Along with civilian suffering, protests against the Saudi assault on Yemen are mounting, and with good reason. Progressives and antiwar groups in the United States, Britain, Arab countries and the rest of the world must oppose the Saudi-led attack on its impoverished neighbor. Operation Decisive Storm is, as the London-based Saudi scholar Madawi al-Rashid has written, the latest stage in an aggressive military interventionist policy in the Arabian Peninsula. It is also, as John Willis points out, a counterrevolutionary offensive.
Already protected by the colossal presence in the Persian Gulf of US air and naval installations, the oil-rich Kingdom of Saudi Arabia owns the world’s largest arsenal (on a per capita basis) of advanced American, British and German arms. It is the largest purchaser of British weapons, and a major customer for leading US military companies like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and General Dynamics. NATO powers have for many years embraced a guns-for-oil pact with the Kingdom and fellow royal families of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Saudi Arabia, the only modern country named for its ruling dynasty, is an absolute monarchy that is anti-democratic, illiberal and intolerant. Already by March 11 of this year, according to Amnesty International, the Kingdom had executed forty-four people, many of them foreign nationals, often by beheading, and frequently for relatively minor drug-related charges. Sometimes decapitated bodies were hung, crucifixion-style, over busy intersections. The press is heavily censored, peaceful protests are banned and rights advocates face draconian sentences. A liberal blogger, Raif Badawi, was sentenced to public flogging and remains in prison despite an international outcry. Women have the status of minors, unable to drive, travel or otherwise function as adults without the supervision of their fathers, husbands or sons. As elsewhere in the Gulf, menial jobs are done by migrant workers, who in many cases are little more than indentured laborers.
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Mindful of the arms-for-oil bargain, Western powers overlook deplorable human rights violations for the sake of a more than seventy-year-old petro-security complex. In January President Obama led a large, high-powered bipartisan delegation of thirty American politicians to Riyadh to express condolences over the passing of the late King Abdullah and swear allegiance to the new King Salman. The president and other members of the delegation—which included former Secretaries of State James Baker and Condoleezza Rice, Senators John McCain and Mark Warner, Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and CIA director John Brennan—had all visited King Abdullah and members of his government many times before. Other world leaders also paid their respects.
It is customary for the United States, other North Atlantic powers and, through them, the United Nations Security Council to defer to Saudi concerns in Yemen. American drone assassinations, in particular, have been rationalized in terms of ensuring Saudi security. It follows that the United States is augmenting the current Saudi-led campaign with logistical and intelligence support, including live surveillance feeds from unmanned drones.