Last month, warplanes from Saudi Arabia attacked a hospital in northern Yemen, killing 19. Sifting through the debris, Amnesty International managed to identify the bomb: a precision-guided Paveway-series armament, made in the USA.
It’s a tough pill to swallow: our munitions were used to massacre innocents in Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest country. For an America that presents itself as the color guard for lofty ideals across the globe, this is an abomination. Yet the hospital incident wasn’t even the first time our fingerprints were found on the rubble in Yemen, where a civil war between a Saudi-led coalition and Shiite Houthi rebels has been raging since March 2015.
Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch reported that the Saudis dropped an American bomb on a bustling marketplace in the village of Mastaba, slaughtering at least 97. American-made cluster bombs have also been used to kill civilians — these are indiscriminate and controversial weapons that are prohibited in many countries, but not by Washington, nor by Riyadh.
America has long been Saudi Arabia’s most dependable Western ally and arms dealer, thanks to decades of shared oil profits and resistance to communism. But the moral madness at work today is inescapable. The United States regularly deplores the Syrian government killing its own people with barrel bombs, yet enables the Saudis to heave-ho cluster weapons onto the innocents of Yemen — all in the name of “winning” Yemen’s dirty little war, which has been stuck in neutral for months, and produced a humanitarian crisis that’s brutal even by third-world standards.
Fortunately, the indefatigable Senator Rand Paul is on the case, and he’s teamed up with Democratic Senator Chris Murphy, a budding foreign policy iconoclast in a Senate where the tenor has long been set by John McCain’s hawkishness. Paul and Murphy introduced a bill that would have blocked the president’s latest $1.15 billion military equipment sale to Saudi Arabia. Co-sponsors ranged from the liberal Al Franken to the tea partying Mike Lee.
If enacted, Paul-Murphy would have jammed only the tiniest cog in the military-industrial complex — since 2010, our Peace Prize laureate president has authorized $60 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, with even more on track to be approved by the end of this year. But their effort still matters, and while the Senate voted Wednesday to table the legislation, it received 27 votes, showing that there’s a bracing rebellion afoot. At last, Washington is questioning our supine fealty to Saudi Arabia — an ally, yes, but one whose reckless war and lucrative funding of extremist Islam have done more to bolster terrorism than anything else.
Those who support the current mission in Yemen say they want to block Iran, which is lightly collaborating with the Saudis’ enemies, the Houthi rebels. But Tehran is doing that because it sees an opportunity to bait the hated Saudis. And it’s working: Saudi Arabia has been mired in Yemen for a year and a half now, and the Houthis still control the capital of Sanaa. Iran’s ayatollahs aren’t reeling from the Saudi intervention; they’re cackling at the success of their latest rope-a-dope.
Among those in opposition to the Paul-Murphy measure is Senator Lindsey Graham, who warned, “If you want to lose Saudi Arabia as an ally, be careful what you wish for.” If America’s alliance with Saudi Arabia is contingent on providing them with bombs that are used to vaporize children, count me out. If Washington’s bond with the Saudis hinges on allowing them to become bamboozled in their own Vietnam, it’s not a very considerate friendship. If ensuring Riyadh’s loyalty means turning Yemen into another anarchic incubator for al-Qaeda and ISIS, then it’s ceased to be in our national interest.
Hawks like Graham are so trapped in the amber of the Cold War, they can’t adapt to the circumstances of today, even when an entire country is literally starving to death. Shame on them for voting against Rand Paul’s modicum of sanity. They should be called to account the next time one of our bombs obliterates a Yemeni village.