Editorial: Reconsider support for Saudi Arabia
When the United States has friends like Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies?
Last month, Congress released 28 pages of secret documents on possible connections between the Saudi government and the 9-11 hijackers. Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Florida, had long fought for the release of the previously classified pages of the investigation into the 9-11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
This month, the New York Times reported on the Saudi government’s long history of exporting a radical version of the Islamic faith that has fueled extremism and terrorism. The story noted that Saudi Arabia at the same time has been a U.S. partner in counter-terrorism, acting, in the words of one scholar, as “both the arsonists and the firefighters.”
The U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia is also being tested by the Saudi government’s targeting of civilians in a military campaign in Yemen. U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, is part of a bipartisan effort in Congress calling for the delay or possible halt of U.S weapons sales to Saudi Arabia — hopefully leading to an overdue reevaluation of the relationship between the countries.
Yoho, who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee, joined Rep. Ted Lieu, D-California, in introducing a bill that would bar the sale of certain U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia. They’ve also led an effort to gather support for a letter to the Obama administration calling for the congressional review of any more arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
“Amnesty International has documented at least 33 unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition across Yemen that appear to have deliberately targeted civilians and civilian facilities, such as hospitals, schools, markets and places of worship,” they wrote in a draft of a letter, obtained by The Hill. “These attacks may amount to war crimes.”
The attacks included the Aug. 13 bombing of a school in Yemen that killed at least 10 children and injured 28 more. Days later, the Saudi-led coalition killed 19 people when it bombed a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders — the fourth time in the past year it has attacked a medical facility operated by the international medical humanitarian group.
More than 6,500 Yemenis are estimated to have been killed since the military campaign began last March. It started when Shiite rebels, known as the Houthis, overran the Yemeni capital. The battle is part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, which has accused Iran of supporting the rebels.
Yemen was already the Middle East’s poorest country, and the campaign has created what the United Nations has called a “humanitarian catastrophe.” It has also created a dangerous power vacuum that can be exploited by extremist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda, the latter of which has carved its own mini-state in Yemen.
The U.S. has supplied weapons, intelligence and other support for the Saudi-led coalition. In a statement, Yoho argued against flooding the Middle East with high-tech weapons until there was a comprehensive strategy to stop ISIS and other extremist groups. He said the U.S. must make sure that Saudi military action is actually targeting all terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda, given its possible connections to the 9-11 attacks.
Yoho is right. The U.S. has for too long overlooked Saudi Arabia’s abysmal human rights record due to a need for its oil. Starting with weapons sales, the U.S. needs to reevaluate its support.
When Saudi Arabia's support of extremism and killing of civilians is fueling terrorism, we need to ask ourselves whether the benefits of having friends like that outweigh the costs.