We Kentuckians ought to be proud of our Sen. Rand Paul for his efforts to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia at a time when the Saudi government is waging a merciless war against the people of Yemen.
On June 13, Paul and Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut introduced a measure that would have blocked a $500-million sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia, which is but part of a much larger proposed $110 billion series of arms sales. The measure was defeated 53-47.
Paul made a compelling case on the Senate floor, with an argument rooted solidly in humanitarian concern and common sense. Every American should take a look at it: Search on YouTube for “Rand Paul’s Speech on Saudi Arabia Arms Deal.”
Saudi Arabia has been waging a brutal campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen, creating one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in the world today. The Saudi military has targeted civilians. One airstrike in October 2016 targeted a funeral, killing more than 100 people. One United Nations estimate puts the war’s death toll at 10,000 at this point.
The Saudi bombardment has also been aimed at civilian infrastructure, including related to food production. In August, for example, airstrikes destroyed the cranes used to unload ships at Yemen’s only major port, Hodeidah, as well as a World Food Program warehouse. The Saudi government has imposed a naval blockade, further cutting off the population’s access to food. Accordingly, millions are at risk of starvation, and now there is a cholera outbreak.
How can we Americans allow our government to assist Saudi Arabia in this brutal war by allowing its government to purchase sophisticated weaponry developed using our tax dollars? It’s blood on our hands.
American involvement in this brutal war will come back to haunt us and our children. It is in this sort of humanitarian nightmare of slaughter, starvation and disease that new terrorists are created. And these terrorists will never forget what role the U.S. played.
The counterarguments: Our other Kentuckian in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, acknowledging the loss of civilian life in the war thus far, urges that “precision-guided” weapons are just what the Saudi military needs in order to limit future civilian casualties.
This argument utterly ignores that the Saudi military is pursuing a strategy of starving the population of Yemen into submission. The problem is not so much the munitions, but the lack of respect for international humanitarian law.
Sen. Lindsey Graham put forward the other main argument: The U.S. needs to support the Saudi’s military campaign in Yemen, no matter the bloodshed, because the Iranian government is supporting the Houthi rebels. The U.S. must contain Iran at all costs.
Indeed, Iran is supporting the Houthis, but the Houthis are not Iranian puppets. Iranian meddling in Yemen is hardly sufficient reason to aid Saudi Arabia when it’s committing war crimes on a massive scale.
What the U.S. needs to be concerned with is whether Iran is able to obtain a nuclear weapon. This is why the U.S. concluded the “Iran Nuclear Deal” in 2015, which provided for an inspections regime. The U.S. should be trying to avoid a conflict with Iran.
Furthermore, as Paul pointed out, Saudi Arabia already outspends Iran on defense by a factor of 8 to 1. By further arming Saudi Arabia, the U.S will likely fuel an arms race in the Middle East.
Accordingly, we must demand that the weaponry our tax dollars develops is not used by the sort of government which targets civilians and civilian infrastructure and attempts to starve a civilian population into submission. Yemen is on the verge of a horrible humanitarian catastrophe, and we Americans must demand that our legislators change course before that happens.
Harry Fogler III is a Jessamine County lawyer with a masters of laws degree in humanitarian law from the University of Geneva.