Workers Vanguard No. 1125
12 January 2018
U.S./Saudi Axis of Evil
Imperialist-Backed Slaughter in Yemen
For nearly three years, the rulers of Saudi Arabia, aided by the U.S. and Britain, have carried out a relentless war of annihilation in Yemen. Aerial assaults have laid much of what was already the poorest Arab country to waste. Targeting vital infrastructure, airstrikes have destroyed roads, electric grids, seaports, airports, bridges, water supply facilities, schools and hospitals. Along with the bombing campaign, a naval blockade enforced with the support of U.S. warships was imposed, virtually sealing off aid to Yemen, which relies heavily on imports for food, fuel and other necessities.
By conservative estimates, the Saudi-led campaign, which also involves the United Arab Emirates and other states in the region, has killed more than 13,000 people. Tens of thousands have been wounded and over three million displaced. Today, eight million people—nearly one third of the population—teeter on the brink of famine. According to UNICEF, a child dies in Yemen every ten minutes due to malnutrition and disease. With the collapse of health care and basic sanitation, including clean water, one of the largest and fastest-spreading cholera outbreaks in world history has raged uncontrollably. One million people have contracted the disease; more than 2,000 have perished. Saudi Arabia has deliberately targeted the country’s tiny agricultural sector, aiming to destroy food production and distribution by bombing farms, food storage facilities, marketplaces and food trucks. More than 250 fishing boats have been damaged or destroyed, and over 150 fishermen have been killed by helicopters and warships in the Red Sea.
Saudi Arabia and its allies began the bombing campaign in March 2015 after the Houthi movement, which is based on Yemen’s Zaidi Shia Muslim minority, overran the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, and took control of a sizable swath of the country. The Saudi monarchy and its apologists claim that the war was launched in response to Iran, which they accuse, with no evidence, of funding and arming the Houthis. For the Saudi rulers—self-appointed guardians of Sunni Islam—the Persian-dominated Shia theocracy in Iran is a historical and ethnic foe.
For Washington, Saudi Arabia, along with Israel, has long been a key ally in enforcing U.S. imperialist interests in the Near East. Its importance increased particularly after the ouster of the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran by the 1979 “Islamic revolution.” The Saudi monarchy, one of the world’s biggest importers of advanced U.S. and British weapons systems, plays a critical role in propping up other oil-rich Gulf kingdoms and emirates and financially sustaining key U.S. client states such as Egypt.
As Marxists, we took no side in the tribal and religious conflicts that plagued Yemen for many years, including the fighting between the Houthis and their rivals. But once the U.S.-backed Saudi war was launched, we underlined that it was in the vital interest of the international proletariat, not least in the U.S., to stand for the military defense of the Houthi forces and their allies, without giving this movement any political support. (For more on the background to the conflict, see “Down With Saudi-Led War in Yemen!” WV No. 1070, 12 June 2015.)
A setback for Saudi forces would not only give a black eye to this deeply reactionary, theocratic state; it would also hinder the ambitions of the U.S. imperialists, whose interventions into the Near East, especially since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, have wreaked mass death and destruction. Such slaughter is endemic to the capitalist system in its imperialist epoch, in which the advanced capitalist powers in North America, West Europe and Japan have thrown the planet into a series of wars and occupations, including wars against each other, in order to dominate the globe. U.S. and all other imperialist forces out of the Near East now!
Yemen has for years been a target of U.S. machinations in the Near East. In the name of combating the local Al Qaeda franchise, the Obama administration launched ever more drone attacks, which killed scores of civilians (as well as U.S. citizens targeted for assassination, like Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son). Following in Obama’s footsteps, Donald Trump, in one of his first acts as U.S. Commander-in-Chief, launched a Navy SEAL raid on a Yemeni village that killed some 30 civilians. He has also jacked up the number of drone strikes.
The U.S. has backed the Saudi-led war in Yemen with bombs, precision-guided munitions and in-flight fueling and by identifying targets. Overall, the Obama administration supplied Saudi Arabia with more than $115 billion in weapons and other military equipment, the most of any administration in the 71-year U.S.-Saudi alliance. Trump’s first trip abroad was to Saudi Arabia, where he signed a $110 billion weapons deal. For their part, the British imperialists have sold the Saudis billions worth of fighter jets and military hardware while also providing training to Saudi pilots.
