The Saudis Are Not America’s Friends. So Why is the US Still Supporting the Saudi War on Yemen?

Destruction in the residential neighborhoods near mountain Attan, Yemen. Photograph Source: Ibrahem Qasim – CC BY-SA 4.0

Saudi Arabia and the UAE are ghosting the US.  The two nations’ de facto rulers, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, respectively, are not taking President Joe Biden’s phone calls, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Biden wants to talk to them about rising oil prices.  On March 8, President Biden announced a US ban on the import of Russian oil, natural gas, and coal, effective immediately.  The move is in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.  Biden said that “targeting the main artery of Russia’s economy” will be “another powerful blow to Putin’s war machine.” Oil revenues account for 36% of the Russian government’s budget.

Oil prices have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  USA Today says that gasoline today is the “most expensive in US history,” breaking the record set in 2008.  The average price of a gallon of gas on March 9 was $4.25, up from $2.79 a year ago.

Seven percent of US gas is imported from Russia.  Biden hopes to persuade bin Salman and bin Zayed (“MBS” and “MBZ” in popular parlance) to offset rising prices at the gas pump by increasing their oil production.  Fat chance. OPEC Plus—OPEC members plus major oil producers, including Russia—held their monthly meeting on March 2.  The group said that it would adhere to the production plan agreed to last July.  The plan allows for no more than a modest 400,000 barrel-a-day increase in April.  That won’t come anywhere close to cooling the global oil market.

The Yemen Link

The leaders of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are not America’s friends.  So, why does Washington continue to support their war in Yemen?

In 2015, a coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched an unprovoked attack on Yemen, aimed at Yemen’s Houthi rebels who had overthrown Yemen’s Saudi-backed government the year before.

The US has been complicit in the Saudi-UAE aggression since day one.  You don’t hear much about that.  US leaders would rather focus on (very real) Russian aggression in Ukraine than US aggression in Yemen.  The US has provided the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence, targeting assistance, logistics, and (until November 2018) in-flight refueling of coalition warplanes.  On February 4, in his first major foreign policy address, President Joe Biden pledged to end US support for “offensive operations” in Yemen.  That promise proved false.  Biden continues to sell the Saudis and Emiratis massive amounts of arms and provides coalition warplanes with servicing and essential spare parts.  Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst now at the Brookings Institution, is just one of the experts who declares that without US spare parts the Royal Saudi Air Force would be “grounded.”

Most recently, on February 12, the US dispatched a squadron of F-22 fighter jets to protect Abu Dhabi and Dubai from Houthi rocket and drone attacks which began in January.  Yet the Saudis and Emiratis have the gall to complain that the US is not doing enough to support their war effort.  The US should not be supporting these killers at all.

Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) have announced that they will introduce a new War Powers Resolution for Yemen (WPR) on March 25, the 7th anniversary of the Saudi coalition’s attack on Yemen.

They have their work cut out for them.  The WPR would end all US assistance to the Saudi war.  Congress passed an earlier War Powers Resolution in 2019, but it was vetoed by President Donald Trump.  Biden will almost certainly do the same.  The Yemen war has become Biden’s war.  He is not going to accept a Congressional repudiation of his Yemen policy.  This means that there must be enough votes to override a veto.  In 2019, the Senate was able to muster only 53 out of the 67 votes needed.  Who knows how many votes will be needed this time?

How can progressives get sufficient votes both to pass the Jayapal-DeFazio WPR and override a presidential veto?  Up till now, progressives have attempted to use moral suasion to get enough votes to get the US out of Yemen.  That hasn’t worked.  Instead, supporters of Yemen should hammer away at the harm the Saudi and Emirati refusal to lower oil prices is doing to American consumers.  The price of oil affects all aspects of the American economy; oil’s price has a huge effect on the price of food, for example.  President Biden warned on March 8 that “defending freedom” in Ukraine would impose “costs” on the American consumer.  For now, Americans seem willing to shoulder those costs for Ukraine’s sake.  But how long will Americans remain willing?

Americans need to get mad at the Saudi Royals.  This happened for a brief period following the Saudi assassination in 2018 of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which US intelligence determined was at the direct order of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.  Later, during the 2020 Saudi-Russia oil price war, the Saudis’ fiercest defenders in Congress—Republican senators from oil-producing states—were ready to turn on Saudi Arabia.  The senators introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at punishing the Saudis.  Had the senators gotten only a little angrier, they might have been willing to cut off US assistance to the Saudi war on Yemen.

In France, rage over higher gasoline prices created a political movement, the gilet jaunes (“yellow vests”).  That can happen in the US.

The defense contractors’ lobby will put up stiff opposition to a new WPR which will cut off arms sales to the Saudis and Emiratis.  Even that resistance can be overcome if the US loses more from increased energy costs than it gains from arms sales—gains which only accrue to a tiny sliver of the population.

A consumers’ revolt can at last end US support for the Saudi-UAE war on Yemen.

Charles Pierson is a lawyer and a member of the Pittsburgh Anti-Drone Warfare Coalition. E-mail him at