Occasionally I’ll embark on the 15-20 hour process of making a video, and then something happens that throws things in a new light. I still stand 100% behind today’s video, but if I’d known that Secretary of Defense James Mattis was going to weigh in, I probably would have incorporated a response. He’s a serious guy. I’ll have to respond here.
Secretary Mattis sent a letter to Congressional leaders yesterday afternoon, March 14th, objecting to the Sanders/Lee/Murphy resolution that the Senate will vote on next week. Today’s video advocates for that resolution pretty hard. I stand by that.
It’s easy for me to dismiss a lot of Mattis’s letter due to some pretty fundamental strategic and philosophical differences I have with him that regular viewers of this channel will be familiar with. Mattis believes that Saudi Arabia is a worthwhile partner in counter-terrorism. I do not believe that. Mattis believes that Iran is more of a threat to the US and the world than Saudi Arabia is. I do not believe that. Because Mattis believes these things I do not believe, he presents a narrative for the Yemeni war that strikes me as deeply flawed. If you’ve got a half hour or so, I set out a counter-narrative, that actually reckons with Yemeni history, unlike the standard Iran-Saudi proxy war fairy tale we’re told.
But there’s one concern that Mattis brings up that I can’t dismiss. He claims that ending US cooperation with Saudi Arabia in Yemen will make the humanitarian situation worse. I’m worried about this as well. Taking the US out of the equation is likely to degrade Saudi Arabia’s ability to continue the war long term, but I suspect it is also likely to make the Saudis more brutal. The 5,295 civilians that have been killed so far (Human Rights Watch), are probably the result of fairly targeted bombing. Saudi bombing is likely to have killed most of these civilians, but US expertise has probably put a bit of a cap on the body count. I’m no expert on warfare, but I was already worried about this. Having Mattis, one of the world’s greatest experts on warfare, express this opinion makes me more worried. But it does not give me pause.
More people may die by bombing, but Saudi Arabia’s ability to besiege the country will be seriously degraded. Millions are less likely to be at risk of starvation or cholera. And if Saudi Arabia’s attack on Yemen becomes more brutal it will also become less sustainable. A key point that I neglected to include in this video, and rarely gets included in the standard litany (“refueling, targeting, intelligence”) of goods the US provides to Saudi Arabia is diplomatic cover. It is a profoundly weird thing that Saudi Arabia is doing. Saudi Arabia is invading and destroying its neighbor. This sort of thing doesn’t happen much in the 21st century, or even in the second half of the 20th century. Most wars are civil. The few examples of cross-border invasion I can think of post Cold War are only possible because of US support. If the resolution passes in the Senate next week, and gets through the House, Saudi Arabia won’t just lose technical support, it will lose that diplomatic cover.
Without US support the war in Yemen will instantly become exponentially more cancerous for the Saudi re-branding effort than it already is. MBS and the Saudi government desperately need investors for their oil company’s years-delayed IPO, and that new tech city they announced last fall. Try doing that when US media and government are no longer covering up the war in Yemen.
I’m afraid that Mattis may be right about the immediate humanitarian costs of cutting off US support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. But continuing on the way we have for another two years would be much, much worse.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. Something very important is happening in Congress this month, and nobody is talking about it. A resolution is being considered by the Senate that presents the possibility of an end to the horrific war on Yemen and it also promises a lot more than that. This could be the beginning of the end of our pointless two decade long war on Terror.
Under the US constitution Congress is supposed to approve any war that the US fights. For 16 years the president and the pentagon have done whatever they want because of a single law that was rushed out on September 14, 2001. This law Is known as the Authorization for the use of Military Force, or the AUMF for short.
It is the central legal justification for all of the drone wars, all of the special forces actions, and all the rest of the secret and open actions that make up the forever war. Iraq had its own authorization, but all the rest of it comes down to the AUMF. The mission creep has been ridiculous. The wording of the AUMF says it is aimed at those who carried out the attacks of 9-11, yet it has been used to justify 16 years of military action from the Phillippines to Niger. In that time Congress has done essentially nothing to take back its constitutional right to determine where we go to war.
During the Bush Years first there was the shock of the attack, and then the chaos of his disastrous wars to distract us from this illegality. Obama’s calm legalistic manner allowed all the evils of our wars to continue, unquestioned and unrestrained, destroying countries like Libya and Syria, even though our actions often had us allied with Al Queda rather than fighting against them as the AUMF requires. Congress was happy to let the President handle it, because of the veneer of competence and control that Obama provided.
Now we have a president who presents neither competence nor control. The US congress is slowly waking up to its responsibilities. It is taking a horrific and pointless war to do it. The UN calls Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. This crisis has been caused by Saudi bombers fueled by US planes, and with targets provided by US intelligence. This war is glaringly, obviously in violation of the AUMF. We aren’t targeting Al Queda in Yemen, we are targeting the Houthis, who are great enemies of Al Queda.
Last November, the House of Representatives debated and passed a toothless resolution expressing concern about Yemen. These wheels are turning slowly, but they are turning. This month we have a real opportunity to finally shut down this illegal, counterproductive and horrific war. A Democrat, A Republican and a very famous independent Senator have teamed up to restore the honor of the US congress. The resolution they have proposed requires that US forces stop participating in the war in Yemen within 30 days. Without the support of the US, the Saudi war on Yemen could collapse quickly, possibly saving millions of lives.
This should be enough to prompt you to call your senator, but there’s a potential for more. As of today, decisions about war and peace are made by bureaucrats who are more accountable to defense contractors than they are to the US people. If we leave it to them, these wars will never end. But if we reward Congress for doing the right thing in Yemen, Congress might actually stand up and do more. We’re not going to break the military industrial complex with a single legislative action. But we can make it saner. So please if you’re a US citizen, call your senator, and ask them to support the Sanders-Lee-Murphy resolution on Yemen in the Senate. If you’re not a US citizen please forward this video to somebody who is.
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