On Wednesday, President Barack Obama blocked a sale of U.S. weapons to Saudi Arabia, citing concerns about Saudi war crimes in Yemen. The blocked weapons sale of 16,000 Raytheon guided munitions kits was worth $350 million.
Saudi Arabia has been using US weapons in brutal attacks on civilians in Yemen, leading human rights organizations to accuse the kingdom of war crimes. U.S. cluster bombs, banned by many countries, had featured prominently in the carnage in Yemen.
Sales of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia were suspended last May after the Saudis appeared to be purposely targeting hospitals and schools using the munitions.
The timing of Wednesday’s cancellation has struck many analysts as cynical and motivated not by human rights, but a late-game attempt by the Obama Administration to distance itself from charges of aiding war crimes.
As Micah Zenko of the Council on Foreign Relations noted on Twitter, “Under Obama, U.S. sold $112 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia. 37 days left, he cancels sales to protest an airwar the U.S. backed from day 1.”
Substantively, it’s not clear if this weapons sale suspension will have much effect at all. The White House will continue to facilitate Saudi war crimes in Yemen by refueling Saudi-led coalition aircraft and sharing intelligence used for bombings.
Perhaps the point is to try and gain back some credibility for Syria. Every time US officials condemn the brutality of the Assad government or Russia or Iran, the inevitable rejoinder is to say if the US cares so much about human rights why is it supporting war crimes in Yemen?
If that’s the point, maybe the cause would be better served by actually cutting off support for Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen, not pretending to.