The Obama administration is part of Saudi Arabia’s 10-member “coalition” fighting against Houthi rebels and in support of the now-deposed Yemeni government that is in exile in Riyadh. This was recently underscored by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said of the Saudis, “We’re not going to step away from our alliances and our friendships.”
Alas, the entire Yemen campaign is built on a lie. Contrary to Riyadh’s claims, the Houthis are not directed by, and seem only barely supported by, Iran, whose supposed involvement is the ostensible reason for U.S. involvement. Instead, the rebels have been fighting against the former Yemeni government for years.
America’s one-time ally, then-Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, battled the Houthis a decade ago. But after Saleh was ousted in 2012, he allied with the Houthis against his successor, President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The newly empowered rebels, supported by the official security forces who remained loyal to Saleh, ousted Hadi last fall.
Those familiar with Yemeni politics agree that none of this had anything to do with Iran or Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government claims that it wants to restore Hadi to power. But his followers largely abandoned him after he fled into exile and endorsed Saudi airstrikes on his fellow citizens.
As I point out in American Spectator online: “Yemen’s political turbulence is largely irrelevant to the U.S. America’s only serious security concern is the al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But AQAP has gained from Saudi Arabia’s attacks.”
By any normal measure Riyadh is far more inimical to American interests than Iran. Saudi Arabia is a totalitarian theocratic gerontocracy.
In contrast to Kuwait and even Iran, there are no elections, political opposition, or dissenting viewpoints in Saudi Arabia. Anyone who voices criticism is treated as if he was in the Soviet Union.
The U.S. State Department’s latest human rights assessment noted that Saudi “citizens lack the right and legal means to change their government; pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, including on the internet, and freedom of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and a lack of equal rights for women, children, and noncitizen workers.” The report went on to cite “torture and other abuses.”
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is even more restrictive when it comes to religious liberty. For instance, the Saudis long have underwritten the intolerant Wahhabist theology around the world, including in America.
Spiritual oppression is complete. Not one church, synagogue, temple, or other house of worship operates in the Kingdom. Gathering together privately in a home is enough for arrest.
The Kingdom’s international policies are equally bad. Saudi Arabia was one of just three governments to recognize the Afghan Taliban. Saudis generously funded al-Qaeda prior to the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The Kingdom’s malign role continues. A 2009 Wikileaks document indicated that then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
In Syria, the Saudi government has financed and supplied extremist Syrian rebels. In neighboring Bahrain, Riyadh sent in troops to back the repressive Sunni monarchy.
Yet President Obama is holding the Saudi royals’ coats as they intervene in the Yemeni civil war.
U.S. policymakers have sold American values for a pittance, largely because of Saudi oil. However, the Saudi royals always needed to sell their oil to fund their brutal repression and lavish lifestyles. Moreover, U.S. reliance on foreign supplies, in what always has been a global market, is down dramatically.
Yet the one-way relationship continues. President Obama praised the late Saudi King Abdullah’s “steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East.” Of course the royals believe in the “alliance.” It’s cheaper to borrow U.S. forces than hire bodyguards.
The royal system’s vulnerabilities are only likely to grow. The danger of making a pact with the devil, as America has done with Riyadh, is that you risk being locked in the devil’s embrace, like in Yemen.