U.S. Responsible for Saudi Arabia’s War in Yemen

The oil for weapons relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia is at an all new low with Trump and his family personally benefiting from the war in Yemen, which is “the worst [humanitarian crisis] in the world.” In fact, the U.S. is by far the most responsible nation indirectly involved in the Yemen conflict for the amount of indiscriminate violence towards Yemeni civilians. 

Many are outspoken in their revulsion to the use of U.S. weapons in Saudi-led atrocities against civilians in Yemen, as well as the assassination of U.S. resident and Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi for his criticism of the Saudi government.

To make matters worse, Trump has repeatedly made statements placing greater weight and emphasis on the profit of the weapons sales over these atrocities. While Congress has tried to stop the sale of arms and issue condemnations, they cannot secure enough votes to override the Presidential veto power.

What is the historical context of the Saudi-led war in Yemen?

What is the U.S.’s involvement in the Saudi-led conflict?

What are possible solutions for ending the conflict?


What is the historical context of the Saudi-led war in Yemen?

The war in Yemen is described as the “worst [humanitarian crisis] in the world,” according to the United Nations.

  • “An estimated 80 per cent of the population – 24 million people – require some form of humanitarian or protection assistance,” with “two-thirds of all districts in the country [being] pre-famine.” 1
    • “More than 20 million people across the country are food insecure, including nearly 10 million who are suffering from extreme levels of hunger.” 
    • “Tens of thousands of people have been killed or injured since 2015, and among them at least 17,700 civilians as verified by the UN.”
    • “An estimated 3.3 million people remain displaced, up from 2.2 million last year.” 

“50,000 people have been killed as a direct result of the war and 85,000 children may have died of hunger and preventable diseases.” 2

  • These twenty-seven Coalition airstrikes include sixteen attacks on civilian gatherings, civilian homes, and a civilian boat; five attacks on educational and health facilities; five attacks on civilian businesses; and an attack on a government cultural center. The twenty-seven attacks killed at least 203 people and injured at least 749. At least 122 children and at least 56 women were among the dead and wounded. Many of the attacks appeared to take place far from any potential military target. Others caused harm to civilians that vastly outweighed any likely military benefit. In no case did it appear that Coalition forces took adequate precautions to minimize harm to civilians, as required by international humanitarian law.

What is the U.S.’s involvement in the Saudi-led conflict?

In 1931, “the US officially recognized the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by extending full diplomatic recognition.” 

In 1943, U.S. President Roosevelt announced, “I hereby find that the defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States,” citing Executive Order 8926 which established the Office of Lend-Lease Administration, particularly pertaining to emergency management.

In 1945 the relationship solidified when, “President Roosevelt met with the Saudi King Abdul-Aziz bin Saud on board the USS Quincy in the Suez Canal in Egypt in 1945.” 

  • At this meeting, Roosevelt cemented with Saudia Arabia the doctrine of “oil for security” whereby the “Saudis guaranteed continued access to oil.” 

Since 1950, Saudi Arabia spent $90 billion purchasing weapons from U.S. defense contractors. This continued until the Obama administration took three significant steps: 

  1. called for Mubarak of Egypt to step down during Arab Spring
  2. did not get involved with the Assad regime in Syria
  3. the successful negotiation of the Iran Nuclear Deal

In 2016, however, Obama offered more money to Saudi Arabia than any other U.S administration: over $115 billion in weapons and other military equipment and training. 

  • There was a rising number of civilian deaths in Yemen due to a coalition led by Saudi Arabia fighting Iran-allied Houthi rebels, killing at least 10,000 people which included a reported 3,799 civilians. This caused increasing criticism towards the U.S. for their relationship with Saudi Arabia. 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

In May 2017, the “U.S. State Department approved the sale of $1.4 billion in military training and equipment to Saudi Arabia as part of a larger arms deal signed by President Trump. 

  • This deal was “spearheaded by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, that would provide the nation with around $110 billion in defense items such as tanks, fighter planes, combat ships, and precision-guided bombs over the next ten years.” 
  • Funding for the radar system, “known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD,” was specifically brokered by Kushner who “called the CEO of Lockheed Martin, the system’s prime contractor, and asked her to drive down the price.”

In October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi (a columnist for the Washington Post, and Saudi Arabian journalist and author) was murdered in Istanbul, Turkey. Trump’s responses to that tragedy highlighted the U.S.’s involvement in the Saudi-led conflict.

