Aiding Saudi Arabia’s Slaughter in Yemen

President Trump is following the same path as his predecessor, bowing to the Saudi royal family and helping in their brutal war against Yemen, as Gareth Porter described to Dennis J Bernstein.
By Dennis J Bernstein

Saudi Arabia continues to escalate its war against Yemen, relying on the strong support of the U.S. government even as the poverty-stricken Yemenis are pushed toward starvation, according to investigative reporter/historian Gareth Porter.

A scene from PBS Frontline’s “Yemen Under Siege.”

Porter says the U.S. corporate press has failed to report the Saudi slaughter in a way in which it could be fully understood.

I spoke with Porter, an independent investigative journalist who wrote  Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare and whose articles on Yemen include “Justifying the Saudi Slaughter in Yemen.”

Dennis Bernstein: Is Saudi Arabia using starvation as a weapon of war against Yemen where there is mass hunger bordering on a famine? Gareth Porter has been writing extensively about this for Consortiumnews and other sources. I want to … begin with a bit of an overview because a lot of people don’t really understand the level of suffering, and the situation in Yemen. So, just give us a brief overview of what it’s like on the ground now. How bad is it? And then I want to talk to you about this new policy about starvation as a weapon.

Gareth Porter: Sure. Well, unfortunately the way this war in Yemen has been covered, thus far, with a few exceptions, of course, the public does have the impression that this is a war in which a few thousand Yemenis have been killed, and therefore, it’s kind of second to third tier, in terms of wars in the Middle East. Because people are aware that Syria is one in which hundreds of thousands of people have died. So, and I think that’s the frame that most people have on the conflict in Yemen.

And that’s very unfortunate, because maybe it’s true that it’s only been several thousands, or let’s say ten thousand plus people, who have been killed by the bombs, directly. But what’s really been happening for well over a year, I think it’s fair to say a year to a year and a half, is that more people are dying of starvation-related or malnutrition-related diseases and starvation, than from the bombs themselves. And this is a fact which I’m sorry to say simply has not gotten into the press coverage of the war, thus far.

And, of course, the Saudis launched the war in late March, 2015 with the full support of the Obama administration. They had that agreement ahead of time, before they started, that the United States would provide the logistical support, the bombs, help in targeting, not explicitly targeting but sort of technical assistance in making decisions about how to approach the war.

And, more important than any of those things, in some ways, was the assurance the United States government would provide the political/diplomatic cover, for this war. And I think that’s really the crucial problem here. That the Saudis have felt that they could get away with not just continuing to bomb civilian targets, and infrastructure targets, and, essentially establishing a thorough going blockade, economic blockade of the country, preventing the fuel, the food, and the medicine from coming into the country that this poor… really the poorest nation in the Middle East have to have in order to survive. But now, as you suggested in your intro, is actually trying to impose, to use starvation as a weapon.

DB: And, just to be clear, how bad is the situation on the ground? How many people are at risk? Who’s at risk? What do we know about that, before we get into this other stuff?

GP: Well, I’ve been trying to get through to somebody in the United Nations, specialized agencies, or volunteer agencies who could speak more precisely to that than has been the case up till now, publicly. And so far, at least, I have not succeeded in getting anyone to say…to go beyond the formal position of the U.N. system, of the humanitarian system of the United Nations, which is that as many as 462,000, I believe, is the most recent figure.

Yemenis face a sort of Status 4 of the situation as far as malnutrition, severe malnutrition is concerned. That is, as you indicated, the closest stage to actual famine to starvation. Meaning that people are going to die of starvation.

And it means that they are … at the tipping point. It could happen anytime. And, may already be happening. In fact, I would venture to say from what I have been able to pick up, it is probably already happening that thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, are right now in the process of dying of starvation in Yemen.

And so this is a problem of… a humanitarian crisis that… by which, in comparison to which the Syrian situation pales, or what we were told about the Syrian situation, during the height of the bombing, the Russian-Syrian bombing of Aleppo last year. This is many, many times worse. Far more serious in terms of the number of deaths that are at stake, lives and deaths.

