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US Should Stop Supporting Likely Saudi War Crimes – OpEd

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The United Nations top official on human rights recently told the U.N. Security Council that the U.S.-supported, Saudi Arabian-led coalition of Sunni nations fighting Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen bore a disproportionate responsibility for attacks on civilians. Since the civil war in Yemen began in March 2015, more than 2,700 civilians have been killed and dozens of hospitals and schools have been attacked, leading the United Nations to warn of violations of international law.

The problem is that the United States is supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s air strikes by providing intelligence for targeting and also by refueling coalition’s war planes, thus extending the range of their bombing. Domestically, Saudi Arabia has a horrendous record on human rights that it is exporting to Yemen via bombing civilians there. The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 to topple Saddam Hussein exacerbated the Sunni-Shi’ite division throughout the Islamic world, and the war in Yemen is actually a joust for influence in the Persian Gulf between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran, which are bitter regional rivals. Saudi Arabia does have substantial interests at stake in Yemen, which borders the autocratic kingdom, but the United States does not and should cease providing weapons and the aforementioned support, which is tainting the U.S. with support for a country that very well may be committing war crimes.

Yemen is a small, poor, and insignificant (from the perspective of U.S. vital interests) country just South of Saudi Arabia. It doesn’t even produce much oil; but of course Saudi Arabia does—and that’s why the Saudis are getting so much U.S. support, despite Saudi Arabia’s despicable foreign and domestic policies. The U.S. government ousts dictators in Iraq and Libya and loudly criticizes Iran’s bad human rights policies; in contrast, the United States mutes its criticism of Saudi Arabia’s atrocious human rights record, sweeps under the under the rug that the 9/11 attackers were mostly Saudi nationals, and ignores that Saudi Arabia is the biggest exporter of militant Sunni Islamism by its support for radical schools around the Islamic world. Why does the world’s only superpower tolerate a major ally supporting potential U.S. enemies (the U.S. has the same toleration for Pakistan doing a similar thing)?

The reason dates back to World War II, when Saudi King Abdel Aziz bin Saud traded U.S. access to Saudi oil for U.S. protection of that oil. Yet although Saudi Arabia is the anchor of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) oil cartel, the country does not have the control over the world’s oil market that both policy makers and the public believe. OPEC, like most cartels, has failed to achieve long-term control over the price of its commodity. For example, right now, world oil supply exceeds demand—because of new non-OPEC sources of supply, such as from new fracking technology in the United States and because of slack demand due to sluggish economies around the world—thus driving the price down. In fact, Saudi Arabia has even given up trying prop up the price by reducing production. The Saudis, who produce oil very inexpensively compared to other producers, are afraid of losing market share to those exporters and so are keeping production high, despite the low world price. And forecasts for the oil market estimate that such factors—including increased Iranian oil output into the world market due to the lifting of international sanctions against that country because of its nuclear agreement with the great powers—will continue for some time.

But once upon a time—in 1973—didn’t Arab oil producers launch an embargo and production cutback that brought U.S. economic ruin and lines at gas stations? No, subsequent economic studies of the 1970s have shown that U.S. stagflation (inflation plus slow economic growth) was caused by poor U.S. government economic polices rather than by the Arab oil embargo and production limits. Gas lines in the United States were caused because the U.S. government still had price controls on oil. (Japan had no price controls, thus allowing price rises to naturally curtail demand., and thus no gas lines.)

Moreover, if the oil embargo and production cutback were so successful, why haven’t the Arab countries ever tried it again during other wars in the Middle East. Similar to what brought about the fracking technology recently, higher oil prices in the 1970s just increased supplies—non-OPEC sources of energy were found and conservation practices became more prevalent. Finally, industrial economies are much more resilient to oil price hikes than is commonly perceived and have become even more so since the 1970s, because oil consumption accounts for a smaller percentage of developed nations’ GDP.

Contrary to official and popular belief, oil is only strategic when needed to power military forces in a war. Fortunately, as I note in my book No War for Oil: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East, the United States produces enough oil domestically to supply its military in a fairly large war several times over; this ability is rising as the U.S. substantially increases oil production via fracking. As for getting oil supplies to the United States during a war somewhere in the Middle East, if oil production is reduced from one or more countries in conflict, increased prices will cause non-affected producers to produce more oil. Moreover, in the past, valuable oil exports have traveled around and even through wars.

If the United States had a truly vital interest in holding its nose and supporting an autocracy like Saudi Arabia, that would be one thing. However, ignoring the despotic kingdom’s domestic oppression and likely international war crimes—in the erroneous belief that Saudi Arabia can successfully trump global market forces to manipulate long-run oil prices—is unnecessary, ethically questionable, and only increases the likelihood of blowback terrorism against the United States from the victims of Saudi aggression.

