Behind the U.S. Senate vote against aid to Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen

Dec. 17 — The U.S. Senate held two votes on Dec. 13 that hold potential to diminish U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia for the oil-rich kingdom’s war against the people of neighboring Yemen.

By 56 to 41, the Republican-controlled Senate voted to limit presidential war powers. Then, the Senate approved a unanimous resolution to hold Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) personally responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi. The victim, a dissident but also reactionary Saudi, worked as a journalist for the Washington Post.

The Senate votes may provide a hope of ending the war for the 28 million beleaguered people of Yemen, half of whom face imminent starvation. They do not, however, end U.S. aid. The votes signal a split in the U.S. ruling class and its government on how to pursue U.S. imperialist interests in the region.

Since the U.S. achieved a dominant role in the region following World War II, taking over from the British Empire, Washington has used the Saudi monarchy as its local client state. The outrageous reactionary policies of the Saudi regime have never created any obstacle to U.S. support. Whether the monarchy was cutting off the hands of alleged thieves, brutalizing migrant workers or repressing women in a hundred ways, Washington and the U.S. oil corporations stood by the king.

Battle inside U.S. ruling class

What is different now is that there is an internal battle among U.S. rulers. The Donald Trump gang is especially close with the MBS regime, so a U.S. break with the crown prince also weakens Trump. In addition, the Saudi military offensive over three years has failed to dislodge the Houthis from controlling most of Yemen.

There is nothing else exceptional about the current U.S. role as senior partner to the monarchy: For the past 70+ years both Democratic and Republican administrations considered the Saudi kings their junior partners.

In 2015, the Barack Obama administration began backing the Saudi military intervention in Yemen, just as it ordered the direct intervention in Libya in 2011 and the ugly, dragged-out imperialist intervention against the Syrian government that same year.

The Saudi monarchy aimed at supporting its own Yemeni puppet regime and at stopping a victory of the Ansar Allah or Houthi movement. The Houthis are considered allied to Iran. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the senators that weakening Iran was the goal in supporting the Saudi war. (New York Times, Dec. 14)

Since 2015 the Pentagon has provided equipment and logistical support for the Saudi war on Yemen, including air refueling of Saudi bombers and fighters. This aid was essential to the Saudi war, which has directly killed thousands of Yemeni fighters and civilians and destroyed the local infrastructure.

That destruction and a naval blockade have prevented food from reaching people in Houthis-controlled areas. Since that is most of the country, the war puts the lives of 14 million Yemenis at risk. In other words, though the U.S.’s Saudi clients are unable to win, their war leaves the U.S. responsible for this humanitarian catastrophe.

It is perfectly legitimate for anti-war forces to try to take advantage of the split in the U.S. ruling class on this issue to stop the war against Yemen. But they need to do this without showing one iota of confidence in the Democratic Party or the Republican dissidents who voted against Trump.

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