With the recent death of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, numerous individuals and institutions have begun disavowing the long-time alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States. Though these calls have been highly publicized, advocacy for U.S. separation from Saudi Arabia has existed for quite a while. For example, Senator Bernie Sanders is extremely critical of this relationship, as are many progressives. The ongoing human rights violations inflicted by Saudi Arabia are repulsive, and a clear indicator that the United States should cut ties immediately.
The crisis in Yemen is an ongoing humanitarian disaster that began in 2011 amid the Arab Spring protests in the Middle East, which resulted in a transition of power from former president Ali Abdullah Saleh to Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, and the following Houthi rebellion. The Houthis, a minority Shia rebel group battling the Sunni Yemeni government, capitalized on the resulting political instability and took control of Saada province and the surrounding area. Houthi rebels then tried to gain control of the country, forcing Hadi to flee in March 2015 and starting the Yemeni Civil War between the government and Houthi forces. In an attempt to restore Hadi to power and fearing Houthi political power, Saudi Arabia intervened, granting Hadi sanctuary, and, with the support of other states, began a bombing campaign. In their air war, the Saudis have received support from the United Kingdom, France and the U.S.
So why is this only now coming into the general public’s awareness? Why not in 2011 or in 2016, at the beginning and peak, respectively, of the Yemen crisis? Some might think that compared to the deaths of thousands of Yemeni people, the murder of one journalist working for a U.S. publication is more immediate, making it more digestible and relatable. Because Khashoggi wrote for the Washington Post, a fixture of American journalism, his murder was extensively covered in the U.S., complete with follow-up stories frequently headlining newspapers. The exposure placed the Saudi-U.S. relationship under scrutiny in a way that no direct coverage of the war could, and considering the climate surrounding journalism now with Trump’s anti-press rhetoric, there’s something about Khashoggi’s death that resonates with the American people.
Throughout the past four years, beginning with the Obama Administration, the U.S. has been involved in 60 percent of Saudi Arabia’s arms purchases. Because Saudi Arabia is using these weapons in the war, this country is complicit in the murder of countless civilians. By acknowledging that these deaths are on our country’s hands, the consensus becomes fairly clear: The U.S. government should stop supplying Saudi Arabia with weapons. Some might argue that hundreds of thousands of Americans are employed through these military efforts, and therefore not all of the effects of the war are necessarily a negative. However, the inhumane atrocities of this conflict arguably outweigh these benefits; we should have cut this military support long ago — or not begun it at all.
Unfortunately, the odds of ending this relationship with Donald Trump in office are slim. His grossly inadequate response following Khashoggi’s murder served as a major indicator of his stance on the issue of U.S.-Saudi relations. Because of our reliance on oil and his admiration of Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman, Trump has strengthened the Saudi-U.S. relationship. In addition to providing Saudi Arabia with weapons, we have provided refueling to Saudi planes engaging in airstrikes in Yemen, again displaying our active participation in the war. However, Congress can and should end our participation in this genocide, and they would be doing just that with the new bill introduced by House lawmakers prior to the murder of Khashoggi.
With over 10,000 civilians in Yemen killed by fighting, 14 million people near starvation and over 50,000 children dead as a result of the conflict in 2017 alone, you would think that we would have been infuriated enough to act. However, we cannot go back in time to make people understand the U.S.-Saudi relationship sooner — we can only be thankful that so many citizens and institutions are speaking out now to initiate a move forward in ending ties. Perhaps the murder of Khashoggi will be the match in the American oil barrel.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 29 print edition. Email Federica Cardamone at [email protected]