This article appeared at and is reprinted with permission.

Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.

2 thoughts on “US Should Stop Supporting Likely Saudi War Crimes – OpEd

  • January 2, 2016 at 1:55 pm
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    The author has some significant problems in his article. His basic problem was overlooking the multiple objective function of the US globalized monopoly capitalism. The author ignores the fact that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is selling oil in dollar, and the Dollar continues as a reserve currency by the backing of the Saudi oil. If the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia followed Saddam Hussain’s call for selling oil by using another currency, then the dollar will most likely collapse. US and its allies would have to import oil by using a different currency. Frankly, even the financial system will collapse, and US will not be able to impose sanctions on any country in the world. So, without the Kingdom’s backing of the dollar with oil, dollar imperialism will fall. The second goal which is extremely important for USA since the collapse of the Soviet Union is to destroy Islam as President Bush the son indicated in 2001. The Crusader war can continue if there is a division in the Muslim world. Now, the division does exist between the Kingdom and Iran and the Kingdom and the War in Yemen. This conflict has been extended to other sectarian alliances. In Iraq, there is a goal for dividing the country into Kurdistan, Sunnistan, and Shiastan, a division overlooking the sectarian division of the Muslim Kurds. In other words, if the sectarian division is the criteria for dividing Iraq, then Iraq should be divided into two rather than three small countries. But as one can see is that the division is deeper and the goal of weakening Islam is the main target and will come after the sectarian division. It follows, that in order to achieve the process of the creation of Muslim division that process has to come with making alliances with some Arab countries with strong tie to USA: inside-out division. Third, the author must remember that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did provide all help for the Afghan fighters to defeat the Soviet Union during the 1980s. That defeat contributed significantly to disintegrate communism and the Soviet Empire. US could not have achieved that goal on its own. History shows that capitalism had significant problems with USSR for more than 70 years and could not defeat it. But with the help of the Kingdom US and the West achieved a victory (plus more profits) at the expense of the Muslim Blood and Money. Fourth, US cannot turn against the Kingdom, because this will unite all the Muslims against US, a unity that US does not want. A Unity of the Muslim world will endanger US and the Western imperialist economic and political interests in the entire Muslim world and will put Israel under the vise of world justice. In fact, the Western economic system will collapse. Finally, the author thinks that US is the only power in the world. But this is really wrong. Russia under President’s Putin leadership has comeback as another dominant power along with China. Russia is extremely powerful country and can kick behinds as well. With respect to oil, the fracking industry is actually costly and Zombie. If US depends on the fracking oil, the environment will be destroyed and we will drink water with fire. Americans will pay very high price for gas and many industries will not be able to compete.

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  • January 2, 2016 at 6:52 pm
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    Adil Mouhammed’s comment above is absolutely correct. World capitalism, led by the United States and based on the Bretton-Woods arrangements, has managed for a long time to have its own way, but that era of control is rapidly disappearing due to the resurgence of Russian power and the emergence of China as an economic and military powerhouse. Also disappearing is the reign of the dollar as the Int. Reserve Currency; the dollar is even now under assault by the BRICS nations who have abandoned the dollar and trade with each other using their own currencies.
    Mouhammed is also correct on the folly of fracking within the US. To unknown and unknowable degrees, fracking is contaminating America’s underground aquifers, the chief of which (the Ogallala) underpins our whole agricultural sector in the Midwest. We will soon see that uncontaminated water is more valuable than oil or gold, but we won’t have it.
    At an historical moment when climate change is in the process of changing all our verities into uncertainties, the US as hegemon is continuing its desperate effort to control the entire world via the Pentagon’s doctrine of Full Spectrum Dominance and first-strike nuclear attack. Much US policy supports Israel’s quest to dominate the Middle East via Greater Israel–which is what the war in Syria/Iraq is really about.
    At a time when human beings should be preparing for a new type of agriculture (involving rebuilding our soils and rethinking water supplies), when we should be cleansing our waters, and changing our energy supplies, we are exporting most of the world’s weapons and engineering most of the world’s political conflicts. Worst of all, we have made Russia the target of a new Cold War at a moment when we need cooperation, not antagonism. Ditto for China as we spar for control of the S. China Sea. In every area, we are preparing the groundwork for WWIII, which will, this time, involve nuclear weapons and which will be catastrophic for the world. It could very well be the end of what we like to think of as Western civilization. Frankly, I don’t see a way out if the United States cannot give up its hegemonic ambitions and opt for cooperation with Russia and China in the interests of reality and survival of the human species.

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