DB: I want you to talk about, it’s rather troubling to see this, and entertain this notion of using food and starvation as a weapon of war. But now we see a troubling collaboration in which the Saudis are trying to break the Yemen Central Bank which is sort of standing between this, where they are now, and absolute famine. You want to talk about that policy? I know the U.S. is deeply engaged.

GP: Sure. Absolutely. I mean the point here is that, as you say, the Central Bank of Yemen was, last year, the last refuge, if you will, the last thing standing between many hundreds of thousands of people and potential famine, because it was providing what little liquidity was available in that country, for the purchase of food stuffs. Very, very few food stuffs still getting into the country. But what there was, you had to have money in order to purchase it. And liquidity was very, very scarce. So the Central Bank was the only thing that was guaranteeing a minimum of liquidity in the Yemeni economy.

And I’m sorry to say that now it’s too late. The Yemeni government, really the Saudis behind them, of course, manipulating the Yemeni government, decided, in their wisdom, that they were going to break the Central Bank. They were going to eliminate it as a factor, in order to basically cause the population of Yemen such suffering, such starvation, that they would, somehow, turn against the government, the authorities, the Houthis and Masala forces, who have now formed their own government in Sana’a. So that was the strategy.

And they did, in fact, eliminate the Central Bank of Yemen by fiat. They supposedly, they moved it to Aden, which is controlled by the Saudis, and their puppet government, the Hadi government. But it doesn’t function, it’s simply a non-functioning Central Bank. And it promised to actually provide the pay for millions, not millions, but 1.2 million civil servants on the payroll, but who are not being paid. Who have not been paid for many months now. But it hasn’t done it.

And as a result of that, of course, you then had that many more people, as of last September, which is when all this happened, it was August and September [2016] when it happened. None of those 1.2 million people now have any source of income. And so that is clearly adding to the distress, to the hunger, and the potential starvation in Yemen.

DB: And, say a little bit more about the U.S. role, and why is the United States so deeply engaged in what really could turn out to be a troubling war crime in Yemen.

GP: You are asking precisely the right question, Dennis. And that is a question that I have been trying my best to penetrate. Of course, you’re not going to get anyone in the U.S. government, whether it was the Obama administration, or now the Trump administration, to ever say anything that will reveal the truth about this.

And the Trump administration, let’s face it, has no interest whatsoever in doing anything to help the people of Yemen. All they care about is to support the Saudis because the Saudis are anti-Iranian. But that was really the  M.O. of the Obama administration as well.

And so, if you really are going to answer that question based on the available evidence, you have to say that the reason that the United States has allowed the Saudis to essentially establish, or to impose a regime of starvation on the people of Yemen, is because of the U.S. de facto alliance, the political and military relationships, between the United States and Saudi Arabia. And then, if you go to the next obvious question: well why is it that we have to do that, or that we should do that?

You basically have to admit that it is a matter of the military bases, and military relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, and close ally, Qatar, who control two of the major military bases of the United States, the base in Bahrain.

President Obama and King Salman Arabia stand at attention during the U.S. national anthem as the First Lady stands in the background with other officials on Jan. 27, 2015, at the start of Obama’s State Visit to Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza). (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

And, of course, the Saudis have allowed the United States, with the NSA and the CIA, to have a very lucrative set of deals over arm sales, which have reached as much as $200 billion over – if you add in all the possible additional fees that can be charged on these deals – more than $200 billion over two decades. That is real money for those in the Pentagon. And the NSA and the CIA have their own sweetheart deals with the Saudis to provide various intelligence services.

This, I’m quite sure, based on my own research, is the real reason why the United States is so wedded to Saudi interests here. Because there is no other reason, it has nothing to do with oil. That may have been the case in 1945, when the U.S. first established its political relationship with the Saudi government, but it hasn’t been the case for many years now, that we have such interest in oil that it would mandate anything like this kind of policy.

DB: And is there sort of a common interest here? Is Israel in support of the U.S. policy in favor of the Saudis?

