Secretary Pompeo predictably attacked the Senate’s antiwar Yemen resolution. Like his many other statements about Yemen in the past, Pompeo’s description of the conflict is extremely dishonest and amounts to little more than reciting pro-Saudi propaganda:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized the Senate’s vote to cut off support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, saying the Trump administration “fundamentally disagrees” that it’s the right way to improve the “dire humanitarian crisis.” pic.twitter.com/Pq7nPvSZ7N
— POLITICO (@politico) March 15, 2019
It is bad enough that the Trump administration insists on illegally providing ongoing support to the Saudi coalition war on Yemen, but what makes Pompeo’s defense unusually infuriating is the conceit that war supporters somehow have the moral high ground in this debate. He starts with two false statements:
We all want this war to end. We all want to improve the dire humanitarian situation.
It isn’t true that advocates for continued support for the war want it to end. If they did, they would not oppose every effort to rein in the Saudi coalition. There is no question at this point that they are determined to keep the war going for as long as the Saudis and Emiratis want it to go on, and all indications are that those governments intend to keep fighting as long as the U.S. gives them the assistance and the green light to do so. By continuing to indulge the Saudis and Emiratis in their failed war, Pompeo and Trump are guaranteeing that the war won’t end. Because of that, there is no realistic hope of significantly improving the humanitarian situation, because the war is what is driving the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and the Saudi coalition bears most of the responsibility for causing that crisis.
The senators who voted aye say they want to end the bombing in Yemen and support human rights. But really we need to think about whose human rights. If you truly care about Yemeni lives, you’d support the Saudi-led effort to prevent Yemen from turning into a puppet state of the corrupt, brutish Islamic Republic of Iran. If you truly care about Saudi lives, you’d want to stop Iran-backed Houthis from launching missiles into Riyadh. If you truly care about Arab lives, you’d support allied efforts to stop Iran from extending its authoritarian rule from Tehran to the Mediterranean Sea and on down to Yemen. And if you truly care about American lives and livelihoods and the lives and livelihoods of people all around the world, you’d understand that Iran and its proxies cannot be allowed to control the shipping lanes that abut Yemen.
The statement is classic Pompeo: condescending, false, and insulting to the intelligence of even the most minimally informed citizen. Notice he doesn’t deny that cutting off U.S. support would end the bombing. Instead, he actually tries to use human rights language to attack critics of the war. It takes remarkable gall for one of the enablers of the bombing and mass starvation of Yemen to lecture anyone else on disregard for human life, and Pompeo evidently has it in abundance. Pompeo has lied many times about Yemen and Iran during his short tenure, but his statement today included some of the most obnoxious lies that he has told.
During the course of the war, the Saudi coalition has shown blatant disregard for Yemeni lives, especially civilian ones. They have carried out an indiscriminate bombing campaign with U.S. assistance and weapons, and they have done this alongside a systematic effort to destroy Yemen’s food production and distribution. They have also been strangling Yemen’s economy through blockade, attacks on infrastructure, and halting the payment of public sector salaries. The Saudi and Emirati governments are guilty of thousands upon thousands of war crimes, and the policies they have used to bring millions of Yemenis to the brink of starvation have killed at least 85,000 children and likely many more than that. The Saudi coalition war criminals and their accomplices in our government obviously couldn’t care less about the lives of Yemenis, and they have proven that over the last four years of bombing, blockade, and whitewashing war crimes.
Yemen was never going to become a “puppet state” of Iran. This was the excuse that the Saudis and Emiratis used to rationalize their attack on the country, and they knew that gullible Western officials would accept this excuse. If preventing Iran from gaining influence in Yemen were one of the Saudi coalition’s goals, they have failed and their war effort has aided Iran in acquiring more influence than it had before the war began. Even if you thought that combating Iranian influence in Yemen was important, supporting this war doesn’t do that.
The fixation on Iran in Pompeo’s statement is typically as misleading as can be. Iran is not “extending” its rule all across the region, and it certainly isn’t reaching “on down to Yemen.” Even now, Iran’s role in Yemen is negligible and can’t begin to compare to the full-blown occupation of south Yemen by the UAE. No Arab lives are being saved by destroying Yemen in the name of supposedly fighting Iranian influence. On the contrary, Arab lives are being squandered on all sides of the conflict, and most of those are innocent civilians. Saudi lives would not be threatened by attack from Yemen if Saudi jets did not continue to bomb Yemeni cities and villages. The best way to protect all civilian lives in this conflict is to pressure the Saudi coalition to halt their operations, and they won’t do that when they know they have U.S. backing. Pompeo’s feigned concern is deeply cynical and phony, and it will only make opponents of the war that much more determined to end U.S. involvement.
The pretense that any of this has something to do with protecting Americans may be the most insulting and dishonest of all. Fear of Iranian “control” of shipping lanes is ridiculous and the purest fear-mongering. Iran doesn’t control any part of Yemen, and the Houthis don’t follow Iranian orders. Yemenis have no reason to want to disrupt international shipping, since they depend heavily on it. It is the coalition that has interfered with shipping by blockading the country and impeding the entry of commercial goods and humanitarian aid. They have done this ostensibly to prevent arms smuggling, but in practice they have regularly delayed or diverted ships that carried nothing but food and medicine and had already been cleared by U.N. inspections. That practice has contributed significantly to the humanitarian crisis in the country, and the U.S. has backed the coalition the entire time that it has been doing this.
In fact, the war has harmed U.S. and allied security. The war has significantly strengthened Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the local ISIS affiliate, and these are the only groups in Yemen that pose any threat at all to Americans. The Saudi coalition has not only neglected fighting jihadists while they are engaged in their atrocious war on Yemen, but they and their proxies have fought alongside AQAP members and their allies. They have recruited them into their own proxy forces, and they have provided them with weapons sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE by the U.S. and others. Current U.S. policy is to support the war effort of governments that are openly in league with jihadists hostile to the United States. That is the policy Pompeo so arrogantly defends.
U.S. support for the war on Yemen is our most indefensible policy, and Pompeo’s obnoxious lies about it inadvertently show how weak the case for continued support is. If the war that the Saudis and Emiratis have waged for the last four years could be defended on the merits, there would be no need to whitewash their record and it wouldn’t be necessary to try to change the subject and shift blame by shouting “Iran!” every five seconds. The fact that the administration has to lean so heavily on its anti-Iranian rhetoric confirms once again that there is no honest, positive case to be made for this disgrace of a policy. The Trump administration’s blind support for the Saudi coalition and Pompeo’s shameful role in defending that support will stain their records forever.