  • Khashoggi’s columns were very critical of the Saudi royal family and the oppressive regime in the country. 
  • After about a month of investigation, the CIA was reported to have concluded that Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) personally ordered Khashoggi’s assasination. 
  • The agency found that a team of 15 Saudi agents flew to Istanbul on government aircraft and killed Khashoggi inside the Consulate.
  • Trump issued several statements regarding Khashoggi’s disappearance and assassination in terms of interviews, call-ins to Fox and Tweets. The statements contained below are not exhaustive. 
    • October 11: I would say they’re excellent. I’ve told them they’ve got to pay for their military. You know, Saudi Arabia has a — it’s a very rich country. And for years and years — there would be no Saudi Arabia if there wasn’t the United States, because we protected them. And we don’t get paid for this protection. We should be paid. We spend billions and billions of dollars a year protecting Saudi Arabia. And I’ve told the king, King Salman — I said, “King, sorry. You got to pay.” And I’ve said that loud and clear. And they’re going to pay. They’re going to pay…
    • October 17: Saudi Arabia has been a very important ally of ours in the Middle East. We are stopping Iran. We’re not trying to stop — we’re stopping Iran. We went a big step when we took away that ridiculous deal that was made by the previous administration — the Iran deal — which was $150 billion and $1.8 billion in cash. What was that all about?”

      And they are an ally. We have other very good allies in the Middle East. But if you look at Saudi Arabia, they’re an ally and they’re a tremendous purchaser of not only military equipment, but other things. When I went there, they committed to purchase $450 billion worth of things, and $110 billion worth of military. Those are the biggest orders in the history of this country — probably the history of the world. I don’t think there’s ever been any order for $450 billion. And you remember that day in Saudi Arabia where that commitment was made.

      So they’re an important ally, but I want to find out what happened, where is the fault, and we will probably know that by the end of the week. But Mike Pompeo is coming back; we’re going to have a long talk.
    • November 20th On CIA’s assessment of MBS’ involvement: They didn’t make a determination. And it’s just like I said, I think it was [Inaudible] — maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. They did not make that assessment. The CIA has looked at it. They’ve studied it a lot. They have nothing definitive. And the fact is, maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. If you look at Iran, what they’ve done — they’ve been a bad actor.

      You look at what’s happening in Syria with Assad, with hundreds of thousands of people killed. We are with Saudi Arabia. We’re staying with Saudi Arabia. And, by the way, just so everybody knows, I have no business whatsoever with Saudi Arabia. Couldn’t care less.

      This is about ‘America first.’ They’re paying us $400 billion-plus to purchase and invest in our country. That’s probably the biggest amount ever paid to the United States — this is over a long period of time. It means hundreds of thousands of jobs, billions of dollars of investment and product.

      And if you think I’m going to let Russia have that money or — or those — or those things; if you think I’m going to let China make the military equipment — hey, China and Russia would love to make 100 billion dollars’ worth of military equipment from Saudi Arabia. We have the contracts. They wanted those contracts. That would be a big, fat, beautiful gift to Russia and to China. They’re not going to get that gift. Just so you understand, it’s about “Make America Great Again.” It’s about “America First.” We’re going to stay with Saudi Arabia. The other thing: Saudi Arabia is probably the second-biggest oil producer.

In May 2019, “Donald Trump, declaring a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, swept aside objections from Congress on Friday to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.” This infuriated “lawmakers by circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of major weapons sales.”

  • The sale includes: “Raytheon precision-guided munitions (PGMs), support for Boeing Co F-15 aircraft, and Javelin anti-tank missiles, which are made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp.” 

In July 2019, Trump vetoed a bi-partisan resolution to block the sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia. 7 l 8 | 9

  • Specifically, “[t]he legislation would have blocked the sale of Raytheon Co precision-guided munitions and related equipment. Congress’ effort was aimed at attempting to pressure the Saudi government to improve its human rights record and to do more to avoid civilian casualties in a war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and the UAE lead an air campaign against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.”
  • The “[l]awmakers in support of the bills have criticized the Saudis’ actions in the Yemen conflict where thousands of civilians have died, and the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.” 
  • Trump remarked that these resolutions “would ‘weaken America’s global competitiveness and damage the important relationship we share with our allies and partners.”’
    • He said that ‘“[t]he misguided licensing prohibitions in the joint resolution directly conflict with the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States’”

It is clear that U.S. munitions have been used in Saudi/UAE-led Coalition attacks resulting in the death of civilians, according to reports based on a highly classified document produced by the French Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM), : 10 | 11

The United States is one of the largest suppliers of weapons to Saudi Arabia where those weapons are being used in the war on Yemen to murder civilians. The U.S. also provides military training and this is all done without Congressional approval. 12  

  • Allies of western countries commit atrocities with western-supplied weaponry. Whereas some states have curbed or stopped arms exports because of the conflict in Yemen, the biggest arms suppliers—mainly the United States, the United Kingdom, and France—have so far applied a ‘business as usual’ attitude. In fact, they have accelerated arms sales because (emphasis added by author) of the war.