GP: Yes, of course. There is a common interest between the United States and Israel, in this regard. I would not be willing to say, however, that it’s the controlling factor, but it is a controlling factor in U.S. policy. I simply don’t think it ascends to that level. I think it’s far more relevant that the very powerful world bureaucracies clearly have very powerful vested interests in continuing the status quo of U.S. chummy relationship with Saudi Arabia. And I don’t think that’s going to change until there’s a real citizens’ movement, a powerful citizens’ movement that says “No.” And that of course, is a long ways off, at this moment.

DB: Is there a way to separate, is there an inter-relationship we should be thinking about in terms of what’s going on in Syria, and the role that the U.S. government is playing there, and what appears to be an expanded role that Trump wants to play in the Middle East, in Iraq, in Syria, in Yemen?

GP: Well, there is a relationship, and by the way, I think I omitted the second military base in my previous answer, which is the base in Bahrain. Bahrain, of course, is where the U.S. Navy has its Fifth Fleet. And it’s regarded as an extremely important U.S. interest there.

Qatar is a very close Gulf ally of the Saudis and, of course, part of the Saudi coalition in Yemen, carrying out the bombings. So, the two of them together really provide the two major bases in the Gulf for the United States. And those are interests which clearly have been relevant to what was going on in Syria, as well as the U.S. policy in Yemen.

Because it was the Qataris, the Saudis, and the Turks who urged the Obama administration, who pushed the Obama administration to basically carry out the policy of supporting the armed opposition to the Assad regime, starting in 2011. And we know that President Obama was extremely reluctant to do that. He regarded it as extremely dangerous when it was first proposed. But he went along with it, as presidents have done in many situations including the Obama administration, despite the risks that it entailed, starting with the covert CIA operation to provide the logistics, to get the weapons into Turkey, to be provided across the border to the Syrian armed opposition, in 2011-2012.

But that’s a long story, but the short of it is that the United States did not want to disturb its relations with its Gulf allies, or with Turkey. Turkey being a NATO ally which, again, controls a major base that the […] U.S. military holds as one of its jewels of its crown in the Middle East, Middle East and the larger Middle East region.

So, I think that this is really all about how these political military interests in the Middle East have become an end in themselves, and have taken over U.S. policy, rather than serving U.S. interests. And I’m afraid that the U.S. public has not caught on to that fundamental problem, in U.S. policy in the Middle East.

DB: Trump expressed some sort of different look, talked about a bit of a different policy, in Syria, working with the Russians. We have seen where that has gone, but Trump, really, he now seems to have fallen in line, and he’s in line on steroids, wouldn’t you say? It doesn’t look good there.

GP: Well, I think that’s a pretty good way of putting it. Yes. He seems to be almost trying to compensate for the impression that he was somehow at odds with the military and the whole National Security Complex by calling for a $50 billion [$54 billion] increase in the defense budget, by calling for more troops in Syria, and generally talking about upping the ante, militarily, in the entire region.

So, he clearly has caved in. I don’t think he has a clear enough idea, himself, to support any resistance to the kinds of pressures that all presidents have been getting over the years from these very powerful bureaucracies. And so, it was really naive to believe that Trump was going to offer any real resistance.

DB: And, in terms of drone attacks and related attacks, and killing civilians, he’s sort of up now, he’s up to scale. Right? There are more attacks now.

GP: Well, I think he has. I think he’s given more freedom to the CIA clearly. That’s been announced that he’s given the CIA freedom to decide when to use drones for attacks on… when they believe, or when they say they believe it’s Al Qaeda or ISIS. And, so, that is, indeed, that’s how the system works.

That’s what the CIA fought for in both the Bush administration and the Obama administration, to get more freedom of action. That’s the coin of the realm for them. To have greater freedom of action means that they have more power, and that means that they can justify more operations easily, get more money, and the system rolls on.

DB: And, just finally, sort of a sweeping look at the region. What are your concerns now? Do you see things getting more and more risky? Do you see a possible confrontation with the Russians? How are you looking at this now?

GP: Well, I think that, certainly, the White House does not want a confrontation with the Russians. But, they are playing a dangerous game here, in Syria, by becoming more deeply involved. And it’s very difficult to see how this situation is going to evolve. It’s very complicated with Turkey, and the Russians being on different sides in some ways. With the United States playing in-between. Nobody knows exactly how that’s going to play out. But it is, by its very nature, it’s dangerous.

