Blog ››› ››› TIMOTHY JOHNSON
A National Rifle Association video attacking Hillary Clinton for the State Department’s approval of arms exports during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state unwittingly makes the case for background checks for weapons sales.
The NRA video falsely claims that during Clinton’s tenure, the State Department based decisions on arms export permits on whether a country had donated money to the Clinton Foundation. In fact, the State Department’s statutory role in deciding when to grant arms export permits is “to promote our national security interests and foreign policy objectives.” As explained by the State Department, The United States’ controls over arms exports are considered the “gold standard” throughout the world, meant “to prohibit the transfer or transshipment of capabilities to rogue states, terrorist groups, and groups seeking to unsettle regions.”
As a function of its permitting responsibilities, the State Department operates a program called the Blue Lantern that conducts investigations into entities receiving U.S. arms exports to ensure that arms transfers are within the U.S. national security interest.
In a video promoted on the NRA’s news website, NRA News commentator Dana Loesch attacked Clinton by claiming that according to the International Business Times, “during the first three fiscal years of Clinton's term as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 countries whose governments gave money to the Clinton Foundation. Do you think that they underwent background checks?”
Loesch went on to claim, “when Hillary Clinton isn't trying to disarm women and prevent us from the equal opportunity exercise of our pro-choice right to self-defense, she is approving billion-dollar arms sales to countries with horrendous human rights records. Countries where women have little to no rights, countries like Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman, and others.”
According to Loesch, the State Department approved arms exports to Qatar and other countries in exchange for monetary donations to the Clinton Foundation and to members of Clinton’s family.
Loesch’s claims about the Clinton Foundation are conspiratorial. Despite discredited claims in conservative media, stemming from Peter Schweizer’s book “Clinton Cash,” there is no evidence that the Clinton family charity organization existed as part of a quid pro quo scheme used by foreign countries hoping to influence U.S. policy.
In the video, Loesch asked whether countries that received arms exports “underwent background checks,” seeming to suggest that in exchange for donations, Clinton would approve arms exports to dangerous world actors.
In fact, because of the State Department’s statutorily mandated responsibility, arms can be exported only after the State Department, and in some cases other federal agencies, grants a permit. The reason for the permit is to avoid the proliferation of arms.
In 1976, Republican President Gerald Ford signed The Arms Export Control Act (AECA) into law, legislation that gave the president broad latitude in approving or disapproving arms sales for the purpose of preserving national and international security. Ford soon signed an executive order delegating this responsibility to the Department of State. Subsequent executive orders during the Bush and Obama administrations have clarified and streamlined this delegation of authority.
Under the AECA and related laws, the U.S. has what are considered the highest standards in the world for deciding whether to approve arms sales to foreign nations. While the NRA video attempts to scandalize the State Department’s approval of arms exports during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, the agency’s actions during her tenure merely indicate that it carried out its statutory duty, as it has done for 40 years.
In the NRA video, Loesch also misleads by suggesting that Clinton is opposed to women’s rights because of sales approved to Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Oman. Left unsaid is that Clinton and the State Department routinely condemned human rights abuses, including those that targeted women, in those countries.
While one role of the State Department is to promote human rights around the world, another facet of U.S. foreign policy is to promote national security interests. (And the NRA must have a keen interest in that goal, as it routinely raises concerns about terror in the Middle East.)
One way the country promotes these interests is by helping to arm countries that are engaged in the war on terror. For example, as a March State Department fact sheet explains, the department has approved arms sales to Oman because the country is “a vital U.S. partner on a wide range of regional, political, and security issues facing the Middle East” including “cooperation on maritime security, military preparedness, arms transfers, cybersecurity, and counterterrorism.”
The NRA’s video gets many things wrong, including its simplistic approach to foreign policy and conspiratorial claims about Clinton. But the video also inadvertently acknowledges the value of background checks in ensuring that weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands -- a point that counters the NRA’s usual position.