"America always stands for freedom," declared Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), co-chairman of the Senate’s Ukraine Caucus (1/30/22, "Meet the Press," 1/30/22).
The context was his endorsement of US militarization of Ukraine and other countries bordering Russia. But the statement brought to mind America’s long-standing military support for oppressive regimes.
Pursuing an unabashed pro-tyranny policy by three successive presidents, America has been helping the absolute monarchy of oil-rich Saudi Arabia wage an air war against the impoverished people of Yemen. Come March, the war will be seven years old.
An official "Biden-Harris 2020" statement of Joe Biden’s foreign policy promises said, "He will end our support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen." (It appeared under the subheading, "End Forever Wars." At least two other campaign documents repeated the Yemen pledge.)
Over a year into his presidency, the US continues to support the lawless assault on Yemen – the bombing of its homes, hospitals, markets, buses, the harbor, and so on – just as it did under Trump and Obama before him.
Biden claims to have limited the support to "defense," but the monarchy’s offensive use of US munitions, aircraft maintenance and parts, and logistical and intelligence help goes on. Recently he allowed the sale to the Saudis of $650 million in supposedly "defensive" arms. These will surely increase Yemeni fatalities.
The death toll in the Yemen war nears 400,000, according to a United Nations estimate. About 70 percent of the victims are babies and tots under 5. Two-fifths of the deaths come directly from war; three-fifths result from disease and hunger.
Recent intensifying of the bombings has made it harder to deliver aid, upon which many Yemenis depend for survival. A researcher in Yemen says both sides – the Houthi rebels and their foes, the Saudis and their Emirati allies – use food as a weapon while people starve. Yet UNICEF carries on.
Saudi aid is illegal
The US war aid violates both international and federal law. Aside from complicity in the Saudis’ violation of international humanitarian law by their targeting of civilians, the military aid violates two US statutes:
- The Arms Export Control Act of 1976. It requires that such an export go for "internal security" or "legitimate self defense" and not cause or escalate conflict. Moreover, the export must not "support international terrorism."
The US arms reward aggression by the kingdom that financed Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda for years, lent 15 of its nationals to perpetrate 9/11, and murdered the dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 in Istanbul.
- The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. It bans aid to any government that has engaged in a consistent pattern of human rights violations. The Saudi regime fits that description.
Saudi Arabia publicly beheads people – juveniles included – for crimes like protesting, witchcraft, or religious or sexual nonconformity. It even punishes rape victims. It draws confessions by torture. Trials are unfair.
In April 2019 the House of Representatives approved a Senate joint resolution (introduced by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-VT) to withdraw US forces from Yemen, inasmuch as their presence was not authorized by Congress. But President Trump vetoed it and the majority lacked the required 2/3 vote to override.
A veto might have been avoided. Section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution (1973) says whenever US armed forces "are engaged in hostilities" abroad "without a declaration of war or specific statutory authorization, such forces shall be removed by the President if the Congress so acts by concurrent resolution." A concurrent resolution is not subject to veto. (In recent years, both Rep. Ro Khanna, D-CA, and Rep. Peter Defazio, D-OR, introduced 5[c] resolutions aiming at exiting Yemen, but the measures expired.)
Although critics have called the provision void, as a legislative veto, scholars made a case for its validity in Ohio State LawJournalandYale Law Journal (both1984): It recovers Congress’s power to declare war when a president usurps that power by waging unauthorized war. Why must Congress meet the 2/3 obstacle to uphold a constitutional power? Let critics note the legislative veto in the law governing arms sales.
Saudi Arabia’s monarchy is but one of scores of oppressive regimes that the United States has supported militarily.
Freedom House rated 50 regimes "not free." David Swanson, writer and peace activist, determined in 2020 that the US was supplying weapons to 41 of them (82 percent):
Before hunting Saddam Hussein, FP related, the US helped him, knowing he was attacking Iranians with poison gas.
Nicholas J. S. Davies, independent journalist, compiled an annotated list of 35 countries "where the US has supported fascists, drug lords, and terrorists." Among them was Ukraine (2014): " The US is backing Ukraine’s extreme right-wing Svoboda party and violent neo-Nazis whose armed uprising paved the way for a Western-backed coup."
An editor implicated the CIA and School of the Americas in continual torture and killing by Guatemala, Chile, Argentina, and other oppressive regimes in Latin America.
Another one of many such lists enumerates some 70 authoritarian regimes supported by the US, advising that it’s incomplete. Photos show tyrants being greeted by Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, and Presidents Nixon and Obama.
Richard Stockton, free-lance writer, wrote that the US had aligned itself with brutal dictatorships that killed hundreds of thousands of their people. He covered five countries: Brazil, Chile, Romania, South Korea, and Uzbekistan.
In South America, U.S.-aided coups overthrew democratically elected presidents Goulart and Allende in Brazil and Chile in the sixties and seventies respectively, installing dictatorships of Generals Branco and Pinochet. During their 20- and 15-year reigns, they had legions tortured and executed. Also discussed: Ceausescu in Romania, Rhee and Park in Korea, and Karimov in Uzbekistan and how the US helped them.
Beg your pardon, Senator. America does not always stand for freedom.
Paul W. Lovinger, of San Francisco, is a journalist, author, editor, and antiwar activist. (See www.warandlaw.org.)