Chris Hayes interviewed John Kerry on Yemen earlier tonight. He mentioned the recent belated decision to block the transfer of cluster bombs to the Saudis, and pressed Kerry on why the U.S. was arming the Saudis. Kerry’s answer is notable for its repetition of a shamelessly pro-Saudi line:
Saudi Arabia was literally threatened by virtue of the Houthi placing missiles along the Saudi border aimed at Saudi Arabia, and there were cross-border incidents taking place in a way that threatened Saudi Arabia. And they together with other countries and ourselves felt that it was important…and so there was a reason for a coalition to respond to that.
It is very important to understand that what Kerry said here isn’t true. This never was a war of self-defense, and it compounds the U.S. disgrace of aiding the Saudis’ war to claim that it was. The Saudi-led coalition intervened specifically to reinstall the deposed president and drive the Houthis out of the capital, and it did so shortly after Hadi had fled to Riyadh. The goals of the intervention were always far more ambitious and sweeping than what Kerry says here, and it is unfortunate that he wasn’t challenged on this point. The issue fourteen months ago was not that the Saudis were actually threatened by the Houthis, but that their preferred ruler had been driven out of the country and they wanted him to be reimposed. The Saudis and their allies chose to make Yemen’s conflict their own, and this administration chose to help them do that. The U.S. is still helping them batter and starve Yemen today.
I give Hayes a lot of credit for putting these questions to Kerry, and I realize there was only a limited time available to ask them. The war on Yemen has been severely neglected in our news coverage, and the U.S. role in it even more so, and any attention that it receives is an improvement over an absence of coverage. That said, I would have liked to see Kerry pressed more specifically on the coalition’s responsibility for civilian casualties. The U.N. has publicly said that the coalition is responsible for most of the war’s civilian casualties, the coalition’s use of cluster munitions in civilian areas has been repeatedly documented, and their indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas (including the bombing of hospitals) has also been well-attested by journalists, aid groups, and human rights organizations. Kerry wasn’t forced to address any of that, and he also didn’t have to answer for how the U.S. has helped the Saudis stymie independent investigations of war crimes in Yemen. Kerry has personally praised the coalition war effort, and touted the UAE’s contribution to the war by saying “we respect the values that the UAE is standing up for.” It would have been very interesting for him to have to explain what admirable values are being upheld by a despotic government engaged in an aggressive war against one of its neighbors.
Kerry hid behind the old “self-defense” excuse to rationalize shameful U.S. support for the war on Yemen, and perhaps this is how administration officials justify it to themselves, but it is vitally important for the public to understand that this is as false and misleading as can be. The Saudi-led war on Yemen has nothing to do with self-defense. The administration has to pretend that it did because that is the only way to defend the indefensible role that it has had in enabling this war.