And that’s the flashpoint, in Syria, but, of course, we also have this ongoing war in Iraq. The whole idea that the United States is going to continue to fight wars in both Syria and Iraq for the foreseeable future is not a prospect that one should take lightly.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis welcomes Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman to the Pentagon, March 16, 2017. (DoD photo by Sgt. Amber I. Smith)

And, on top of that, again we are complicit in crimes that have to do with potentially hundreds of thousands of people starving to death in Yemen. And the issue has not hit us, yet, in a sense that it’s being fully reported, but this is something that seems to me the public really needs to be up in arms about. And, it’s in some ways, far more serious than any military involvement by the United States at present, or in the foreseeable future in the Middle East.

DB: Is there any indication of the kind of human rights investigation, international investigation that begins to hold the Saudis accountable, and those who arm the Saudis accountable? Where is that?

GP: A very important question. What happened last year in the United Nations was, or more than a year now, in the United Nations was that the Dutch proposed an independent investigation of war crimes in Yemen, because of the Saudi bombing. At that point it was not so much the imposition of starvation through an economic weapon. It was precisely the bombing, hitting of infrastructure and civilian targets.

But, of course, as many of your listeners may know, the Saudis, with U.S. support, control the U.N. Human Rights Commission. And they managed to change that into a resolution which would welcome the Hadi government, that is, the Saudi sort of puppet government, in Yemen carrying out its own investigation.

And that is as far as it’s gotten in the United Nation’s system. So, I’m sorry to say that the United States exercises so much control over all of the major organs of the United Nations, particularly anything that has to do with U.N. Security Council, that they’re not going to allow any independent investigation through that route. And the Amnesty International/Human Rights Watch, as far as I know are still not… they have called the bombing itself a serious violation of the laws of war.

But, nobody, thus far, has really come out saying that this policy of blockade, plus getting rid of the Central Bank of Yemen, and in many other ways trying to impose starvation on the Yemeni people is in itself a crime of war. And that’s what needs to happen, obviously.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at www.flashpoints.net.

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17 comments for “Aiding Saudi Arabia’s Slaughter in Yemen

  1. John
    March 30, 2017 at 8:54 pm

    This is the same demon that slaughtered the American Indians and before that I’m sure millions in Europe….However, nobody really gives a shit. If they did something would be done…..The USA citizens are drunk with information….la la la la la la……

  2. Gregory Herr
    March 30, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    “Because it was the Qataris, the Saudis, and the Turks who urged the Obama administration, who pushed the Obama administration to basically carry out the policy of supporting the armed opposition to the Assad regime, starting in 2011. And we know that President Obama was extremely reluctant to do that. He regarded it as extremely dangerous when it was first proposed. But he went along with it, as presidents have done in many situations including the Obama administration, despite the risks that it entailed, starting with the covert CIA operation to provide the logistics, to get the weapons into Turkey, to be provided across the border to the Syrian armed opposition, in 2011-2012.”

    This sounds a bit like putting the cart before the horse and a soft-shoe around the U.S. role. A good deal of inside information here that I find suspect. So the idea of supporting armed opposition to the Assad regime was “”first proposed” in 2011 by the Saudis, Quataris, and Turks? And Obama, “we know” was “extremely reluctant”, yet somehow was “pushed” into it…and that’s when the CIA gets involved. Really?!

    • Gregory Herr
      March 30, 2017 at 9:54 pm

      I think there is a lot of context missing here…including prior planning going back well before 2011, extensive CIA “history” in the region with close ties to Saudi intelligence and the Muslim Brotherhood going back to the 50’s, and the Israeli connection to the whole sordid affair.

      • Stig
        April 1, 2017 at 12:56 pm

        and the Israeli connection…I have always wondered why the Houti’s and Yemeni’s avowed, deep hatred of the land of zionism is never mentioned.

    • March 31, 2017 at 10:14 am

      Wesley Clarke told us Syria was on the neocon chopping block years ago.

