Originally appeared on The American Conservative.
Pompeo has just proven once again that there is nothing the Trump administration won’t do to cover for Saudi Arabia as it prosecutes the atrocious U.S.-backed war on Yemen:
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blocked the inclusion of Saudi Arabia on a U.S. list of countries that recruit child soldiers, dismissing his experts’ findings that a Saudi-led coalition has been using under-age fighters in Yemen’s civil war, according to four people familiar with the matter.
Pompeo has made a habit of overruling State Department experts when their recommendations don’t line up with the administration’s preference for giving the Saudis whatever they want. Last fall, he overruled them to make the bogus certification that the Saudi coalition was making an effort to reduce civilian casualties, and now he has overruled them to pretend that the Saudi coalition doesn’t use child soldiers when there is ample evidence that they have been doing that for years. All parties to the conflict have recruited child soldiers, and the Saudi coalition is no exception. There is no good reason to keep Saudi Arabia off the list of countries that engage in this awful practice, and so we are left to assume that Pompeo is doing it as a favor to a despotic regime because it happens to buy a lot of U.S.-made weapons.
The Reuters report continues:
The decision, which came after a fierce internal debate, could prompt new accusations by human rights advocates and some lawmakers that US President Donald Trump’s administration is prioritizing security and economic interests in relations with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, a major US ally and arms customer.
It is safe to say that it will prompt those accusations, and those accusations will be absolutely justified by the pattern of behavior that we have seen from the Trump administration over the last two and a half years. They fought tooth and nail against an antiwar resolution in Congress that would have withdrawn the US from the war on Yemen, and they shamelessly covered for Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder. Just last month, the president abused his power to declare an “emergency” to expedite arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Congress has fighting back against the “emergency” for the last several weeks. Sen. Rand Paul is one of the co-sponsors of the bipartisan Senate effort to oppose the bogus “emergency,” and last week he spoke about the need to block arms sales to Bahrain and Qatar as well. He said, “Proliferating arms in the midst of chaos is a recipe for disaster.” He went on to address the administration’s claim that the expedited arms sales to the Saudis and the UAE are needed to counter Iran:
The argument goes that we must arm anyone who is not Iran. We are told that because of Iran’s threat the US must accept selling arms to anyone who opposes Iran, even bone-saw-wielding countries brazen enough to kill a dissident in a foreign consulate. It doesn’t matter how you act, how you behave, or who you kill, we’ll still give you arms. What would happen if we just said no? What would happen if we simply conditioned our arms sales on behavior? Are the Saudis so weak that Iran will run over them and run over the whole Middle East without our arms? Of course not! The Saudis now spend more on their military than the Russians. The Saudis have the third-largest amount of military spending in the world….The Saudis and their Gulf allies spend eight times more than Iran. They’re perfectly capable of defending themselves against Iran.
What are the Saudis doing with all the weapons we give them? Well, for one, they’re bombing civilians in Yemen. They’ve been using our bombs and up until recently they were refueling their bombers with our planes. We’ve got no business in the war in Yemen. Congress never voted on it. It’s unauthorized, it’s unconstitutional, and we have no business aiding the Saudis in this massacre. The Saudis have used these bombs to bomb a funeral procession. They wounded over 400…a funeral procession! They wounded over 400 and killed 150. The Saudis recently bombed and killed 40 children on a schoolbus. The Saudis, with our support, continue to blockade one of the main ports of Yemen. As a consequence of this blockade and the Yemeni civil war, 17 million people live on the edge of starvation. In addition, the Saudis indiscriminately fed arms into the Syrian civil war.
That is just a portion of Paul’s speech, and I recommend watching the rest of it here. He explains very well why the Saudis cannot be trusted with US weapons. We know in advance that they will be used to commit war crimes, and we know that some of the weapons provided to the Saudis and Emiratis will eventually end up in the hands of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its allies. There is no “emergency” that justifies rushing more weapons to them. On the contrary, the US shouldn’t be providing them with any weapons at all.
Pompeo’s decision to overrule his experts again is the latest example of how he puts indulging our despotic clients ahead of any other consideration. The evidence that the Saudi coalition makes extensive use of Sudanese recruits is not in doubt. Mark Perry reported on the coalition’s reliance on Sudanese recruits to wage their war in Yemen in an article for TAC last year. The New York Times also reported late last year on the use of child soldiers from Darfur. The Saudis and Emiratis use the Sudanese recruits as cannon fodder while they remain safely in the rear:
Some families are so eager for the money that they bribe militia officers to let their sons go fight. Many are ages 14 to 17. In interviews, five fighters who have returned from Yemen and another about to depart said that children made up at least 20 percent of their units. Two said children were more than 40 percent.
To keep a safe distance from the battle lines, their Saudi or Emirati overseers commanded the Sudanese fighters almost exclusively by remote control, directing them to attack or retreat through radio headsets and GPS systems provided to the Sudanese officers in charge of each unit, the fighters all said.
Following reports like these that the Saudi coalition has been using child soldiers recruited from Sudan, the State Department’s experts recommended adding Saudi Arabia to the list:
State Department experts recommended adding Saudi Arabia to the soon-to-be released list based in part on news reports and human rights groups’ assessments that the desert kingdom has hired child fighters from Sudan to fight for the U.S.-backed coalition in Yemen, the four sources said.
There is no question that Saudi Arabia recruits child soldiers to fight in Yemen, and there is no question that it is an outrageous practice that deserves to be condemned by our government. There is also no question that the Trump administration is interested only in catering to Saudi Arabia and the UAE no matter the cost to our interests, values, or reputation.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.