    The US and UK actively enable the unlawful bombings of Yemeni civilians by Saudi/UAE-led Coalition forces. For decades, the US has provided Saudi Arabia and the UAE with arms and military training. Despite years of credible reporting on Coalition abuses in Yemen—and in blatant contravention of US arms trade law and international law, as this report details—the US continues to sell Saudi Arabia and the UAE weapons for use in Yemen. The US military has also provided the Coalition with intelligence, logistical support, targeting assistance, and training. This assistance has continued for years without the Congressional authorization required by US law. The UK, too, continues to sell Coalition countries arms for use in Yemen in direct violation of its obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty and EU Common Position on military exports. 

    These twenty-seven Coalition airstrikes include sixteen attacks on civilian gatherings, civilian homes, and a civilian boat; five attacks on educational and health facilities; five attacks on civilian businesses; and an attack on a government cultural center. The twenty-seven attacks killed at least 203 people and injured at least 749. At least 122 children and at least 56 women were among the dead and wounded. Many of the attacks appeared to take place far from any potential military target. Others caused harm to civilians that vastly outweighed any likely military benefit. In no case did it appear that Coalition forces took adequate precautions to minimize harm to civilians, as required by international humanitarian law. 

The U.S.’s continued support of the Saudi/UAE-led coalition violates two U.S. domestic laws called The Foreign Assistance Act, which “prohibits security assistance to a country that persistently and grossly violates human rights,” and The Arms Export Control Act which “prohibits the sale of arms for use in illegitimate attacks. 13

  • Members of Congress have also argued that the U.S. being involved in the Yemen conflict without Congressional approval violates the Constitution. 

There is speculation that Donald Trump has a conflict of interest with the Saudis. 14 | 15 | 16 | 17

  • In 1995 Trump sold “Plaza Hotel” to Saudi’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, earlier purchasing Trump’s yacht “Princess” repossessed in ’91 amid his many financial woes.
  • In 2001, Trump sold the entire 45th floor of Trump World Tower in New York to the Saudi Kingdom for $4.5 million.
  • Aug 21, 2015, at an Alabama presidential campaign rally, Trump stated that the Saudi’s buy apartments from him, spending $40 – $50 million: “I get along great with all of them; they buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much!”
  • Between October 2016 and March 2017, while Trump was President of the U.S., a firm lobbying for Saudi Arabia spent $270,000 in Trump’s D.C. hotel.
  • November 21, 2018, Trump stated that he has no financial interests in Saudi Arabia: “For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter). Any suggestion that I have is just more FAKE NEWS (of which there is plenty)!”

What are possible solutions for ending the conflict?

Ban the sale of precision-guided military technology

  • A “bomb that killed 40 children (51 in total) in Yemen was supplied by the U.S.,” as reported by CNN in August 2018.
  • In March of that year, a strike on a Yemeni market — this time reportedly by a US-supplied precision-guided MK 84 bomb — killed 97 people.
  • The bomb is similar to the one that wreaked devastation in an attack on a funeral hall in Yemen in October 2016 that killed 155 people, wounding  hundreds more. 
    • After the funeral hall attack, former President Obama “banned the sale of precision-guided military technology to Saudi Arabia over ‘human rights concerns.”
    • That ban was overturned in 2017 by the Trump administration.

Reaffirm Congress’ role of approving arms sales to foreign governments and hold those accountable who violate this law.

  • Members of Congress have argued that the U.S. being involved in the Yemen conflict without Congressional approval violates the Constitution.  
  • On 05 June 2019, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations introduced 22 proposed Joint Resolutions to block the sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia. It would effectively protect and reaffirm Congress’ role of approving arms sales to foreign governments. 
    • This came after the Trump administration declared an emergency on May 24, 2019 to waive the congressional review process for 22 separate arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE – a total of $8.1 billion.

Support the peaceful resolution of the civil war in Yemen; address the resulting humanitarian crisis; and hold those responsible for murdering a Saudi dissident.

  • Introduction of Senate Bill “Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2019” (S.398) on 07 February 2019 by Senator Menendez was intended to  “support the peaceful resolution of the civil war in Yemen, to address the resulting humanitarian crisis, and to hold the perpetrators responsible for murdering a Saudi dissident.”

Direct operations only against military objectives

  • Honor Article 48 of Protocol I of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states: 

In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives.

Hold those accountable who violate U.S. law, including elected and appointed officials.

  • The U.S.’s continued support of the Saudi/UAE-led coalition violates two U.S. domestic laws called The Foreign Assistance Act, which “prohibits security assistance to a country that persistently and grossly violates human rights,” and The Arms Export Control Act which “prohibits the sale of arms for use in illegitimate attacks. 18

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. John Schreiner

    Excellent article putting the Saudi-US relationship into historical context while describing the US criminal behavior in Yemen and beyond.

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