    • Miss V
      April 1, 2017 at 10:09 am

      Obama sold Saudi Arabia over $115 Billion in weapons since 2009. Trumps interest in Saudi is his business ties. He has Saudis right in the Trump Towers with complete floors owned by them. He has been bailed out by the Saudis. What I see is a country that tends to forget the over 3000 people were killed by 15 of 19 hijackers that BUSH supported holding hands with after reading “My Pet Goat” as well as letting the Saudi family fly out after 9-11. Let’s move forward Obama Said. RIGHT! Terrorists helping terrorist. Time to stop funding the US military due to their corruption and treasonous activities. Why should we pay for terrorism?

  3. Zachary Smith
    March 30, 2017 at 10:04 pm

    GP: Well, I think that’s a pretty good way of putting it. Yes. He seems to be almost trying to compensate for the impression that he was somehow at odds with the military and the whole National Security Complex by calling for a $50 billion [$54 billion] increase in the defense budget, by calling for more troops in Syria, and generally talking about upping the ante, militarily, in the entire region.

    So, he clearly has caved in. I don’t think he has a clear enough idea, himself, to support any resistance to the kinds of pressures that all presidents have been getting over the years from these very powerful bureaucracies. And so, it was really naive to believe that Trump was going to offer any real resistance.

    I’d dismiss this explanation out of hand except for the slight problem that it’s by far the best one I’ve heard.

    I’ve accepted that Trump is – in terms of foreign policy – an ignorant old guy, but that the “clever businessman” is also a gullible sucker capable of being led around with a fishhook through his lip is going to take some adjustment.

    I understand that the unspeakable Obama started this, but the Main Stream Media and the neocons are going to pin it on Trump. Since he has voluntarily followed up on Obama’s horrors, that isn’t totally unjust.

    Does President Donald John Trump really want a holocaust named after him?

  4. john wilson
    March 31, 2017 at 6:07 am

    The first law of democracy is, “IF VOTING EVER CHANGED ANYTHING THEY WOULD DO AWAY WITH IT” !! The Americans who voted for Trump really thought they had actually found a prospective president who cared about their plight and who was against perpetual war. “What a mistaka to maka” !! The American military war machine is now so huge that its collapse would reduce America to a third world country basket case. America needs war as its vital to its survival so it doesn’t matter who is the president, he/she is subservient to their masters in the pentagon, CIA, FBI and the giant which stalks America with a heavy tread, the military war machine.

    • Gregory Herr
      March 31, 2017 at 1:59 pm

      A mistaken hope that perhaps was believed by many while others saw it as a long shot worth their vote compared to the certainty that Clinton would perpetuate war and disregard general populations.
      It seems to me that both Big Oil and the MIC could make transformations. Big Oil has the money to make huge investments in renewable energy, which they could then “own” and still be fat and happy. The MIC could turn much of their productive capacity for vast infrastructure modernization, keeping people employed and investing in the future. One problem I suppose is the legal corporate mandate that makes short-term profits for shareholders the be-all-and-end-all of their functioning. This needs to be changed so that longer term purposes that include the “greater good” can become part of the mission of corporate America. But selfish short-sightedness rules the day, and the political class is wedded to interests of elite private wealth rather than public good.

    • Miss V
      April 1, 2017 at 10:11 am

      Well said!

  5. john wilson
    March 31, 2017 at 6:30 am

    Of course Trump follows the same path as previous presidents, he has no choice. He either does what the CIA, military industrial complex, the FBI and other covert agencies tells him or he’s swindled out of his presidency or is neutralized somewhere near a grassy knoll. Obama had lots of good ideas during his campaign for the presidency, but his intention that Guantanamo bay torture prison should be closed fell at the first hurdle. Does anyone know if he gave any explanation for this ? All presidents are merely a glorified ventriloquist dummy being manipulated for the show. When the shows over for the day they are put back in the dummy’s case, otherwise known a s the oval office, only to be brought out the next time they have to perform and give credence to another war.

    • Gregory Herr
      March 31, 2017 at 2:36 pm

      Well it doesn’t sound like much of a choice, but it’s still a choice. People have put their lives on the line throughout human history for just cause. Someone in Trump’s position could make all the difference in the world by exposing lies and malevolence, by being principled and forthright. If no one ever attempted to accomplish greater good against all odds, human history would not be worth a damn. The meaning of anyone’s life is determined by what she or he is willing to live and yes, die for.

