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  October 2, 2017

A Challenge to the Saudi's War on Yemen?

The United Nations has overcome Saudi Arabian opposition to establish a human rights probe of the war on Yemen, just as Congressmembers seek a debate over the critical US military role
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Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He received his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Michigan. He is author of the book Failed: What the "Experts" Got Wrong About the Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2015), co-author, with Dean Baker, of Social Security: The Phony Crisis (University of Chicago Press, 2000), and has written numerous research papers on economic policy. He writes a column on economic and policy issues that is distributed to over 550 newspapers by the Tribune Content Agency. His opinion pieces have appeared in The Guardian, New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and most major U.S. newspapers, as well as in Brazil's largest newspaper, Folha de Sao Paulo. He appears regularly on national and local television and radio programs. He is also president of Just Foreign Policy.


AARON MATÉ: It's The Real News, I'm Aaron Maté. After years of trying, the United Nations has finally established an independent probe of the Saudi led war on Yemen.

The Saudi Kingdom has blocked the investigation for years including with threats of economic retaliation. But, it finally caved today in the face of overwhelming pressure. Saudi Arabia, though, did win a major concession. It did defeat a more powerful commission of inquiry that could have brought crimes to the international criminal court.

Meanwhile, the US role in the Saudi led war is under pressure at home. Four lawmakers have introduced a measure to end US involvement unless congress votes to authorize it. Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and he joins me now. Welcome, Mark.

MARK WEISBROT: Thanks, Aaron.

AARON MATÉ Let's react first for this news just from today. It's been a long effort by International campaigners to establish some form of independent commission to investigate abuses by all sides in the Saudi led war, more than three years after it began. Finally, or two years after it began, sorry. Finally, the UN established one today. Your reaction to that, Mark.

MARK WEISBROT: Well, this has been a long struggle within the UN. It's been going on at the Security Council for a while with various countries trying to bring this to the attention of the world, actually. Because this is a problem that it's not even well known enough. So, I think this is another step forward in trying to get some accountability in the international sphere. But, I think what's happening in the US Congress is even more important because it's hard to see how the Saudi's could, and their coalition, could maintain this war, and all the devastation and starving people really into submission if the United States Government was not helping them. That's where the Congress can really play a role.

I think that's where our best hope is of stopping these, what various humanitarian groups have called crimes against humanity. This resolution under the War Powers resolution, they are actually forcing , they’re going to force a vote and a debate in the House for the first time on something that most of this country doesn't even know about. I think that's really, really important.

AARON MATÉ: Right, they're forcing this debate because the House GOP leadership doesn't want it. But they've managed to get around that. You know, what irony, Mark, is that the US has been waging these unauthorized military actions abroad and claiming that they have authorization under the 2001 authorization for use of military force that was passed after 9/11. It was passed to fight Al Qaeda. The irony there is that the side that the US is helping Saudi Arabia bomb, the Houthis, they're the ones actually fighting Al Qaeda. In bombing them, that has actually helped Al Qaeda grow its presence inside Yemen.

MARK WEISBROT: No, that's absolutely right. Well, that's a long pattern. I mean, look at how much support that US gave, either directly or indirectly to the groups in Syria including the Islamic State. That's a problem that really shows in a lot of ways how little they really care about the terrorist threat that they've been using as an excuse for everything since 9/11 because these other priorities are always coming first. This is a pure power thing that's going on, in terms of US support for the Saudi coalition in Yemen. In fact, there's a lot of analysts who think, and I think it's plausible that the reason that President Obama decided to do it in the first place was because the Saudi's were really upset with the nuclear deal with Iran. This was kind of a deal he made in order to make them accept this.

So, this is the kind of power of politics that's always presented to us as some kind of national security. Some alliance based on protecting people here in the United States and it's very clear that it has nothing, if anything it makes things more dangerous for us at the same time that it's causing terrible destruction there.

AARON MATÉ: Right, Mark. Speaking of foreign policy decisions undermining or threatening actual national security, you've pointed this out. In the case of North Korea as well, when right now we have this dangerous talk from both sides, the very real fear of military conflict, even the use of nuclear weapons. But there are actually are sensible proposals on the table but have just been dismissed by the US. A few months ago, China was pushing for a measure that, for some kind of deal, in which both sides would freeze their activities. North Korea would freeze its nuclear program in exchange for curtailing US Military activities on the Korean Peninsula including these big war games. It was the Trump administration that rejected that.

MARK WEISBROT: They wouldn't even consider it. This is an obvious starting point and it's very little to give up for the North Koreans to actually stop or freeze their testing. Missile testing and nuclear testing. Then they chose how much, you know, I wrote about that and I also cited this piece in the New York Times because it was by David Sanger who is one of their most experienced foreign policy reporters and editors. He knows as much as probably most of the people that he cites. He said very clearly that we're not really worried about the idea that Kim Jong Un would actually send a missile to the United States, attack the United States first because that would be suicidal and he would never do anything like that. It's a retaliatory response that they have and that... That our government doesn't want that, wanted to have that because that would reduce US power in Asia.

I think that's the, again, that's the mainstream view of the foreign policy establishment which Sanger represents very consistently. That's how they look at it. This is how they see the world, that it's worth taking these risks of war in which pushing to the brink of a war, in which millions of people could die for us to not lose this certain advantage they have in Asia. In fact, Dan Coats, the Director of National Intelligence said just a couple of months ago, that, he said this publicly, that North Korea is never gonna give up its nuclear weapons because after what happened to Libya. As you know, Libya did that. Libya gave up its nuclear program and look what happened to Gaddafi. Of course, look what happened to Iraq.

This shows, too I think, how there are huge costs to these imperial policies. This idea that the United States trying to always going for power in the short run. Then, in the long run it causes bigger, much bigger problems and bigger risks and wars ahead.

AARON MATÉ: Which is why, going back to our story that we led off with. One of the few ways to curb it is through either international accountability via the UN and investigating human rights abuses as they're doing now. Also, of course, more importantly, as you pointed out with US lawmakers at home finally posing some kind of challenge. We'll obviously follow what happens next with all these stories. Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director for the Economic and Policy Research, thank you.


AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.


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