For the second time in as many years, President Donald Trump welcomed Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, second-in-command to one of the world’s most repressive dictators, to the White House. Trump used Tuesday’s visit to tout the$12.5 billion worth of warplanes, missiles, warships and other weapons the Saudi regime has purchased from US corporations since the president and the prince last met.
“A lot of people are at work” thanks to Saudi Arabia’s purchase of American arms, Trump noted.
A lot of people are also dying as a direct result of US, and broader Western, support for Saudi Arabia’s war against Yemen. Next week marks the third anniversary of the Saudi intervention in Yemen’s civil war, in which the fundamentalist Sunni kingdom is leading a coalition of regional nations against Shi’a rebels believed to be backed by Iran. US-made warplanes flown by US-trained pilots dropping US-made bombs, including cluster munitions banned by nearly 120 nations, have killed thousands of innocent Yemeni men, women and children over the past three years, while a US-backed blockade has led to widespread starvation and the worst cholera outbreak in modern history, with more than a million people — including 600,000 children — affected.
Coalition warplanes have indiscriminately bombed homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, weddings, funerals, crowded markets and other places where large numbers of civilians are present. Through it all, the Obama and now Trump administrations essentially turned blind eyes to the slaughter. If anything, US leaders have doubled down on their support for the Saudi war. After an October 2016 air strike on a funeral that killed 140 civilians and wounded more than 600 others, the US, which provides crucial refueling and logistics aid to the Saudi coalition, doubled the amount of fuel it gave coalition warplanes. Quite literally, the US is fueling horrific atrocities in Yemen.
Although the US military, with broad bipartisan support, also bombs homes, schools, hospitals, mosques, weddings, funerals, crowded markets and all the other places Saudi warplanes are indiscriminately attacking in Yemen, there are some American lawmakers from both sides of the aisle who have long opposed funding the Saudi-led slaughter. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) has argued that the war, and particularly the frequent air strike massacres, fuel anti-Americanism and are a recruitment boon for militant groups including al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) has appealed to both the Obama and Trump administrations to end US support for Saudi “war crimes,” to no avail. Most recently, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) has led a bipartisan effortto end US participation in “a war that is causing suffering for millions of people and is a genuine threat to our national security.”
Alas, there is insufficient appetite for peace among US lawmakers, most of whom receive campaign contributions and other support from the corporations that make the very expensive and very profitable weapons that are killing so many people in Yemen and around the world. The US is by far the world’s largest arms dealer. Saudi Arabia is the world’s second-largest arms importer, with a voracious appetite for more now that it’s the aggressor in a foreign war. For many US lawmakers, and certainly for the military-industrial complex, there is simply far too much profit and strategic advantage to be gained from Saudi Arabia for humanitarian concerns to be taken too seriously. And so on Tuesday, as Trump hailed the $12.5 billion deal while lunching with the Saudi crown prince, the Senate narrowly defeated a resolution introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Murphy that would have ended US involvement in the Yemen war.
This is appalling for more reasons that just Saudi Arabia’s bloodshed in Yemen. Saudis are severely repressed under the kingdom’s brutally medieval brand of Sunni fundamentalism known as Wahhabism. Arbitrary arrests and torture of reform advocates, religious minorities and other innocent people are commonplace. The Saudi legal system often denies defendants legal counsel, with many people tortured into making false confessions. The country ranks among the world leaders in executions, which are often carried out by public beheading for “crimes” including renouncing Islam, blasphemy, prostitution, witchcraft, homosexuality and adultery. Lesser criminals often have their hands chopped off without anesthesia.
Saudi women face some of the world’s worst gender oppression. Although the kingdom made international headlines last year when it announced an end to its infamous ban on women drivers, Saudi women still cannot drive, travel or even seek medical treatment without the permission of a male guardian. They are not free to interact with men and if they should get raped, they face severe punishment, including public whipping, for illicitly consorting with the opposite gender. They must also always beware the dreaded mutawas, or morality police, who patrol the nation in search of violators to punish. In 2002, they locked 15 girls inside a burning school and stopped firefighters from saving their lives because they weren’t properly dressed in headscarves and black robes.
The Saudi royal family is also believed to be the world’s leading financial supporter of Salafi jihadist groups. Saudi princes have generously funded both al-Qaeda and Islamic State over the years and the current king, Salman, was once the regime’s chief fundraiser for jihadist campaigns in Afghanistan and Bosnia. Salman also recruited fighters for Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, an Afghan militant who served as a mentor to both Osama bin Laden and alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
Those who hope to compel an end US complicity in Saudi war crimes in Yemen on humanitarian grounds are likely to be sorely disappointed. Rep. Khanna, who led the House effort to end US involvement, said he believes his side “will prevail because our position is on the side of human decency and human rights, consistent with basic American values.” Yet surely even a relative political newcomer like Khanna knows that the United States has more often that not opposed human decency and human rights, both at home and abroad, for its entire existence. In recent decades it has backed, sometimes enthusiastically, genocides, coups, assassinations, dictatorships, apartheid, occupation, child soldiers and other atrocities and crimes against humanity — all in the name of “freedom” and all in service of power and profit. It has itself killed more foreign civilians over the past 70 years than any other armed force on the planet.
Considered within the grander context of a declining global empire seeking to maintain strategic and economic hegemony wherever it can, tens of thousands of dead Yemeni children must seem a reasonable price to pay to those most invested in perpetuating the Saudi-led war. All of those expensive new American bombs aren’t going to drop themselves.