Trump's deals with Saudi Arabia will fuel the war in Yemen
The arms deals should not be viewed in isolation, they will make an unstable region even more dangerous, Andrew Smith writes.
Donald Trump is a man who is known for doing things on a bigger scale than anyone else. He is a man who specialises in the grandiose and garish. That is why it should come as no surprise that his much-hyped visit to Saudi Arabia led to one of the biggest arms deals in history.
On Saturday Trump and the Saudi Royal Family agreed a $110 billion package of weapons, believed to include tanks, helicopters, bombs and armoured vehicles. There is no doubt that these weapons will be used in the Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen, a bombing campaign that has endured for two brutal years.
The conflict is often referred to as a ‘forgotten war’ but the impacts have been devastating. Over 10,000 people have been killed, vital infrastructure has been destroyed, including schools and hospitals, and diseases have set-in.
A cholera outbreak has seen thousands of suspected cases being identified in the last week, having spread across 18 of the 22 regions that make up Yemen. The situation could not be more desperate, with a recent UNICEF report finding that a child is dying of preventable causes every 10 minutes.
Despite the humanitarian catastrophe, there was little focus on aid. It wasn’t mentioned once in Trump’s keynote address. The only times that the word Yemen passed Trump’s lips were when he praised his Saudi forces for the ‘strong’ actions they had taken.
Another phrase he refused to utter was human rights. Saudi Arabia has one of the worst records in the world, something Trump acknowledged when running for president: when he accused the regime of enslaving women and killing LGBT people.
The deal was cemented by a ceremonial sword dance, a strange photo shoot with an orb and a series of remarks that simultaneously pledged that ‘above all, America seeks peace not war’ while also calling for an escalation of conflict in the region.
The war-warmongering and arms deals should not be viewed in isolation. Trump may only have been in power for four months, but in that time he has already escalated air strikes in Iraq, killing hundreds of civilians, overseen a disastrous air strike in Yemen that killed 70 people, taken unilateral military action in Syria and dropped the ‘mother of all bombs’ on Afghanistan.
Donald Trump may have been elected on the back of isolationism and a war-weary US public, but the early signs are the his foreign policy will take a ‘bomb first, ask later’ direction that replicates the worst excesses of the Bush administration.
Of course the US is not alone in arming and supporting the Saudi dictatorship. It also enjoys the backing of countries all over Europe – including the UK, which has licensed over £3 billion worth of fighter jets and bombs to Saudi forces since the war began. Arms sales only fuel and exacerbate tensions, particularly when sold to human rights abusers and into war zones.
At present, the legality of UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia is being reviewed by the High Court in London, following an application by Campaign Against Arms Trade. A verdict is expected in the near future.
Irrespective of the outcome, it is more vital than ever that we keep up pressure to scrutinise, challenge and end the UK’s political and military support for Saudi Arabia, and its unbending alliance with the Trump presidency.
Trump will be arriving in the UK this October for a follow-up to May’s hand holding visit to Washington DC. Protests have already been called, and we need to do all we can to make sure they are as big as possible.
Unfortunately there is a lot of damage Trump can do between now and then, and there is every reason to believe the UK will do all it can to help him.
When asked if the UK would be prepared to back the US in further unilateral air strikes against Syria, Boris Johnson told Radio 4 that ‘it would be very difficult to say no.’ He then indicated that would even be prepared to do so without the backing of Parliament.
This kind of uncritical support and blind loyalty to US interventionism has been shown to lead to disasters. The combination of unrestrained US militarism and a president with the temperament of Donald Trump is not one that can fill progressive people with hope.
The Trump roadshow may have moved on: with Israel, the Occupied Territories, the Vatican and a NATO event in Brussels on the agenda in the days ahead. The celebratory banners welcoming him to Riyadh will soon but taken down, but the outcomes of his visit will not be forgotten, and they will be felt by the people of Yemen for years to come.
Andrew Smith is a spokesperson for Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT). You can follow CAAT at @CAATuk.
See our interview with WikiLeaks’ Editor Julian Assange: What the Saudi leaks tell us. Our March 2016 magazine took a special look at Saudi Arabia. Read the keynote ‘Our friends': Saudi Arabia and the West’ by NI co-editor Vanessa Baird.