  6. mike k
    March 31, 2017 at 8:11 am

    I agree with John Wilson, the oligarchs who rule America are so full of hubris and power now, that they feel they can do everything and anything they care to, and f… the people and their needs and wishes.

  7. Skip Scott
    March 31, 2017 at 8:54 am

    Siding with the Israelis over the Palestinians and the Saudis over the Yemenis shows how utterly corrupted our government is. Bringers of “Freedom & Democracy”, what a sick joke! More like “War Crimes R Us”.

    • Bill Bodden
      March 31, 2017 at 11:59 am

      I’ll second that.

  8. Realist
    March 31, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    The whole thing would be hilarious if it were meant to simply be a joke. The American people are told that we choose a president at the ballot box who will act in the interests of our country and its citizens. Once he’s in office we are told by the opposition party and its cronies entrenched in the establishment elites and the Deep State that he really works for Russia, though for the life of me, I cannot see a shred of evidence to support that rubbish and we still seem to be on the brink of a major war with Russia being instigated by those aforementioned factions opposed to the president. Truth be told, when we drill down mere nanometers beneath the veneer of fake news dispensed by the fraudulent American media we quickly discover in whose interests the American president really operates: The Israelis, the fascist oil-glutted sheikdoms of the Arab Gulf States, the behemoth central banks of the Western World, and the transnational oligarchs who own ninty percent of the earth’s wealth and give orders to him from behind the scenes.

    It seems obvious that the last charade, I mean election, was intended to coronate Hillary as the choice of these power elites to reign over the Empire of Chaos, but either someone didn’t practice due diligence and neglected to rig the voting machines or the vote tabulating computers, or a rogue element on the inside sabotaged the outcome. (And don’t tell me the Russians did it, they can’t even game an election in neighboring Ukraine.) The seventeen gibbering idiots who acted the role of candidates during the carnival act known as the Republican primary were supposed to feign the proposition of American “democracy” writ large: we will freely allow every willing crackpot to run for office, proving that, in the end, only the best of the best was culled from the menagerie. Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Little Marco and even big bad pussy grabber Donald Trump were meant to serve as such straw men. Bernie Sanders and another couple of bums “nobody every heard of” were meant to serve the same function in the Democratic circus act, but the Democrats were ham-handed in how they whacked Bernie, leaving evidence leading right up to Hillary’s main facilitator who just happened to be the chair of the DNC. Ooops! (to quote Rick Perry). This riled the natives and we all saw how the intended pageantry of America’s quadrennial extravaganza collapsed on November 7th when the votes were mistakenly allowed to be counted, or some Anglo-Zionist (definitely not Russian) mole did some actual hacking of the voting machines. Suddenly, the secret rulers of the world realise the wrong turd occupies the punch bowl of the American presidency.

    Everything since has been improvisation. In retrospect, Mr. Trump has proven to be way more than compliant with our cryptic overlords’ wishes, don’t you think? They must have promised him a puppy, or allowed him to live, if he could master the art of saying one thing and doing the exact opposite. Hell, they’re even willing to let him hire half his family to White House positions (something the loyal “opposition” and the press took umbrage at when Slick Willy announced that Hillary was the BOGO reward for his elecction) as long as the Trump Clan pushes whatever it is that Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Davos Crowd want, though, as part of this orchestrated prestidigitation, they are allowed to advocate their own thing, just as long as the “proper” thing ultimately gets done (you can talk “peace” with Russia just as long as America continues trying to stick it to them barbarians sixty ways from Sunday). This doesn’t mean the whole sorry affair won’t remain complicated and messy, as so many want so much (I’m talking wealthy greedy insiders), and there are so many “unconvinced” societies in other parts of the world that remain to be brought to heel. It will be a long destructive process before one ring finally rules them all.

  9. Murtaza
    April 1, 2017 at 2:50 am

    Wahabism is the way to terrorism. World’s largest terrorism are funded by Saudi Kuwait and all wahabi dominated countries.
    Terrorism will never end unless we defeat Saudi wahabi government.
    Terrorism has become a business for USA and saudi arabia.

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