American participation in Saudi Arabia’s devastating war in Yemen is a national disgrace that we should end as soon as possible.
That’s about as safe as a political statement gets as far as foreign policy is concerned, largely due to details like this, from a report in the New York Times today:
The Pentagon and State Department have denied knowing whether American bombs were used in the war’s most notorious airstrikes, which have struck weddings, mosques and funerals. However, a former senior State Department official said that the United States had access to records of every airstrike over Yemen since the early days of the war, including the warplane and munitions used.
Basically, everyone in charge of the Saudi partnership has known exactly how bad it’s been for years and has done precisely nothing about it.
The Times report is a particularly damning indictment of our role in supporting Saudi Arabia’s air campaign in Yemen. The Saudi Air Force literally does not run without American help—we train their pilots, (used to) refuel the planes we sold them in the first place, and then help staff their ground crews with mechanics and technicians because some of the software and tech those planes use is only allowed to be handled by Americans, per the Times. And we also sell them a shitload of bombs, which they drop on anyone they want, often including children.
The part of the Times report that’s particularly surreal is one anecdote about how seriously the Saudi military took the United States’ directions on who not to bomb.
From the Times’ reporting:
“In the end, we concluded that they were just not willing to listen,” said Tom Malinowski, a former assistant secretary of state and an incoming member of Congress from New Jersey. “They were given specific coordinates of targets that should not be struck and they continued to strike them. That struck me as a willful disregard of advice they were getting.”
This is atrocious. So what did U.S. officials do with that information? Oh, of course: we gave them more money and sold them better bombs (emphasis mine).
As bombs fell on Yemen, the United States continued to train the Royal Saudi Air Force. In 2017, the United States military announced a $750 million program focused on how to carry out airstrikes, including avoiding civilian casualties. The same year, Congress authorized the sale of more than $510 million in precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, which had been suspended by the Obama administration in protest of civilian casualties.
Seems like the response to wanton killing of civilians should be giving the murderers less bombs to kill with, not more, but that’s just me. The optics of “precision guided munitions” don’t really hold up when their operator is using them to precisely guide them directly onto a hospital.
That last graf makes it look like Obama wasn’t culpable in this, and that it’s the Trump administration really fueling the Saudi bloodlust. While, yes, Trump has prioritized Saudi arms deals over the death of journalists and pretty much everything else, the report points out that the Obama administration had access to the same information and continued the same policies.
There’s hope that things will change, but it’s not happening fast enough. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee pushed a resolution to end some support for the war in Yemen through the Senate, but it was effectively killed in the House by Paul Ryan. Sanders and Lee will likely try again when Congress is back in session in January, but until then, the American-made bombs will continue to fall.