Do War Crimes In Yemen Matter To An American President?

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Yemeni supporters of the Shiite Huthi movement raise their weapons July 10 during a rally to mark the Quds (Jerusalem) International day in support of Palestinians in the Sanaa, Yemen. (Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP)

The American-backed genocidal war on Yemen is in its fifth month, making it one of the hotter issues in the 2016 Presidential campaign, right? Wrong.

If ANY announced candidate has said anything about Yemen, it’s hard to find. None of our would-be leaders of the free world are calling for a halt to the war of aggression that violates international law, none are demanding a stop to the war crimes and crimes against humanity that flow from the terror-bombing carried out by Saudi Arabia and its allies, with US tactical and intelligence support. None of our White House aspirants are demanding a halt to this criminal war or demanding justice against its war-criminal perpetrators.

Of course, neither is the present president, whose administration seems to have adopted a policy variant on the way we won the west (“the only good injun is a dead injun”). Now the American mantra amounts to “the only good Houthi is a dead Houthi.” The slogan may change, but the genocide remains the same.

The good news here, in its way, is that there’s no cheerleading section for multi-state savagery against largely defenseless people. Little reported, even less discussed, the US-Saudi terror bombing of Houthi rebels in Yemen goes relentlessly on, like the fascist intervention in the Spanish Civil War, causing a Yemenicide of displaced, starving, and dead civilians, along with a few dead fighters whose enemies include not only the US and Saudi coalition, but also Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIL) in Yemen as well.

In other words, President Obama’s policy amounts to a declaration that the enemies of our enemies are also our enemies. Why? Who knows? Because the Saudi Sunnis say so? Because the US thinks killing Shi’ites en masse is a good thing? Is it pure, homicidal cynicism for the sake of Saudi oil? Is it just a continuation of the recent American proclivity to get in on the wrong side of stupid wars, as the president said of Iraq?

Is American foreign policy built on institutional stupidity?

There’s plenty of evidence for a prima facie case that American policy on war and peace has been rooted in stupidity at least since Viet-Nam. The underlying question is whether stupidity is a product or a cause of capitalism or imperialism. And a related question is whether it’s really stupidity, since it’s the consistent policy of a tiny minority, the bipartisan American elite that continues to benefit from being consistently wrong from a moral or humanitarian perspective. That’s another reason a healthy country needs war crimes trials for people above the rank of lieutenant.

One of the major stupidities still raging through American political discourse, such as it is, is that Iran is all bad. This is an article of faith for which the evidence is very thin. Any honest indictment of Iran would be far briefer than an indictment of Saudi Arabia, Israel, or the United States. Clearly, no honest indictments are in the offing.

Caught in this web of Iran inanity as he tries to establish a sane relationship with Iran (a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, unlike Israel), President Obama recently undermined the prime Saudi rationale for reducing Yemen to rubble. The Saudis are Iranaphobic, blaming Iran for the Houthi rebellion against decades of repression by the Yemeni government. Now President Obama has quietly said that actually Iran tried to restrain the Houthis when they started to take over Yemen:

“When the Houthis started moving, that wasn’t on orders from [the head if the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Qasim] Soleimani, that wasn’t on an order from the IRGC [Iranian Guard]. That was an expression of the traditional Houthi antagonism towards [the Yemeni capitol] Sanaa, and some of the machinations of the former president, [Ali Abdullah] Saleh, who was making common cause out of expediency with the Houthis….

“We watched as this proceeded. There were moments where Iran was actually urging potential restraint. Now, once the Houthis march in and there’s no there there [the government fled] are they interested in getting arms to the Houthis and causing problems for the Saudis? Yes. But they weren’t proceeding on the basis of, come hell or high water, we’re moving on a holy war here.”

Whatever. That didn’t keep the Obama administration from joining the Saudis in committing war crimes if there was a holy war. Obama argues, heretically in the present American belief system, that Iran is a rational state actor. What he doesn’t say is that, in recent history, Iran has been a more rational state actor than the US. Having called US anti-terrorist policy in Yemen a success, President Obama has been all but silent about the criminal war that resulted from that “success.”

If no one talks about a genocide, it’s not really happening, is it?

Like their president, the current candidates’ silence on Yemen is just as deafening. That silence is aided and abetted by a passive press corps that chooses not to ask questions about why the US is aiding the Saudi coalition in trashing international law and destroying one of the poorest countries in the world. That’s similar to the Turkish Rule about Armenians: if you forbid mention of genocide, then it never happened.

As a former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton might have some insight into what’s happening in and to Yemen. She might even have an opinion. But if she does, she hasn’t shared it much. She has a record of voting for and tolerating criminal wars. Her official website, skimpy on foreign policy generally, doesn’t seem to mention Yemen at all. Surely her reticence has little to do with gifts to the Clinton Foundation from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Yemen (the former government, whose president has fled to Saudi Arabia), all of which are among the criminal belligerents in the Saudi coalition.

Bernie Sanders doesn’t seem to have anything to say about war crimes in Yemen, either. But then Bernie Sanders doesn’t have much to say about war and peace issues, defense spending (more than half the US budget), or militarism generally. He’s made a point of supporting wounded American veterans, which is decent and politically easy, but fails to address the pathology that creates wounded veterans in the first place. He’s said the US needs to fight terrorism, but so do Saudi Arabia and Turkey (“Those countries are going to have to get their hands dirty, it cannot just be the United States alone”). This implies that Sanders is OK with Turkish attacks on its Kurds and Saudi depredations against Yemen. He doesn’t actually say.

Jill Stein of the Green Partyapparently hasn’t said anything about America’s criminal war on Yemen in particular. She has, however, expressed sanity about Iran, called the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan illegal, and in 2012 she noted that:

“It’s very clear that there is blowback going on now across the Middle East, not only the unrest directed at the Libyan embassy. 75% of Pakistanis actually identify the US now as their enemy, not as their supporter or their ally. And, you know, in many ways, we’re seeing a very ill-conceived, irresponsible and immoral war policy come back to haunt us, where US foreign policies have been based, unfortunately, on brute military force and wars for oil. Under my administration, we will have a foreign policy based on international law and human rights and the use of diplomacy.” [emphasis added]

As for the 17 Republican candidates running for president, that’s a running joke, with a potential punch line that’s not too funny. Given their collective performance on the Fox News “debates,” none of them has a coherent view of the US place in the world beyond doing whatever it pleases. The Fox News reporters didn’t ask any probing questions.

There were some hilarious responses about foreign policy, as Juan Cole noted. Ted Cruz seemed to praise Egyptian President al-Sisi for killing hundreds of opponents and establishing a military police state. Ben Carson seemed to defend torture and other war crimes. A Fox reported asked Scott Walker, “Which Arab country not already in the U.S. led coalition has potential to be our greatest partner?” Walker’s effectively answered “none” when he said:

“… we need to focus on the ones we have. You look at Egypt, probably the best relationship we’ve had in Israel, at least in my lifetime, incredibly important. You look at the Saudis — in fact, earlier this year, I met with Saudi leaders, and leaders from the United Arab Emirates, and I asked them what’s the greatest challenge in the world today? Set aside the Iran deal. They said it’s the disengagement of America. We are leading from behind under the Obama-Clinton doctrine — America’s a great country. We need to stand up and start leading again, and we need to have allies, not just in Israel, but throughout the Persian Gulf.”

All of this seems to confirm the observation attributed to Ambrose Bierce more than a century ago, that “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”