TEHRAN (FNA) – Dr. Paul Street, an American journalist, historian and political commentator, says the Saudi kingdom is following the lead of its US-Zionist masters in attacking Yemen, describing Washington, Tel Aviv and Riyadh as three war criminals totally unaware of the calamities that lie ahead of the poor nation as a result of their warmongering.
“The Obama administration is providing critical technical and other military assistance assisting its leading client state Saudi Arabia in the bombing of Yemen. Along with the Saudi embargo, this attack is generating a humanitarian calamity. Yemen is the poorest nation in the Middle East, a country that faces deadly water and agricultural crises and the threat of takeover by barbarous Salafist extremists. Civilians are dying, including hundreds of women and children. What little infrastructure Yemen has is being devastated. The US-Saudi attack (backed by the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain) is highly criminal and threatens to tip Yemen into utter catastrophe,” Paul Street said in an exclusive interview with FNA.
He further said that the Saudi monarchy’s claim that it is bombing Yemen in order to preserve its national security is not surprising at all, and noted, “That’s standard war propaganda. Aggressor regimes typically say that their criminal wars of aggression are really about ‘self-defense,’ ‘national security,’ and the like. That’s what Washington always does when it invades and otherwise attacks other countries. It wouldn’t make much ‘public relations’ sense for Riyadh to tell the truth about its real geopolitical ambitions, allied with those of the US and Israel.”
Paul Street is the author of numerous books including “Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11”, “Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in the Post-Civil Rights Era”, and “Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: a Living Black Chicago History”.
Street’s essays, articles, reviews, interviews, and commentaries have appeared in numerous outlets, including ZNet, Z Magazine, Black Agenda Report, CounterPunch, Truthout, the Chicago Tribune, Capital City Times, In These Times, and Chicago History.
Street’s writings, research findings, and commentary have been featured in a large number and wide variety of media venues, including The New York Times, CNN, Al Jazeera, the Chicago Tribune, WGN (Chicago/national), WLS (ABC-Chicago), Fox News, and the Chicago Sun Times.
What follows is the text of Fars News Agency’s (FNA) interview with Paul Street, conducted on April 17, 2015.
FNA: Saudi Arabia began its aerial bombardments on Yemen on March 26 in an attempt to restore power to fugitive president Mansour Hadi. The monarchy declared end to Yemen airstrikes after four weeks of bombing and killing around 2900 innocent people. Meanwhile, the attacks continued despite the fact that Riyadh declared an end to them on Tuesday. Certain regional and western countries supplied Riyadh with critical support in air refueling, surveillance and logistics. What lies behind attacking another Middle-Eastern country?
Street: Let’s be clear about which among “certain Western countries” matters most. That would be the United States, whose “defense” (Empire) budget accounts for nearly half the world’s military spending and pays for more than 1000 US military installations across more than 100 “sovereign” nations. The Obama administration is providing critical technical and other military assistance assisting its leading client state Saudi Arabia in the bombing of Yemen. Along with the Saudi embargo, this attack is generating a humanitarian calamity. Yemen is the poorest nation in the Middle East, a country that faces deadly water and agricultural crises and the threat of takeover by barbarous Salafist extremists. Civilians are dying, including hundreds of women and children. What little infrastructure Yemen has is being devastated. The US-Saudi attack (backed by the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain) is highly criminal and threatens to tip Yemen into utter catastrophe.
The absurdities of Washington’s Yemen policy here are striking. For US Secretary of State John F. Kerry to say that the US supports the bombing because Washington “won’t stand by while the region is destabilized” is ridiculous. Bombing is a well-known means of destabilization (look at the record of the US war on Indochina, 1962-1975). US drone attacks and bombings conducted in Yemen in the name of the so-called Global War on Terror (really a global war of terror) bear significant responsibility for the unraveling of Saleh’s and Hadi’s pro-US/pro-Saudi regimes. At the same time, the Ansarullah fighters have been effectively combatting the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Yemeni affiliate of the ISIL.
What’s it all about? It’s revealing that Kerry said “region” instead of “Yemen.” According to the official narrative in Riyadh, Washington, and Western media, Yemen is “under siege by agents of Iran,” the “Houthis” (the Ansarullah fighters). The claim is exaggerated, to say the least. The Houthis may practice a kind of Shiite Islam, Zaidi, but their version differs significantly from Iranian Shiism. In fact, the Houthis are merely the latest manifestation of a long-oppressed Yemeni religious minority seeking autonomy from the central government. After years of being deceived and stymied by pro-US dictators and puppets in Sana’a, they finally overthrew the government, with assistance from government forces formerly loyal to Saleh. Calling the Houthis “agents of Iran” is misleading. As the regional analyst Emma Ashford noted two weeks ago in the New York Times:
“Yemen’s volatile civil war has been depicted as merely a battleground between Sunni Arab countries and Shiite Iran for dominance in the Middle East… But in fact, the conflict in Yemen is local, not regional. Washington and Riyadh have pushed the narrative of an Iranian-supported Houthi rebellion in Yemen. This is an oversimplification at best…. While the Houthis are Shiites, their Zaydi faith is theologically distinct from the Shiite practices of most Iranians. Historically, this has limited ties between them and Tehran. And although Iran has given the Houthis some financial support, it has not been directly involved in the conflict. In fact, many of the Houthis’ recent gains are a result of their alliance with Sunni supporters of Hadi’s predecessor, Ali Abdullah Saleh, who was removed from power in 2012.”
