US-Saudi Terror in Yemen Dwarfs ISIS Attacks in Europe

Saudi Arabia has been militarily involved and trying to manipulate political outcomes in Yemen for decades. The last time they did this in 2009, they lost militarily to the Houthis.

Hillary Mann Leverett on CNN, Early 2015

Why are two of the richest countries in the World, the United States and Saudi Arabia, engaged in unrelenting, aggressive war against one of the poorest countries in the world, Yemen?

The US-Saudi-led war on Yemen started on March 26, 2015, with the Saudi coalition’s aerial blitz, using both high-explosive and outlawed cluster bombs, against a population with no air force or other effective air defense. The US-supported year of carnage has killed more than 6,000 people (no one knows for sure), most of them civilians. The US-Saudi criminal intervention in the Yemeni civil war was supposed to be quick and efficient. From the start, the US has helped plan the attacks, provided intelligence, re-fueled attacking planes, and participated in the naval blockade (an act of war) that has pushed Yemen’s 26 million people to the brink of mass starvation. The American-Saudi genocidal war has continued without significant protest around the world – no “Yemeni Lives Matter” movement – and with almost no attention from any of those who will likely inherit this illegal war as the next commander in chief. None of the candidates, despite their tough talk about ISIS, seem to care that the Saudi military focus has shifted from fighting ISIS to killing Yemenis whose primary offense is to want to run their own country. Nobody in authority seems ready to address the possibility that one of the fundamental bad actors in the Middle East is our longstanding “ally” Saudi Arabia.

One reason the candidates can so easily ignore American war crimes in collusion with the Saudi coalition is that Yemen is not widely reported, much less analyzed. Yemen is not part of the official beltway agenda. The PBS program “Frontline” devoted an hour to Yemen in April 2015, mostly delivering the Saudi propaganda view that the Houthis are the bad guys, and omitting mention of the naval blockade. The New York Times apparently felt Yemen was not front page news till March 14, 2016, when it ran a disingenuous, seriously truncated piece that misrepresented the US role in Yemen, starting with the headline: “Quiet Support for Saudis Entangles U.S. in Yemen” (more about this below). Finding relevant, thoughtful commentary about Yemen from any presidential candidate is difficult to impossible. A sampling follows:

Donald Trump offers wolf-in-the-woods gibberish to fear

Donald Trump doesn’t appear to have any articulated position on the Yemen War, but he does seem to think that it’s all Iran’s fault. At least that’s what he seemed to say on January 19 at an Iowa rally where Sarah Palin endorsed his candidacy. In Trump’s rally remarks below, “they” – as in “they’re going into Yemen” – refers to Iran:

Now they’re going into Yemen, and if you look at Yemen, take a look … they’re going to get Syria, they’re going to get Yemen, unless … trust me, a lot of good things are going to happen if I get in, but let’s just sort of leave it the way it is. They get Syria, they get Yemen. Now they didn’t want Yemen, but you ever see the border between Yemen and Saudi Arabia? They want Saudi Arabia. So what are they going to have? They’re gonna have Iraq, they’re gonna have Iran, they’re gonna have Iraq, they’re gonna have Yemen, they’re gonna have Syria, they’re gonna have everything!

Even at “The American Conservative,” no booster of Iran, they mock Trump surgically: “This is nonsense,… a crude, simplified version of official Saudi interventionist propaganda, which has grossly exaggerated the extent of Iran’s influence and involvement in Yemen for most of the last year.” Being American Conservatives, they stop short of denouncing a criminal American war that has received “far too little coverage,” since it is “one of the worst foreign policy blunders of [Obama’s] presidency.”

Ted Cruz and John Kasich have less to say about Yemen than Trump

In January 2015, before the US-Saudi war started, Ted Cruz was arguing that “Yemen demands our attention as the terrorism bred there has global reach.” In support of this demand, Cruz cited varyingly relevant events of 2000, 2009, and 2011, as well as the then-fact that: “Seventy-one of the 122 prisoners remaining at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility are from Yemen.” Beyond more “attention,” Cruz made no policy proposal. The Ted Cruz 2016 website offers no Yemen policy, nor does it acknowledge the criminal US-Saudi war that kills civilians there almost daily, even though it does not resort to “carpet bombing” (which Cruz recommended for ISIS in Syria).

John Kasich is as quiet as anyone on the American role in bringing Yemen to the brink of mass starvation, but in South Carolina on January 14 Kasich had some unusually harsh, semi-coherent words for Saudi Arabia’s educational initiatives, if not its war crimes:

In terms of Saudi Arabia, look, my biggest problem with them is funding radical clerics through their madrassas, that is a bad deal. Whether I’m president or not, make it clear to the Saudis, we’re going to support you, we’re in relation with you just like the first gulf war, but you got to knock off the funding and teaching of radical clerics who are the very people who try to destroy us and will turn around and destroy them.

Kasich’s speech to AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on March 21 was titled “A Comprehensive Outline for American Security in a Chaotic World.” Kasich offered ritualistic, dishonest Iran demonizing (“Iran’s regional aggression“) and lied about the USA not being part of Gulf State cooperation, the same Saudi-led alliance waging war on Yemen. But neither his speech nor the Kasich presidential website was comprehensive enough to mention the illegal US-Saudi war in Yemen, in which Israel has participated.

The same day Kasich spoke to AIPAC, Israel managed to evacuate 19 Yemeni Jews from one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, in Yemen. During 1947-1949, after the partition of Palestine, Yemeni attacks on Jews in Yemen led most of them (about 50,000) to flee to Israel. Now, most of the remaining Yemeni Jews (about 50) live in a compound in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa under the protection of “authorities.”

