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Rubio’s “Moral Clarity” on Yemen

Rubio thinks that the U.S. should have been doing more to help the Saudis pummel and wreck Yemen.
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Kevin Sullivan identifies some of the contradictions in Rubio’s recent foreign policy statements:

Early indicators suggest a similar letdown in a hypothetical Rubio presidency. Though the senator spoke abstractly about freedom and human rights during his speech, Rubio also heaped praise on Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and even went so far as to suggest that a Rubio administration would provide U.S. ground forces to help Saudi Arabia wage a primarily sectarian war in neighboring Yemen.

Sullivan is right to note the contradictions here, but it’s important to understand that this is what “moral clarity” looks like in practice. The advocates of “moral clarity” in foreign policy typically aren’t interested in consistently criticizing and opposing abusive government practices overseas. They want to use moralizing rhetoric against certain states while minimizing, whitewashing, and rationalizing the abuses of the authoritarian (and democratic) regimes that are deemed to be on “our” side. The Saudis are committing war crimes in Yemen and starving an entire country of basic necessities with U.S. backing, but this doesn’t trouble adherents of “moral clarity” because all of this is ostensibly being done to counter Iranian influence. As I said earlier this week, “moral clarity” is code for “the selective outrage of ideologues that want to moralize about the evils of certain regimes while ignoring the wrongdoing of our government and that of our allies and clients.” It is a way of justifying outrageous actions by appealing to the “superior aims” that they supposedly advance.

Rubio’s comments on Yemen came during the Q&A session after his speech. This is what he had to say:

RUBIO: Well, we’ve given them some increasing advice. It still has not been to the level it should’ve been [bold mine-DL]. And again, ultimately that’s a much more complex situation because it does involve Iran. But it also involves Al-Qaeda nodes and others that are now in the country.

But the answer is, in terms of confronting the threat of the spread of regional influence by Iran, Yemen has become just the latest flashpoint, again, a place where a joint pan Arab Sunni force that would stand up to both extremism and Iran’s ambitions could confront these challenges with U.S. logistical and air support.

ROSE: And advisory support on the ground.

RUBIO: Yes. I think ultimately you could embed Special Operations Forces to help them improve their capabilities [bold mine-DL].

In short, Rubio thinks that the U.S. should have been doing more to help the Saudis pummel and wreck Yemen, and he is willing to entertain the possibility of putting Americans in combat there to assist them further in their indefensible war. As long as it can be spun as somehow sticking it to the Iranians, the ruin of an entire country and the starvation of its people pose no problems for an advocate of “moral clarity.” Indeed, providing cover for policies that inflict harm on the “right” people is the reason so many hawks embrace so-called “moral clarity.”