The Saudis — our friends and partners in war crime

Published 10:28 am Thursday, September 28, 2017


Contributing columnist

The United States is supporting and profiting from a war being waged by the richest Arab country, Saudi Arabia, against the poorest Arab country, its neighbor Yemen.

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Since March of 2015, a Saudi-led coalition has destroyed much of Yemen’s infrastructure — ports, factories, warehouses, farms, roads, schools and medical facilities, leading to widespread misery and death.

The Saudi coalition of Sunni governments includes oil-rich absolute monarchies such as the UAE and Bahrain, and the corrupt dictatorship of Egypt’s Al Sisi. They are trying unsuccessfully to restore an unpopular Sunni government forced out by Houthi Shiite rebels in 2015.

This Yemeni civil war is partly a reflection of the wider civil war within Islam between Sunni and Shia, with Saudi Arabia and Iran as the leading powers on each side.

The Obama and Trump administrations have accepted Saudi claims that Iran is a major arms supplier for the Houthis. However, as award-winning investigative journalist Gareth Porter points out, the Houthis received Iranian guided missiles only after the Saudis began their bombing campaign, “to allow the Houthis to have some means of retaliation.”

As Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institution explains, from Iran’s point of view supplying arms and training to the Houthis is an inexpensive way to bog down its Saudi adversary in a very costly quagmire. And, as Trump made clear on his May 20 visit when he joined Saudi King Salman in a traditional male-only sword dance, the U.S. will continue to help, with more multibillion-dollar weapon sales to the Saudis, intelligence sharing and aerial refueling of coalition aircraft so they can spend more time raining destruction on Yemen.

Given the Trump administration’s mounting hostility to Iran, there seems to be no end in sight for the proxy war in Yemen. Gruesome numbers reveal the scale of the disaster overtaking this nation of 25 million. In July, the UN special envoy to Yemen told the UN Security Council that seven million — including 2.3 million children under the age of five — are on the “cusp of famine.”

Stephen O’Brien, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, reported that between March 2015 and Oct. 31 of 2016, “10,000 children under the age of five have perished from preventable diseases as a result of the sharp decline in the availability of immunizations and remedies for diarrhoea and pneumonia.”

According to Anas Shahari of Save the Children Yemen, there are 344,000 confirmed or suspected cholera cases. There have been “more than 1,700 cases of deaths because of cholera; 42 percent of this number is children.”

Here’s a picture that captures the obscenity of the U.S. role in Yemen: juxtapose a photo of an American tanker plane hovering over Yemen gracefully copulating by fuel line with a Saudi fighter-bomber, and a photo of one of the millions of young children on the ground starving because food sources have been destroyed by coalition aircraft.

As our gaze moves from the serene technosexuality of the aerial refueling to the emaciated body of the innocent child it birthed, we shouldn’t look away without thinking of the fate of this child if it survives. Severe early childhood malnutrition leads to stunted growth of the brain and vital organs, mental retardation, muscle weakness, compromised immune system, fragile bone structure and decaying teeth. What will the later lives of the millions of children on the “cusp of famine” be like?

The Saudi-American alliance is bizarre. Saudi Arabia vies with North Korea as one of the worst countries in the world — the antithesis of the values and ideals we claim to hold. It is a theocratic police state with no separation between government and the extreme Wahhabist version of Islam it imposes on its citizens.

It is an absolute monarchy run by a grossly wealthy clan that bestows the kingship on one member after another. Women are treated as men’s chattel. There is widespread gender segregation in buildings and activities — women can’t drive cars and must dress like nuns of old.

There is no freedom of speech. Those who criticize the government are subject to barbaric penalties. For instance, 33-year old Raif Badawi was sentenced in 2014 to 1000 lashes and ten years in prison plus a fine of 1 million riyal ( $267,000). The lashes were to be carried out over 20 weeks. His crime was blogging about free speech. The first 50 lashes were administered in front of a mosque in Jeddah on Jan. 9, 2015. The next instalment of 50 lashes has been delayed repeatedly because he is in poor health.

The modern Saudi state exists as a bargain between the royal family and Wahhabist clergy. In exchange for government enforcement of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist and intolerant form of Islam, as the official state religion, Wahhabi clerics agreed to proclaim the Saudi monarchy as the sole rightful defender of Islam. The Saudis have spent billions to establish Wahhabi mosques and schools (madrassas) around the Muslim world, including Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia is a product of decades of cynical gamesmanship by our foreign- and defense-policy elite. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, American foreign policy fused with the Saudi desire to be Islam’s champion against unbelievers such as godless communists. Wahhabi ideology and funds, together with American weapons and training, enabled passionate jihadists from the Saudi-supported madrassas to drive out the Soviets from Afghanistan. They also gave rise to Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Of the 19 airplane hijackers responsible for 9/11, 15 were Saudi citizens. We weaponized Saudi religious extremism and it blew up in our faces. With friends like the Saudis, who needs enemies?