by Brian Garvey and Jacqueline King
This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of the Massachusetts Peace Action newsletter
The brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and a legal permanent resident of the United States, has captured international attention and sparked outrage around the world.
This flagrant act of violence committed in Turkey October 2nd has revealed the true character of the Saudi government and its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to many Western governments and media outlets that had managed to overlook much broader Saudi transgressions. A spotlight is finally being shone on the role the Saudi Kingdom is playing in the impoverished nation of Yemen.
For three and a half years, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been waging a fierce war on the population living in territory controlled by the Houthi-led rebels in Yemen.
Airstrikes conducted by the Saudis in planes armed by the US have killed tens of thousands of civilians—including children—at weddings and funerals, marketplaces, farms, schools, buses, residential neighborhoods, and hospitals. In addition to the immediate deaths and injuries, millions of lives are now threatened by widespread famine and disease. Some 14 million Yemenis could face starvation and 1.1 million have been infected with cholera.
The mounting death toll is not just caused by “mistakes” made during indiscriminate bombing raids, but is part of a deliberate plan to starve the population into submission. Rural crops, fishing boats, food warehouses and water infrastructure have been targeted and destroyed by Saudis, according to a study by UK anthropologist Martha Mundy, published by the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Blockades have periodically cut off the crucial Red Sea port of Hudaydah, through which food, medicines, and other aid is imported into northern Yemen.
The US government is deeply complicit in the Saudi assault on Yemen. The US supplies bombs, missiles, mid-air refueling of planes, targeting intelligence, and other military assistance. President Trump has been shameless in touting the venal nature of his support, crowing about the $110 billion arms deal he made with the Saudis last year.
In an interview on 60 Minutes, he said he was open to punishing the Saudi government for Khashoggi’s death, but then made clear that there would be no sanctions involving weapons deals: “I tell you what I don’t want to do. Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all these companies. I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose a contract like that.” Translation: “We’ll let Saudi Arabia get away with murder, as long as they buy murder weapons made in the USA.”
Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy. It lacks democratic institutions and has neither a bill of rights nor a constitution. Wahhabism, the Saudi branch of Islam, is especially draconian. Support for extremists and terrorists, both ideological and financial, has deep roots in Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden was the son of a prominent Saudi family. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on September 11, 2001 were Saudi nationals. Yet for decades, the US has continued to ally itself with this country.
The failure of the Trump administration to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the Khashoggi murder or the catastrophe unfolding in Yemen is in sharp contrast to the way it demonizes Iran as the world’s “leading sponsor of terrorism” that has “spread mayhem across the Middle East.” As Stephen Kinzer of the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, points out, all these statements are true – if they are applied to Saudi Arabia. But when falsely applied to Iran, they provide a pretext for Trump to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, reimpose severe sanctions, and threaten to go to war.
However, there are hopeful signs that the tide may be turning in the US Congress. A resolution to cut off US military support for the Saudis while the Yemen war is underway, H.Con.Res.138, has been introduced by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA). It is expected to receive a vote during November. Massachusetts Reps. Jim McGovern, Mike Capuano, Joe Kennedy III and Katherine Clark have cosponsored it, but Reps. Bill Keating, Stephen Lynch, Seth Moulton, Richard Neal, and Niki Tsongas have not yet done so. Call them today at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to sign on!
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) plans to press for a renewed vote on his equivalent bill in the Senate, S.J.Res.54, which was supported by 44 senators on a procedural vote in March. Rep. McGovern has also introduced an additional bill to cut off US aid to Saudi Arabia, HR7082. So far, no other Massachusetts member of the House has joined its 26 cosponsors. We have our work cut out for us!