By William D. Hartung
audi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—popularly referred to as MbS—will be in Washington next week to kick off a two-week U.S. public-relations tour designed to solidify his image as a reformer and seek investments in his ambitious reform plan for the Saudi economy.
Given his aggressive foreign policy and record of internal repression, MbS’s attempt to burnish his image during his U.S. trip should be a hard sell. But he has prominent admirers in the U.S. press like David Ignatius of The Washington Post and Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in his corner, and is one of Donald Trump’s favorite world leaders. Perhaps this Sunday’s interview with MbS on CBS 60 Minutes will highlight his war-mongering and human-rights abuses as much or more than his claims to be a refreshing force for reform. But the danger remains thatat least some parts of the mainstream press will whitewash MbS’s record.
As such, MbS’s visit, which is slated to include everyone from Donald Trump and his top security officials to Wall Street executives and Silicon Valley moguls, could at least partially succeed in meeting his main objectives. It’s up to opponents of MbS’s human rights record and his brutal war in Yemen to make sure it doesn’t.
The Saudi crown prince’s visit may coincide with a vote on a bill sponsored by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) that would end U.S. refueling and targeting support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, unless and until Congress authorizes the U.S. military role there. The initiative, which comports with the role carved out for Congress in the constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973, is part of a growing mood of opposition in Congress to the U.S. role in arming and enabling the Saudi/UAE-led war in Yemen.
U.S. planes, bombs, and missiles are a staple of the Saudi intervention. The Obama administration made a record $115 billion in arms offers to Saudi Arabia during its two terms in office, and one of Donald Trump’s first major foreign policy actions was toreverse a suspension of a sale of precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia imposed by the Obama administration due to concerns about the killing of civilians in Saudi air strikes in Yemen. As Colby Goodman, director of the Security Assistance Monitor, put it on the occasion of a release of a new report on arms sales trends during the Obama and Trump administrations, “Signing off on missile and bomb sales to Saudi Arabia when the country is using these weapons to attack the civilian population in Yemen sends an alarming signal about U.S. support for human rights.”
Thousands of civilians caught up in the conflict have died in Saudi airstrikes that have utilized U.S. aircraft and bombs, and a Saudi/UAE led blockade has put millions of Yemenis are risk of famine. In addition, hundreds of thousands of civilians in Yemen are suffering from the worst cholera outbreak in history, sparked in part by the Saudi coalition’s relentless destruction of civilian infrastructure. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) has rightly noted that the Saudi actions in Yemen “look like war crimes.”
MbS was the driving force behind the Saudi intervention, which began in March 2015. These are hardly the actions of a “reformer,” unless by reform one means setting new standards for abusing human rights, killing civilians, and wreaking havoc in a region already awash in conflicts.
MbS’s domestic record is no better.
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