Not all civilian casualties are created equally.
Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has taken a tough line on the rights record of the Syrian government, but remains silent about similar war crimes committed by a coalition of states led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in their ongoing war in Yemen.
Jeremy Bash, Clinton’s foreign policy advisor, told the Telegraph last summer that a Clinton administration would order a “full review” of American strategy as it relates to Syria, pushing for the creation of a no-fly zone and the removal of Syrian president Bashar al Assad from power.
“It is a murderous regime that violates human rights,” Bash said of the Syrian government, echoing Clinton’s position.
Yet not only has Clinton pulled her punches on Yemen, her own actions as Secretary of State helped to produce the dismal situation in that country today.
In 2011, Clinton’s State Department approved a $29.4 billion fighter jet sale to Saudi Arabia, a “top priority” for the then-Secretary, according to former State Department Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro.
That deal included 84 F-15SA fighter jets, the very warplanes most frequently used in what have been described as indiscriminate and illegal airstrikes carried out by the Saudis in Yemen. International law forbids any military action that does not distinguish between civilian and military objects; the coalition has failed to live up to that standard.
The coalition began its campaign in Yemen in March of last year to restore President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi to power after he was deposed by Houthi rebels. The Houthis, who stormed the capital city, Sana’a, in 2014 and forced Hadi’s resignation, constitute the armed wing of a political-religious movement that now receives somewhat wide support in the country.
The United States has made billions of dollars in arms deals with the Saudis in recent years, including sales of internationally-prohibited cluster munitions, and continues to assist the coalition with logistics support, midair refueling, airstrike targeting and vehicle maintenance in Yemen.
After nearly 20 months of fighting, the country has been devastated.
A 2015 Amnesty International report found that, at the time, of the estimated 4,000 killed since the beginning of the Saudi air campaign, roughly half of them were civilians. Most of those casualties were caused by U.S.-made air-launched explosives, the report said, fired from aircraft which Clinton herself approved for sale.
Since the release of that report, the estimated number of deaths in the war has risen to around 10,000, with 27,000 people wounded and millions more displaced. Because Yemen imports the vast majority of its staple foods, the war’s disruptive effects on Yemen’s economy has put 14 million Yemenis at risk of hunger or starvation, according to a report from the World Food Program, a U.N. agency. That’s 57 percent of Yemen’s population.
Though she moralizes about civilian death at the hands of the Syrian state, Hillary has said nothing about Yemen. No word on the thousands of civilians slaughtered with America’s help.
Ironically, in 1995 Hillary’s husband Bill as president signed a policy directive which required the State Department to consider the “human rights, terrorism and proliferation record” of recipients of American arms. Hillary Clinton did not take that precaution during her tenure as Secretary of State.
Clinton’s own State Department, in fact, released a report in 2011 detailing a lengthy list of human rights violations committed by the Saudi government, but that apparently was not enough to dissuade her from arming the regime with one of the deadliest weapons in America’s arsenal.
A 2015 International Business Times investigation also found that “Under Clinton’s leadership, the State Department approved $165 billion worth of commercial arms sales to 20 nations whose governments have given money to the Clinton Foundation.”
“In all,” the Times report continues, “governments and corporations involved in the arms deals approved by Clinton’s State Department have delivered between $54 million and $141 million to the Clinton Foundation as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to the Clinton family, according to foundation and State Department records.”
Clinton wants, in effect, to start a war with Syria in the name of humanity, but she willfully ignores other human rights disasters—ones that she helped to create. As she plans for a more bellicose Syria policy, Yemenis will continue to be killed by American-made bombs, dropped from American-made warplanes maintained by American mechanics, and whose targets are selected with the help of American intelligence.
Where, then, is the candidate’s moral outrage for the people of Yemen?