Still, Saudi Arabia unshakably views Iran as a grave threat and sees Tehran’s hand behind almost every regional development it doesn’t like. Now that Washington has the outlines of a nuclear deal with Iran – with whom it must make some rapprochement if the barbarian ISIL (which frightens even its Saudi sponsors) is going to be rolled back (the same is true for Syria), the Obama administration in Yemen is placating the Saudi royal family, who sits atop a giant pile of oil and money that Washington does not take lightly.
Meanwhile the ISIL and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula can be expected to find rich, blood-soaked ground in which to grow in more devastated Yemen. As Emma Ashford rightly notes, “Yemen has the potential to become the next Syria, spiraling into sectarian violence, with money and arms from abroad fueling the conflict. If Arab airstrikes continue, Yemen is likely to become a failed state. Tragically, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would be the one beneficiary, as the terrorist group enjoys a respite from drone strikes, counterterrorism campaigns… A bombing campaign won’t stabilize Yemen…Instead, it could lead to a prolonged and bloody civil war and provide fertile ground for extremist groups.” And of course, historically no government has done more than Saudi Arabia more to spread the extremist Wahhabi ideology that fuels the Salafist groups in Yemen and across the region.
FNA: The Saudi-led air campaign on Yemen is a blatant violation of international regulations and the rights of a sovereign state as a member of the United Nations. However, the UNSC adopted a resolution earlier and imposed sanctions on the revolutionaries and didn’t condemn the Saudi aggression which has so far killed thousands of people. What’s your perspective on that?
Street: Clearly, it is absurd. Russia at least abstained, I believe. I do not pretend to understand the internal politics of the UNSC, but clearly it functioned here as the de facto agent of Washington, Riyadh, and Israel. The Yemeni branch of ISIL and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula must have been pleased for the Ansarullah Houthi fighters are their blood enemies in Yemen. Finally, let’s be candid about an unpleasant truth: history shows that the United States and its clients never take international law or “regulations” seriously when those laws and regulations violate their perceived “national interests.”
FNA: The Saudi monarchy claims its air campaign against Yemen is an issue of national security. What do you think?
Street: The claim is unsurprising. That’s standard war propaganda. Aggressor regimes typically say that their criminal wars of aggression are really about “self-defense,” “national security,” and the like. That’s what Washington always does when it invades and otherwise attacks other countries. It wouldn’t make much “public relations” sense for Riyadh to tell the truth about its real geopolitical ambitions, allied with those of the US and Israel. In meantime, it is worth bearing in mind that the greatest threat to the security of the Saudi people is Saudi Arabia’s vicious regime, very possibly the most reactionary and oppressive government on Earth. “If ‘totalitarianism’ has any meaning,” the leading Middle Eastern expert Gilbert Achcar noted seven years ago, “that’s totalitarianism there (in Saudi Arabia).” As Sarah Flounders observes at Fight Back! News:
“Saudi Arabia is an absolute and brutal dictatorship. The country is named after the royal Saud family that has expropriated the country’s fabulous oil wealth, and treats it as a wholly owned family asset. Their control is maintained by massive state-organized repression. All forms of political dissent and social organization, from political parties to trade unions, are banned under pain of death….Executions by decapitation in public squares are held on average once every four days. Capital crimes include …political opposition to the regime. Public stonings are also a common form of execution. Other punishments include eye gouging, limb amputation, tooth extraction, surgical paralysis and public lashings.”
“Government departments are treated as fiefdoms … Personal and state funds are completely commingled. All (royal) family members are guaranteed astronomical monthly allowances from birth … 60 percent of the population live(s) below the poverty line… More than 1.5 million migrant women work in domestic slavery (and)… the International Trade Union Confederation … report(s) alarming levels of child labor, discrimination and forced labor … women have no rights to employment, property or education.”
The Saudi regime’s victims include its own Shiite minority, which makes up 10-15% of Saudi Arabia. Shiite Saudis are heavily concentrated in the nation’s Eastern province, where most of the kingdom’s oil is produced. That is no small context for understanding the Saudi regime’s hostility to any examples of Shiite self-rule and power in the region.
Interview by Javad Arab Shirazi