The Obama administration’s decision was misguided, despite a degree of logic. It hoped to pacify the KSA, whose rulers opposed Washington’s negotiations with Iran over the nuclear deal. Today the agreement is in tatters while the U.S. continues to support Saudi depredations.
Although candidate Donald Trump was scathing in his criticism of the licentious, corrupt regime in Riyadh, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s capital proved to be his first stop as president. He returned to America in full thrall of the absolute monarchy, perhaps the least legitimate form of government on Earth today. At least Tehran’s clerics claim to believe in something beyond themselves. The Saudi royals, led by MbS, as the crown prince is known, take care of No. 1, themselves.
While Washington had no intrinsic reason to support the KSA, which shared few interests and values with the West, the U.S. was concerned about al‐Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the most active national branch of the terrorist network. Unfortunately, the Hadi government, Saudis, and Emiratis all variously accommodated or supported AQAP and other radical groups, in contrast to the opposition Houthis, who opposed al‐Qaeda. The result of the invasion was to make Americans less safe.
Even after five years of conflict, no crime committed by the Saudi royals has been grievous enough to sacrifice the Trump administration’s support. Now the president wants to sell more precision‐guided bombs to the monarchy — which will be used to kill more civilians.
The Houthis have behaved brutally, shelling indiscriminately, for instance, but have less capability to destroy and kill than the better‐armed Saudis. Reported the New York Times last September: “Saudi authorities directing airstrikes in Yemen that have inflicted heavy civilian casualties and deepened the country’s dire humanitarian crisis may bear criminal responsibility for war crimes, the experts said in a report they will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva next week.” The Times added, “the United States, Britain, France and Iran could be complicit in abuses by providing intelligence and logistics support, and by making arms transfers that were of ‘questionable legitimacy,’ the panel said, and which perpetuated the conflict.”
The experts group presented its findings to the United Nations. One was that “The blockade, siege‐like tactics, attacks impacting objects essential to the survival of the population and impediments to the delivery of aid deprive the population of necessary items amidst the unprecedented humanitarian crisis.” The blockade by the Saudi–Emirati coalition likely was a military tactic intended to destroy Yemen’s commercial infrastructure. In a detailed report from 2018, the Washington Post observed, “Economic measures, largely imposed by a Saudi‐led military coalition backed by the United States, have helped produce what the United Nations considers the world’s most severe humanitarian catastrophe.”
The U.S. bears substantial responsibility for the results. Explained the expert panel: “the continued supply of weapons to parties involved in the conflict in Yemen perpetuates the conflict and the suffering of the population.” As noted earlier, Washington is the chief supplier for Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. The U.S. also provides intelligence and for years offered mid‐air refueling.
Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, subsequently wrote that “most civilian casualties are caused by airstrikes by the Saudi‐led coalition.” She also pointed to the complicity of the Hadi government, which Riyadh seeks to reinstall, and Southern Transitional Council, a separatist group backed by Saudi ally United Arab Emirates (UAE). She pointed to an attack the week before: “Saudi‐led coalition airstrikes on the Community College building in Dhamar resulted in the killing of at least 109 people, and injuries to another 50 people. My office in Yemen is currently investigating this attack.” And so it continued, week in and out.
The experts’ report from 2018 was, if anything, more damning: “Coalition air strikes have caused most of the documented civilian casualties. In the past three years, such air strikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities.” The Group of Experts investigated as many cases as it could.
The report noted the results in great, depressing detail: