According to an article on Middle East Eye on March 28: “last August, Saudi Arabia and Russia signed a military cooperation deal viewed as an affront to the US, whose failure to support Riyadh’s war on Yemen is closely related to the kingdom’s decision to balance the scales by engaging Russia” (emphasis added).
This is yet another journalist who has been taken in by Biden’s February 4, 2021 promise to end US support for “offensive operations” in Yemen. Biden has done no such thing. At most, Biden has merely reduced US support for the bloodbath that Yemenis call the “Saudi-American war.” Far from ending US support for the Saudi-UAE coalition, the US need for cheap oil following Biden’s March 8 ban on imports of Russian crude may give Saudi Arabia an ideal opportunity to pressure Biden to return US military assistance to its previous level.
Biden has betrayed Yemen. During the November 20, 2019 Democratic presidential debate, Joe Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah state”; vowed to make the Saudis “pay the price” for the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; and vowed to sell no more weapons to the kingdom.
Could we have that Biden back, please?
Almost 400,000 people have died during the seven-year-long war in Yemen which began with an unprovoked attack in 2015 led by Saudi Arabia. The Saudis’ objective was to restore the government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi who the year before had been overthrown by Yemen’s Houthi rebels (invariably referred to as “Iran-backed” in US media). Biden’s old boss, President Barack Obama, took the US into the Yemen war in order to mollify the Arab states who were angry over Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. The Obama and Trump Administrations provided the Saudi-led coalition (“SLC”) with invaluable assistance: intelligence sharing, logistics, target spotting, arms sales, replacement spare parts for coalition warplanes, and (until November 2018) in-flight refueling for coalition warplanes.
The Biden Administration seems to have ended intelligence sharing, target spotting, and logistics support. We can’t be sure, though, as the Administration has been coy in answering Congress’ repeated requests for clarification. We do know that the US continues to provide other forms of assistance to the Saudi coalition which keep the monstrously destructive war going.
The US 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.”
Biden continues to sell the Saudis and Emiratis massive amounts of arms. In December, Congress approved a $650 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia that Biden had proposed. That was small change compared to a $23 billion arms sale to the UAE which had been negotiated by the Trump Administration. Biden briefly suspended Trump’s gargantuan UAE sale before allowing it to go ahead.
And how’s this for support? The US has dispatched a squadron of F-22 fighter jets to defend the Emirates. The F-22s were sent following rocket and drone attacks on the UAE by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in January and February.
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These days, Biden is desperately pleading with the Saudis to increase oil production. Oil prices have soared since Biden banned US imports of Russian oil, coal, and natural gas on March 8. Rising prices at the pump may translate to the Democrats losing the Senate and House in the November midterms.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are not cooperating. MBS recalls Biden’s words from 2019. More recently, Biden has tried to side step MBS, the real power in the kingdom, and instead communicate with the prince’s elderly and ill father, King Salman.
In a recent article in the Atlantic, Bin Salman made his disdain for President Biden clear. Asked whether President Biden understood him, Bin Salman replied: “Simply, I do not care.” This is in sharp contrast to the rosy relationship between President Donald Trump and MBS. President Trump practically crawled into the crown prince’s lap during the latter’s White House visit in 2018.
Bin Salman, the architect of the war on Yemen, has humiliated the president by refusing to take Biden’s phone calls (so has the UAE’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Zayed). Saudi Arabia is sticking to the modest production increases allowed under the schedule set by OPEC+, of which Russia is a member.
Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE are moving closer to Russia. Neither has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And MBS did accept a phone call from Russian president Vladimir Putin on March 3. The two leaders discussed the possibility of Saudi Arabia mediating the war in Ukraine.
Some commentators have suggested that MBS might be willing to increase oil production if the US ramps up its support for the Saudi war in Yemen. Bin Salman could be angling for the US to restore its assistance with intelligence, logistics, and target spotting. Will Biden betray Yemen once again in return for cheaper gas for suburban moms’ SUVs and victory at the polls in November? Only time will tell.