Here’s an interesting tweet, I think:
It’s all true. On Tuesday, Saudi airstrikes hit a potato factory in Sanaa, killing 15 people. On Friday, a bridge connecting Sanaa to the port city of Hobeidah was destroyed in another Saudi airstrike; no one was directly killed in that attack, but since the bridge was a key route for humanitarian supplies to get to Sanaa (from there to be disbursed around the country), it’s possible that its destruction will lead to people dying down the road. On Saturday, 10 children were killed and 28 others injured when the Saudis attacked a school in the northern Yemeni district of Haydan, and another four kids were killed in an airstrike on a school in Razeh. In fairness, the Saudis insist that they weren’t targeting the schools, and I’m sure the families of those 14 kids will be comforted to know that the slaughter of their children was just an oopsie and not intentional. Then, today, the Saudis upped the ante still further by striking an MSF hospital in the Abs district of northwestern Yemen, killing at least 11 more people. One wonders what they’ll destroy tomorrow: day care center? Petting zoo?
Although everyone, including me, talks about the “Saudi-led coalition” whose aim is to restore the government of Yemen’s president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, to full control over the entire country, the by-now-pathetic fact of the gross spectacle taking place in Yemen is that the United States owns it. American targeting intel supports those Saudi strikes (sorry, schools and hospitals! You looked dangerous from over here!), American-made planes are the ones doing the striking, American-made spare parts are keeping those planes together, American refueling aircraft are keeping them in the skies, and America is happily selling the Saudis more stuff with which to wage more war against Yemen:
Washington has made another major arms sale to Saudi Arabia to replace tanks destroyed in the war in Yemen. The sale underscores the Obama administration’s deep role in backing the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi rebels as the war is escalating.
The State Department this week notified Congress of an impending sale of 153 M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks and twenty heavy tank recovery vehicles plus assorted ammunition, weapons and other kit to the Saudi army. Buried in the fine print of the notification is the statement that twenty of the Abrams tanks are intended to replace tanks destroyed in combat. The only place Saudi tanks are in combat are along the Saudi–Yemeni border in the Kingdom’s southwest where the Houthi rebels have been surprisingly effective in striking targets inside Saudi Arabia since the start of the war sixteen months ago. It’s probably a good bet that more than just twenty Saudi tanks have been damaged. The Kingdom has an inventory of 400 Abrams.
Of course, selling weapons to the Saudis is one of the Obama administration’s favorite pastimes:
President Barack Obama has been the most enthusiastic arms salesman to Saudi Arabia in American history. All told sales on his watch total over $110 billion. None has provoked a serious challenge on the Hill. Only Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut has called for greater scrutiny of the arms relationship with the Kingdom.
Riyadh was the first Arab capital Obama visited as president. He has visited Saudi Arabia more than any other country in the Middle East including Israel. The relationship has been bumpy but lucrative.
If there was any strategic reason for the US to back the Saudis when their air campaign began–the Hadi government was/is a US ally, the Saudis are a US ally, and the Houthis are nominally aligned with Iran, so you can advance an argument along these lines–it has been entirely washed away in a sea full of stalemated fighting, a resurgent al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and thousands upon thousands of Yemenis who are now dead for no discernible reason. If Yemen was the price Obama had to pay to get the Saudis to grudgingly acquiesce to the nuclear deal with Iran, then that price has already more than been paid in full.
But the truth is that neither of these points fully explains what the US is doing in Yemen as well as one simple, two word term: customer service. The Saudis buy lots and lots of US weapons and they always pay in full, and if the price of maintaining that relationship is a few thousand dead Yemenis in a war that runs counter to American security interests, so be it. And, of course, America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil still tethers Washington to Riyadh no matter what, even if that dependence has lessened over the past decade (give or take).
The Yemen war has quietly stripped bare any pretense that American foreign policy might have to higher principles, and led to one inescapable truth about US policy: when principles and cash conflict, fuck principles.