Hillary Clinton silent on war she helped make possible

Hillary Clinton’s present silence on the US-Saudi terror-bombing campaign that has killed some 3,000 Yemeni civilians since March 2015 distinguishes her from none of the other 2016 candidates. But Clinton does have the distinction of being the only candidate who contributed materially to the ability of Saudi Arabia to bomb indiscriminately, using American weapons and munitions, against which Yemen is virtually defenseless. As a hawkish Secretary of State, Clinton made arming Saudi Arabia a “top priority“, supporting more than $100 billion of dollars of arms sales (2010-2015), including F-15s and the bombs the Saudis have used to pummel Yemen for a year. Unlike the US or Canada, European countries have begun to question or block arms sales to Saudi Arabia in response to the horrendous and unrelenting Saudi record of human rights abuses. Code Pink and other human rights organizations say the Saudi-led attacks on Yemen “may amount to war crimes,” stopping short of naming possible war criminals. The Clinton Foundation has accepted more than $10 million from two of Yemen’s aggressors, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

Bernie Sanders has no public opinion on Yemeni ethnic cleansing

In early 2015, Bernie Sanders expressed a vague Middle East policy that called for Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to take the lead in fighting terrorism, with the US in more of a support role. What the Saudi-coalition is doing to Yemen fits this framework, except for the terrorism part. The US-Saudi war on Yemen has actually made Yemen safer and more secure for both ISIS and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). In November 2015, almost eight months after Yemen was attacked, Sanders offered this oblique but accurate assessment:

Saudi Arabia, turns out, has the third-largest defense budget in the world,… Yet instead of fighting ISIS they have focused more on a campaign to oust Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

By omission, this amounts to a kind of blessing of that genocidal war. It also reveals an uncritical acceptance of the false Saudi version of reality (“Iran-backed Houthis”). With no relevant comment on the official Sanders website, the Yemen war remains an issue cluster he has yet to address directly, never mind thoroughly and accurately, any more than anyone else.

After a year of US-guided terror bombing in Yemen, in a Saudi-led campaign primarily against the Houthis’ tribal homeland – an assault that is effectively a multinational campaign of ethnic cleansing – it is a sad measure of the seriousness of the candidates for president that they have nothing critical to say of an effort that has more than 24 million victims, most of them innocent, all held hostage in a food-deprived country sealed off by a naval, air, and land blockade imposed primarily by the US, UK, and Saudi Arabia. That’s why you don’t see a flood of Yemeni refugees comparable to those escaping from a smaller (23 million) Syria: because the US is helping to keep them there till they kill each other, get bombed to bits, or starve.

What you don’t know about is less likely to disturb the status quo

Mainstream media coverage of Yemen continues to be spotty, limited, incomplete, and mostly incoherent. The New York Times article mentioned above is perhaps a sign of increased official attention, but it is no harbinger of completeness or coherence.  The premise of the story is fundamentally dishonest, as expressed in the inside headline: “Quiet Support for Saudi Allies Entangles U.S. in a Bloody Conflict in Yemen.” What the story makes clear is that in March 2015, the Saudi ambassador pitched the White House on starting a new war in Yemen. The ambassador promised a quick campaign to re-install the Yemeni government that had fled to Saudi Arabia. The ambassador hyped his pitch with the standard exaggeration of Iranian involvement (which has actually been all but nil). Despite concern by “many” advisors that “the Saudi-led offensive would be long, bloody, and indecisive,” President Obama bought the pitch and authorized the Pentagon to support the Saudi-coalition’s attacks on Yemen. Somewhat contradictorily, the Times story also reports:

American intelligence officials had long thought that the Saudis overstated the extent of Iranian support for the Houthis, and that Iran had never seen its ties to the rebel group as more than a useful annoyance to the Saudis. But Mr. Obama’s aides believed that the Saudis saw a military campaign in Yemen as a tough message to Iran.

How do you vote for accountability when no candidate’s for it?  

Taken altogether, that leaves the reader wondering why the president listened to one set of advisors more than another, and especially why he listened to the ones not supported by either intelligence officials or evidence on the ground.  According to the Times, two of those most in favor of war on Yemen were Secretary of State John Kerry (as way to ameliorate Saudi annoyance with US-Iran talks, sacrifice some Yemenis) and UN Ambassador Samantha Power (arguing preposterously that US involvement might mean fewer civilian casualties). Even now, the White House official in charge of Middle East policy (Robert Malley) claims, “This is not our war.” He doesn’t explain how this war could have happened without the US.

In other words, there was no conscientious analysis leading to a measured decision by the White House as to what would be the best course in Yemen. Doing nothing was apparently not an option, since doing nothing would likely have meant no war there at all (except civil war). The White was already morally compromised by the US drone program that had significantly added to instability (and anger at the US) in Yemen, so how much worse could unleashing an illegal war of aggression be? A year later, we’re finding out.

So the White House needs a cover story, the White House needs plausible deniability of its willingness to commit war crimes. Enter the Times with something of a cover story: the official version of events is that US participation in and “quiet support” for an aggressive war, in violation of international law, isn’t a big deal as long as the US doesn’t get “entangled.”

That’s not a particularly persuasive argument. But President Obama’s de facto pardon of Bush White House operatives for all their Iraq-related war crimes and crimes against humanity pretty much set the stage for the current absence of any serious call for accountability for any abuse of authority. Little wonder that none of the president’s would-be replacements are challenging the ability to exercise power without personal risk.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. This article was first published in Reader Supported News. Read other articles by William.