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Don’t Start a War for Saudi Arabia

President Trump and his good friends the Saudis (White House photo)

Andrew Bacevich warns against taking the Saudis’ side:

The conviction, apparently widespread in American policy circles, that in the Persian Gulf (and elsewhere) the United States is compelled to take sides, has been a source of recurring mischief. No doubt the escalating rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran poses a danger of further destabilizing the gulf. But the United States is under no obligation to underwrite the folly of one side or the other.

As Bacevich notes, our government has been underwriting Saudi and Emirati folly in Yemen for four and a half years. That horrible policy has helped to create the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and caused the preventable deaths of tens of thousands of children, to say nothing of the tens of millions more threatened with starvation and disease as a result of U.S.-backed Saudi coalition policies. When the U.S. “takes sides” in conflicts that have little or nothing to do with us, whole countries and tens of millions of innocent people pay the price for our government’s terrible decision. We know the cost of indulging Saudi Arabia in its regional ambitions, and we should refuse to lift another finger on their behalf. That makes Trump’s abject subservience to Saudi preferences all the more obnoxious:

Heather Hurlburt, a national security official under President Bill Clinton who is now at New America, a Washington-based research organization, said it would be perfectly normal for a president to consult an ally before taking action in such a circumstance.

“It’s not remotely normal for a president to talk publicly about that, to use language that sounds as if we aren’t making our own decisions about whether to use force — or trusting our own intelligence,” she said. “And it’s completely unprecedented with a country that is not a treaty ally.”

It’s not as if Trump is deferring to a decent and reliable government, either. He is bowing and scraping before one of the ugliest, most despotic governments on earth, and he is doing so with no regard for U.S. interests.

The Saudi government propagates one of the most hateful and destructive strains of Islam. They execute political dissidents on bogus charges, they torture political activists for daring to ask for reform, and they hunt and murder their critics. Their government knowingly arms and recruits Al Qaeda members and their allies in Yemen, and it provides some of them with the weapons that the U.S. sold them. The Saudi government was an early supporter of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. They inflict collective punishment on tens of millions of Yemenis. They have brought most of the population of Yemen to the brink of famine. Their government has also committed thousands of war crimes against Yemeni civilians with our government’s assistance and using American-made weapons. We have already “taken” their side” in that war, and it has made us accomplices and enablers in the slaughter of thousands of innocent people and the starvation of more. We have been complicit in helping the Saudis to destroy one country, and we must never repeat that. We cannot undo the horror that we helped the Saudis inflict on Yemen, but we can choose not to take their side now.

The Saudi government is neither an ally nor a “friend,” as Bacevich rightly points out, but I would go further to insist that they are a menace and one of the leading causes of regional instability today. They are arsonists, and our government has been only too happy to encourage them in their pyromania. The best thing that the U.S. can do right now is to distance itself from the kingdom as quickly as possible, extricate ourselves from the atrocious war on Yemen, and abandon our support for all despotic client states in the region.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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