Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Fri, Apr 7th, 2017

Bombing al-Asad and Arming the Saudis

The world was rightly aghast at the recent callous use of sarin gas by the desperate regime of Bashar al-Asad on Syrian civilians in Idlib last week. Twitter-and-trigger-happy American President Trump, reeling from a disastrous scandal of the links between his top aides and Russia, quickly said that Syria must be held accountable and then followed through by ordering the launch of 59 missiles at the Syrian airbase from which the gas attack had been launched. Trump no doubt sees this as a way to detract attention to his professed admiration of Vladimir Putin, but it turns out that the Russian military (and thus both Putin and the Syrians by default) were notified in advance. Rex Tillerson, the oil executive on friendly terms with Russia turned Secretary of State, said: “This clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for.” Was he echoing the same kind of “decisive” as in the disastrous Saudi operation in Yemen?

Notifying the Russians in advance made this single attack easy, but as a one-time action it will hardly cripple the al-Asad regime; nor will it stop the Russians from propping up al-Asad even more. Trump can use this as an example of how strong he is compared to Obama, who was reluctant to involve the U.S. militarily against Syria. The fact that Trump urged Obama not to attack Syria in 2013, when it was already known that poison gas had been used, illustrates the insincerity of this recent Trump about-face. In fact the attack by Syrian forces on al-Ghouta in August, 2013, killed over 1,400 people.

If Trump is really concerned about the use of lethal weapons in Syria, then he should not be rushing to sell more weapons to the Saudi-led coalition that has thus far killed more than 10,000 in Yemen. The Saudi use of cluster bombs, banned in an international treaty by most countries, has been well documented in Yemen during the past two years. When Obama proposed a 1.15 billion arms sale to the Saudis last year, 60 members of congress opposed the sale and Obama decided to delay it. Trump has now approved it. As noted by an official of Amnesty International: “Weapons supplied in the past by states such as the UK and USA have been used to commit gross violations and helped to precipitate a humanitarian catastrophe. These governments have continued to authorize such arms transfers at the same time as providing aid to alleviate the very crisis they have helped to create. Yemeni civilians continue to pay the price of these brazenly hypocritical arms supplies.”

Since the election of Trump, the Saudis have become more brazen in their attacks on Yemen, now threatening to attack the Huthi/Salih-held port of Hodeidah. The United Nations, well aware of how this would add even more to the disastrous humanitarian crisis affecting most of Yemen’s population, has urged all parties to keep the port safe and open for needed supplies. Unfortunately, continued one-sided media attacks on the Huthi/Salih alliance have kept the dire situation in Yemen off the front pages of the news. The issue is not whether Yemen is more important than the ongoing civilian deaths in Syria and Iraq (and even Afghanistan), but that there is a well-funded propaganda effort to defend the Saudi actions and ignore the devastation in Yemen.

As conservative pundit Daniel Larison argues, “The U.S. has stupidly made itself complicit in their war, but that doesn’t alter the reality that the Saudi-led war has been damaging to U.S. interests, and it is an insulting lie to claim otherwise.” American interests are definitely not on the side of the Saudi regime, which is largely responsible for bankrolling the intolerant salafi view of Islam that has encouraged the growth of terrorist groups. In Yemen, al-Qaida is actively involved in an unholy alliance with the Saudis against the Huthis and Salih. Of the thousands of bombing strikes led by the Saudis, not one has targeted al-Qaida or ISIS, which were mortal enemies of the Huthis. By helping the Saudis to continue a war that is by all accounts unwinnable, and at the same time giving al-Qaida a temporary safe haven, the so-called War on Terror becomes a joke.

So if all of a sudden Donald Trump is on the side of human rights in the Middle East, he should pull the plug on the Saudi weapon sale and withdraw all logistic support to a campaign that serves no American interest in the region.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.