Named after the ruling Saud family, Saudi Arabia is a brutally oppressive state that enforces the extreme Wahabi variant of Sunni fundamentalism, from which the reactionary Islamic State (ISIS) derives its ideology. The House of Saud enjoys its obscene wealth, based on the country’s enormous oil resources, by viciously exploiting foreign migrant laborers, who are treated little better than slaves and are deported once their labor is no longer needed. Notwithstanding recent “reforms,” women are essentially regarded as property, possessing few rights and risking death by stoning for adultery. As for beheadings, crucifixions and other barbaric practices, the Saudi kingdom does not take a backseat to ISIS, having condemned hundreds to death by such means in recent years for blasphemy, apostasy, homosexuality and sorcery. Like ISIS, which obliterated historic temples and archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria, the Saudis have bombarded ancient monuments in Yemen, including the Marib Dam, an engineering marvel built during the Sabaean Kingdom in the first millennium B.C.
The architect of the war in Yemen is Saudi Arabia’s current Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who became de facto leader of the country last year. While he promised a quick victory, the Houthis remain entrenched despite mass devastation inflicted on the populace. When former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had allied with the Houthis, broke with them and made overtures toward the Saudis for a deal, Houthi forces assassinated him.
The background to the war is the arch rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran over influence in the region, with the White House fully backing the Saudis. In its National Security Strategy issued in December, the Trump administration accused Iran of sponsoring terrorism across the globe and destabilizing the Near East. Last month at the UN, U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley displayed what she claimed were fragments of an Iranian-made missile allegedly fired at the airport in the Saudi capital of Riyadh by the Houthis. This was part of the Trump administration’s campaign to further isolate and squeeze Iran through harsher economic sanctions, which were first imposed in 1979.
Trump keeps threatening to cancel the nuclear deal with Iran struck by the Obama White House and reimpose sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, which were eased under the deal. While Tehran claims that its nuclear program is purely for energy purposes, U.S. bellicosity underlines that Iran needs nukes as a means to defend its sovereignty. Down with all imperialist sanctions against Iran!
Exacerbated by long years of sanctions, economic conditions for the masses in Iran continue to deteriorate. Over the past year, labor strikes have erupted in several key industries, including oil and mining, often because workers just aren’t getting paid. More recently, plebeian protests have erupted in many parts of the country, triggered by growing poverty and the ostentatious corruption of the ruling clerical elite. The capitalist regime has responded with brutal repression.
Iran’s clerical regime came to power in 1979 amid a social upheaval against the despised, U.S.-backed autocrat Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. At that time, the convulsive opposition to the monarchy included powerful strikes in the oil fields and throughout the country, posing the potential for proletarian socialist revolution. However, the then-sizable Iranian left criminally subordinated the working class to the mullah-dominated opposition. Uniquely, our international tendency raised the call: Down with the Shah! No support to Khomeini! For workers revolution in Iran!
The establishment of a Shia theocracy resulted in the savage repression of Kurds and other minorities; the execution of strikers, homosexuals, adulterers and others accused of “crimes against God”; the stoning of unveiled women; the slaughter of leftists and the suppression of all opposition parties. Drawing on the lessons of the past, the task for proletarian militants today is to begin the work of building a revolutionary Marxist party—an Iranian section of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International. Such a party would seek to mobilize Iran’s multinational working class, standing at the head of all the oppressed, in the struggle to sweep away bourgeois rule. This perspective requires political opposition to all currents among Iran’s mullahs—as well as to any monarchists lurking in the shadows—and implacable opposition to the U.S. and other imperialist powers, which will seek to manipulate the grievances of Iran’s masses to serve their own interests.
From Yemen to Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, U.S. intervention has meant more misery and devastation, strengthening the most retrograde and anti-woman tribal and religious forces and fueling sectarian conflicts and pogroms. The multiracial U.S. working class has every interest in opposing the depredations of America’s capitalist rulers, whose rampages abroad go along with driving down wages, slashing health and pension benefits and unleashing the racist killer cops at home. The Spartacist League/U.S. is committed to building an internationalist workers party to lead the struggle for socialist revolution in the belly of the imperialist beast.