Biden Tries to Decrease US Involvement in Yemen Without Angering Saudis

In a segment on CNN earlier this month, host Jake Tapper explained that 400,000 children are at risk of death due to the ongoing Saudi Arabian military blockade preventing food and fuel from entering Yemen. Tapper revealed that this blockade is partially funded by US tax dollars. What Tapper failed to mention is that the Saudis are dropping US-made bombs in Yemen, which is raising anti-American sentiment in the region. The United States is currently backing the Saudi intervention in Yemen where the Saudis are fighting the Shia-Muslim Houthi government that overthrew a Pro-Saudi Sunni-Muslim government, creating a brutal civil war that seems to have no end in sight. US support of the Saudi intervention in Yemen began under Obama, further escalated under Trump, and seems to be continuing under Biden despite the bold progressive proclamations of the administration. The result of this intervention has been the one of the largest humanitarian disasters of the century. Why does the US continue to back the Saudi government as thousands of Yemenis starve to death? What can be done to save millions of lives? 

In February, President Joe Biden announced that the US will no longer provide military support for Saudi Arabian offensive measures in Yemen which was celebrated by many. However, ties have not yet been cut and a major flaw is apparent in this action. The new Biden administration policy is that the US will only assist in Saudi “defensive” operations in Yemen and not “offensive”. But what is not clear is what will constitute the differences between these two and the Biden administration has yet to clarify. The Saudis could potentially proclaim any site they want to destroy to be a matter of “defense” and then receive US support. Also, despite the announcement in February, the blockade still remains in place while the US has not taken any action against the Saudis to pressure them into withdrawing from the region. Effective actions to pressure the Saudi government could include sanctions, UN intervention, and threatening to halt business relations. The Saudis are clearly breaking international law resulting in the suffering of millions and there are clear means to halt this genocide so why hasn’t there been any US action? A puzzling question with no concrete answers at this point. However, a logical explanation for this hesitation by the US could be conflicts of interest surrounding economic and political relations. 

Saudi Arabia is an important customer of the US defense industry and is a critical supplier of fossil fuels. Just before Trump left office, the Saudis entered a multi-billion dollar arms deal with the US that President Biden has now halted to examine. The Saudi government has immense business ties to the US and has made significant campaign contributions to politicians of both parties. For example, director Bryan Fogel recently produced the new movie The Dissident which investigates the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in incredible depth and uncovers new details in the conspiracy. Fogel’s previous investigative journalism film Icarus uncovered the Russian Olympic doping scandal and was released for free streaming on Netflix in 2017. Icarus did phenomenally receiving numerous awards including an Academy Award and hit 700 million views. However, The Dissident –which received similar praise from viewers and critics– was denied for free streaming by all the major media streaming companies. 

Why would a streaming service like Netflix or Hulu turn down such a money-maker? I had the chance to ask Bryan Fogel himself in a live Q&A chat room on the social media app Clubhouse, and what he had to say was quite chilling. He claimed that none of the major streaming companies wanted to risk future business relations with Saudi Arabia by having the movie on their platform. If the Saudi government was to be offended, the streaming company would be banned from the country and lose out on potential profits. His connections at Netflix from Icarus were strangely quiet, and he noticed that Netflix had just announced an expansion into Saudi Arabia a few months prior to The Dissent’s release. Money is power, and the Saudi government has plenty of it. Therefore, a potential explanation for US hesitation could be that maintaining economic and political alliances with Saudi Arabia is too valuable to the corporate donor class which has tremendous influence in Washington. 

From the political relations perspective, a potential reason the Biden administration is not being hard on Saudi Arabia is that Biden wants to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal, which Saudi Arabia opposes. So, by not being too harsh on the Saudis about their involvement in the Yemen Civil War, Biden may hope to keep them from retaliating against the US decision to rejoin the deal. The Biden administration also hopes to expand the number of military bases they have in Saudi Arabia in order to deter aggression from Iran and push Iranian influence out of Yemen. 

The creation of the Yemen genocide may be another example of US/Western economic and political priorities getting in the way of true American values and humanitarianism. Hopefully, the Biden administration will receive heavy political pressure to pave a path forward with a more cohesive plan to create peace in the region.

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