The Saudi-Trump War on Yemen

March 27th, 2018 - by admin

Juan Cole / Informed Comment & Medea Benjamin / Voices for Creative Nonviolence & UNAC – 2018-03-27 01:57:40

Apocalyptic Numbers:
The Saudi-Trump War on Yemen

Juan Cole / Informed Comment

(March 26, 2018) — Three years ago this month, the then 29-year-old Minister of Defense of Saudi Arabia (now its crown prince) launched a ruinous war on Yemen.

Yemen had been in Saudi Arabia’s back pocket in the 1990s and 2000s, and was a major recipient of Saudi aid, which went into the pockets of dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh. Yemen’s people remained desperately poor, and the Saudis then tried to spread their intolerant form of Wahhabism even among Zaydi Shiites, producing a backlash in the form of the Houthis.

In 2011-2012 Saleh was overthrown and Yemen began working on a new constitution and new parliamentary elections.

That process was interrupted by a 2014-2015 Houthi coup in covert alliance with the deposed Saleh. In turn that coup provoked the then 29 year old defense minister, Mohammed bin Salman, to launch an air war on the Houthi guerrilla movement, a war he was most unlikely to win.

I’ve been to Yemen several times. The terrain is mountainous and rough. You can’t bomb it into submission.

Bin Salman charges the Houthis with being Iranian agents. They aren’t, however, the right kind of Shiites for that. Iran has likely given them a little bit of aid, but it is minor compared to the billions of dollars worth of bombs from the US and the UK that Bin Salman has dropped on civilian apartment buildings in downtown Sana’a.

It is rich that the Saudis wax hysterical about some small rockets aimed at Riyadh while they are daily flying bombing raids on Yemeni cities with F-16s and F-18s.

The propaganda about Iran being behind Yemen unrest rather than Saleh’s corruption that the Saudis enabled has roped in gullible generals in Washington, DC, who have actively been aiding the Saudi war effort.

This is an old tradition. Eisenhower invaded Lebanon in 1958 because Chamoun told him that Druze villagers were part of the international Communist conspiracy.

Saudi Arabia and its allies bombed indiscriminately. A third of their targets have been civilian buildings like schools or hospitals or key civilian infrastructure like bridges. Perhaps half the people they’ve killed have been civilian non-combatants, including children.

Also deadly have been the public health effects of the war.

The numbers on the Saudi-led Yemen War are apocalyptic, worse even than Syria.

* The total number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Yemen is 22.2 million — or 76% of the population — including 11.3 million children.

* The Saudis and allies have hit Yemen with 15,000 airstrikes.

* 5,000 children have been killed.

*8,700 civilians have been killed

*50,000 civilians have been wounded

*1.9 million children are not in school, and both sides have recruited children, some as young as ten, as fighters

*11.3 million children need humanitarian assistance, with many on the verge of going hungry.

*All in all, 22.2 million Yemenis of all ages need humanitarian assistance, 3/4s of the population.

*There have been a million cholera cases and there is the threat of another outbreak.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.

Don’t Believe the Media Hype about Saudi Prince Mohammed Bin Salman
Medea Benjamin / Voices for Creative Nonviolence & UNAC

(March 21, 2018) — Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, heir to the Saudi throne after eliminating his rivals, is on a two-week whirlwind visit to the United States starting March 19. He plans to cement his ties to the Trump administration, shore up support for his war in Yemen while whipping up more opposition to Iran, and make lucrative business deals.

From political meetings with Donald Trump and Congress to cultural events at DC’s Kennedy Center, a talk at MIT, gatherings with tech leaders in Silicon Valley and oil executives in Houston, the prince will be selling dolled-up versions of both his repressive kingdom and his favorite product from the House of Saud: himself.

But don’t get sucked into the media hype, seeded by well-paid PR firms, that the prince is a reformer who is bringing substantive change to the kingdom.

MbS, as he is known from his initials, is really a brutal bully responsible for bombing and starving Yemenis. He’s also gunning for a war with Iran, blaming Iran for the Middle East turmoil. Meanwhile, he recklessly imposed a blockade of Qatar that has divided the Gulf States and tried to force a bizarre showdown with Hezbollah in Lebanon by holding Prime Minister Hariri hostage.

