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Kerry’s Shameful Praise for the War on Yemen

Obama administration officials can't actually defend the war that the Saudis and their allies are waging with our help, and so they have to invent a fantasy version.
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Last week Secretary Kerry met with the UAE’s foreign minister and praised the UAE for its role in pummeling Yemen:

We respect what United Arab Emirates has been able to do to be able to accomplish significant progress in Yemen. We understand completely and support the reasons that Saudi Arabia and the UAE felt compelled to take acts of self-defense and to protect the security of this region [bold mine-DL]. And I know that the UAE has made sacrifices in that effort. We understand those sacrifices in the United States, and we respect what has been achieved, and we respect the values that the UAE is standing up for [bold mine-DL].

Kerry’s statement is terrible, but it is consistent with what we have come to expect from the Obama administration regarding Yemen and the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war there. Since the intervention began, U.S. officials have either echoed Saudi propaganda lines or said as little as possible so as to avoid criticizing any of the coalition’s members. When there was a possibility of an independent international investigation into war crimes and abuses committed by all sides, the U.S. acquiesced in the Saudis’ efforts to quash it. None of the governments involved in battering Yemen has any interest in such investigations, since an honest investigation would likely find them to be at fault for unlawful attacks on civilian targets. We have often heard from anonymous administration officials that they have no confidence in the campaign and are alarmed by the toll it is taking on the civilian population, but at every step the administration has publicly never hinted that it disapproves of anything the Saudi-led coalition is doing. Kerry’s remarks underscore the extent to which the administration has fully embraced the appalling war on Yemen.

The pretense that the Saudis and UAE are engaged in any sort of “self-defense” is especially galling. None of the coalition members was threatened by turmoil in Yemen earlier this year, and the decision to intervene had everything to do with reimposing an unpopular ruler. Attacking a neighboring country in the name of reinstalling a deposed government is difficult to justify in any case, but it certainly has nothing to do with self-defense. Using regional security as a justification is also hard to take seriously, since Yemen and the surrounding region have been greatly destabilized by the decision to escalate and internationalize what had been an internal Yemeni conflict. It is even more absurd to think that the coalition’s war has made the region more secure when Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the local ISIS affiliate have flourished in the chaos that the intervention has helped to create. I have no idea what “values” the coalition is supposed to be “standing up for” when they illegally target civilian areas, bomb indiscriminately, and starve civilians of basic necessities. The only things that the coalition seems to “stand up for” are sectarian hatred and irrational fear of Iran, but then those seem to be values that many in Washington share or at least accept.

Obama administration officials can’t actually defend the war that the Saudis and their allies are waging with our help, and so they have to invent a fantasy version that makes an indefensible war seem thoroughly justified. In that way, an aggressive war can be recast as “self-defense” and a destabilizing intervention can be spun as advancing regional security. An entire country has been driven to the brink of famine, and our officials talk about the “progress” that has been made. They are able to do this in part because they receive almost no scrutiny or criticism here at home for continuing to enable the war on Yemen, which has just entered its ninth month.

I don’t think anyone seriously expects administration officials to denounce U.S. clients for their crimes in public while one of their representatives is standing nearby. Even so, there is no good reason for the Secretary of State to be offering fulsome praise to another government for its role in wrecking and starving a miserable country. Kerry praises the UAE’s role in the war by way of obscuring the reality of what the UAE and its allies are doing in Yemen, and in that way also tries to spin U.S. support for the war as something other than the indefensible horror that it is. Kerry’s remarks last week were shameful, and they should cause more Americans to pay closer attention to the shameful intervention that the U.S. still supports and endorses.