Res 65, a Joint Resolution Relating to the Disapproval of the Proposed Export to the Government of the Kingdom of Bahrain of Certain Defense Articles and Services:

“Mr. President, as the late Senator John McCain once wrote, “We are a country with a conscience. We have long believed moral concerns must be an essential part of our foreign policy, not a departure from it.” He believed, as I do, that human rights and the rule of law are the cornerstones of a just and free society. 

More than any president before him, however, President Trump has shirked our nation’s values. This is especially true in his engagement abroad – across the globe, President Trump has embraced autocrats and derided our democratic allies.

The Kingdom of Bahrain is no exception to this disturbing trend. Just two months into his tenure, President Trump lifted all human rights conditions on a multi-billion dollar sale of American fighter jets to Bahrain, imposed by President Obama. President Trump has attached no human rights conditions to any successive arms sale to Bahrain, including the arms identified in S.J.Res.65.

The message President Trump has sent is clear: Bahrain has a greenlight to act with total impunity against its citizens. The Trump administration’s decision coincided with an intensified government campaign against civil society and peaceful political opposition. And in its 2017 Human Rights Report, the State Department cited Bahrain’s unlawful killings by security forces, arbitrary arrest and detention of civilians, restrictions on freedom of expression, arbitrary citizenship revocation, and limits on Shia political participation – among a litany of other abuses by the state.

I recognize that, in every relationship, the United States must carefully weigh our national security interests. Bahrain is an important strategic partner and hosts our Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The arms identified in S.J.Res.65 are intended for Bahrain’s territorial defense, which I support. However, I reject the notion – supported by this president - that our values and our interests are at odds. Our values, our willingness to consider the human costs of our actions, are what make the United States, and what keep the United States, exceptional. President Trump should not have abandoned human rights conditions in our arms sales to Bahrain, which is why I voted against the motion to table S.J.Res.65.”