Recent reports reveal that he has even been holding his own mother under house arrest, hidden from her husband King Salman, for fear she would stand in the way of her son’s ruthless power grab.

Yes, it is true that MbS is making some positive reforms. Women will soon be able to drive and the morality police are not as repressive. Movie theatres are opening, and more cultural events are allowed (although they must all pass government muster and most are gender-segregated). But these reforms are minor in the larger picture of a kingdom that brooks no dissent internally and is committing war crimes abroad.

According to Human Rights Watch, “Mohammed bin Salman’s well-funded image as a reformist falls flat in the face of Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe and scores of activists and political dissidents languishing in Saudi prisons on spurious charges. Baby steps on women’s rights reforms don’t paper over Saudi Arabia’s systemic abuses.”

The prince’s most destructive policy is his war on Yemen (bin Salman is head of both the military and the economy). Started in March 2015 in what the prince thought would be a quick and dirty campaign to defeat the Houthi rebels, the relentless Saudi bombing campaign and restrictions on humanitarian aid have turned Yemen into the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster.

The US participation in this Yemen war includes selling the Saudis billions of dollars in weapons (Saudi Arabia is the number one purchaser of US weapons) and providing in-air refueling of their bomber planes.

Bin Salman’s visit is coming at precisely the time when the Senate is embroiled in a debate over Resolution 54, a bipartisan resolution that would end the unauthorized US military participation in the Yemen conflict.

The prince will certainly use his visit to shore up support for the war, painting it as a fight against the Iran-backed Houthis rather than Saudi interference in Yemen’s internal affairs.

To consolidate his power at home before the death of his father, King Salman, MbS has just pulled off a heist that would make bank robber Butch Cassidy green with envy. He rounded up hundreds of his rival elites and held them hostage in the gilded Ritz-Carlton Hotel until they turned over billions of dollars, real estate and shares of their companies to his control.

According to a New York Times exposé, some detainees were subjected to such physical abuse that 17 were hospitalized and one died in custody, with a neck that appeared twisted, a badly swollen body and other signs of abuse.

The whole affair was framed as a fight against corruption, but all transactions were conducted in secret and outside the law. Those who have been released are banned from travel and are afraid to denounce bin Salman for fear of further reprisals.

Meanwhile, the prince who is portrayed as a Saudi Robin Hood taking from the elite to spread to the poor bought a $500 million yacht from a Russian vodka financier, a $300 million French chateau described as “the world’s most expensive home,” and a $450 million Leonardo da Vinci painting purchased at a Christie’s auction–the most expensive painting ever sold.

So don’t be fooled. Beneath the veneer of reform is a young man who believes that his bloodline gives him the right to become the next absolute monarch in a family that has ruled the nation with an iron fist since its founding in 1932. The Saudi kingdom is still governed by an intolerant version of Islam, Wahhabism, and spreads that ideology around the world.

The government still represses the Shia minority and non-Muslims, and remains a country where atheism is a capital offense and all churches are banned. Free speech and free association are forbidden. There are no national elections and political parties are banned, as are unions and most civic organizations. Criticizing the Saudi regime can lead to flogging, harsh jail sentences or beheading.

While Saudi Arabia will soon lose the distinction of being the only country in the world where women can’t drive, the regime continues to be the world’s most misogynist, gender-segregated country. The guardianship system gives men authority over the most important decisions in women’s lives, and women are forced to be covered in black from head to toe when they are out in public.

A repressive kingdom ruled, de facto, by a cunning, 32-year-old strongman who has made hundreds of internal enemies among the elite and conducts foreign policy in a more impetuous manner than Donald Trump is a recipe for disaster.

The United States should not be arming and abetting this regime and investors dazzled by the prince’s charm offensive and gobs of money should take a second look. If Saudi Arabia is indeed to move into the 21st century, it must stop being governed by royalty.

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the peace group CODEPINK and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection.

Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.