On Sunday, April 22nd, planes from a Saudi Arabian-led coalition dropped two bombs on a wedding in Yemen. The groom was injured, the bride killed, along with at least 32 other civilians, many of them children.
In response, the Saudis didn’t admit fault or express condolences to the victim’s families. Instead, they emphasized that their “coalition continues to take all the precautionary and preventative measures” to avoid civilian casualties in Yemen. This disconnect between Saudi rhetoric and the realities on the ground isn’t an anomaly -- it’s been the norm. For four years, the Saudis and their allies have been conducting airstrikes with reckless abandon there, contributing to a staggering civilian death toll that now reportedly tops 10,000.
The Saudis and their close ally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have repeatedly reassured American policymakers that they’re doing everything imaginable to prevent civilian casualties, only to launch yet more airstrikes against civilian targets, including schools, hospitals, funerals, and marketplaces.
When Trump visited Saudi Arabia on his first overseas trip as president, Saudi lobbyists distributed a “fact sheet” about the prodigious efforts of the country’s military to reduce civilian casualties in Yemen. Five days after Trump landed in Riyadh, however, an air strike killed 24 civilians at a Yemeni market. In December, such strikes killed more than 100 Yemeni civilians in 10 days. The Saudi response: condemning the United Nations for its criticisms of such attacks and then offering yet more empty promises.
For the trip, Trump brought along a striking collection of CEOs from major American companies, including Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, and Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group. Big numbers on the potential value of future U.S.-Saudi business deals were tossed around, including $110 billion in arms sales and hundreds of billions more in investments in energy, petrochemicals, and infrastructure, involving projects in both countries.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the architect of its brutal Yemeni war, where, in addition to those thousands of civilians killed thanks to indiscriminate air strikes, millions have been put at risk of famine due to a Saudi-led blockade of the country. But neither of these activities that, Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu has noted, “look like war crimes” nor Saudi Arabia’s abysmal internal human rights record drew a discouraging word from Trump or anyone in his cabinet. First things first. There were business deals to be touted -- and so they were. Trump bragged about “tremendous investments in the United States... and jobs, jobs, jobs.” He bosted at a cabinet meeting that his deal-making with the Saudis would “bring many thousands of jobs to our country... In fact, will bring millions of jobs ultimately.” While senators debated the constitutional authority of Congress to declare war and the human-rights impact of U.S. support for the Saudi war effort, Trump was boasting yet again about all those jobs that arms sales to Saudi Arabia would create, adding -- in a sign of the total success of the Saudi charm offensive -- that the relationship between the two countries “is now probably as good as it’s really ever been” and “will probably only get better.” The friendship has clearly paid off handsomely for the Saudis. Trump focused on how Saudi arms sales would boost American jobs.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has asserted that Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “makes Hitler look good” and has suggested military action against Iran on a number of occasions. Add to this the prince's successful efforts to keep the Trump administration on board in supporting his war in Yemen, plus Riyadh’s political interference in Qatar and Lebanon, and there is a real danger that Trump’s uncritical embrace of the Saudi regime could spark a regional war.