Secretary of State Mike Pompeo faced internal opposition to U.S. support for the war in Yemen from State Department staff, according to a recent report. The staffers had become concerned by the rising civilian death toll in the war being carried out by Persian Gulf monarchies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — not only owing to bombings of densely populated areas, but also a humanitarian crisis exacerbated by the fighting, with up to 8.4 million people at risk of starvation.
Those concerns, however, were overruled after Pompeo discussed the matter with the State Department’s legislative affairs team. The legislative affairs staff, according to the Wall Street Journal, argued that restricting U.S. support would endanger billions of dollars in future weapons sales, including a massive sale of precision-guided munitions between Raytheon, a U.S. weapons manufacturer, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
That staff — the legislative affairs team at the State Department — is led by a former Raytheon lobbyist.
Before his presidential appointment last June, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Charles Faulkner was paid handsomely by Raytheon to lobby lawmakers on defense procurement issues, ethics records show.
The main pending sale is a $2 billion deal to give Saudi Arabia and the UAE air-to-ground munitions produced by Raytheon.
Debate broke out in the State Department around a congressionally mandated deadline for Pompeo to certify that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were taking steps to reduce civilian casualties in the Yemen war. The failure to certify would have immediately banned U.S. refueling efforts to bolster the Gulf monarchies’ war, but, according to the Wall Street Journal, the legislative affairs desk argued that “lack of certification will negatively impact pending arms transfers.” The office also warned that future weapons sales could be jeopardized — and Pompeo ended up issuing the certification.
The main pending sale is a $2 billion deal to give Saudi Arabia and the UAE air-to-ground munitions produced by Raytheon. The Trump administration began moving forward with the sale in the spring, briefing the chair and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Under U.S. law, the Senate can block arms sales and the sale is currently being held up by Sen. Bob Menendez, D.-N.J., the top Democrat on the committee, over human rights concerns.
In a statement to The Intercept, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said, “Mr. Faulkner has extensive experience working with Capitol Hill. His previous positions, however, have no bearing on the final certification decision.”
Faulkner’s work lobbying on behalf of Raytheon was carried out from his perch at BGR Group, a firm that has extensive contracts with foreign governments and defense contractors. Faulkner was individually registered to lobby on behalf of several defense contractors, including Airbus, Huntington Ingalls, and Raytheon. His former employer has also been a registered agent for the Saudi Arabian government since 2016, according to Justice Department records.
Now, leading the State Department’s Bureau of Legislative Affairs, Faulkner oversees a team of 30 foreign affairs officers “responsible for the Department’s day-to-day relationship with Congress on legislation, budget and appropriations, and foreign policy,” according to the agency website.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have long used military contracts with U.S. and other Western corporations as a financial inducement for influencing American policy in the region. The war in Yemen has required a constant supply of American-made munitions and other military contracts, fueling a lobbying bonanza that ensures support for the war from the defense industry.
The U.S. has provided logistical support to the Saudi- and UAE-led coalition since March 2015, when the Gulf countries began their intervention in Yemen. In addition to the weapons and refueling support, the U.S. provides the coalition with targeting intelligence. The continued support has come despite the coalition’s repeated bombings of civilians, including a wedding in April and a school bus carrying children last month.
Last year, Faulkner was part of the Trump administration push to broadly define the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force as a legal authority to pursue military engagements across the Middle East, including in Syria. A letter authored by Faulkner and sent to Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, argued that military action in Syria is “consistent with the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense.”
Update: September 22, 2018
This story has been updated to include comment received after publication from State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.