Category Archives: Weapons Sales

A People’s Vaccine Against a Mutating Virus and Neoliberal Rule

Photo credit: UNICEF Teachers and students were able to return to school in Lao Cai, Viet Nam, in May 2020

A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that worries about the COVID pandemic in the United States are at their lowest level since it began. Only half of Americans are either “very worried” (15%) or “somewhat worried” (35%) about the virus, while the other half are “not very worried” (30%) or “not worried at all” (20%).

But the news from around the world makes it clear that this pandemic is far from over, and a story from Vietnam highlights the nature of the danger.

Vietnam is a COVID success story, with one of the lowest rates of infection and death in the world. Vietnam’s excellent community-based public health system prevented the virus from spreading beyond isolated cases and localized outbreaks, without a nationwide lockdown. With a population of 98 million people, Vietnam has had only 8,883 cases and 53 deaths.

However, more than half of Vietnam’s cases and deaths have come in the last two months, and three-quarters of the new cases have been infected with a new “hybrid” variant that combines the two mutations detected separately in the Alpha (U.K.) and Delta (India) variants.

Vietnam is a canary in the pandemic coal-mine. The way this new variant has spread so quickly in a country that has defeated every previous form of the virus suggests that this one is much more infectious.

This variant must surely also be spreading in other countries, where it will be harder to detect among thousands of daily cases, and will therefore be widespread by the time public health officials and governments respond to it. There may also be other highly infectious new variants spreading undetected among the millions of cases in Latin America and other parts of the world.

A new study in The Lancet medical journal has found that the Alpha (U.K.), Beta (South Africa) and Delta (India) variants are all more resistant to existing vaccines than the original COVID virus, and the Delta variant is still spreading in countries with aggressive vaccination programs, including the U.K.

The Delta variant accounts for a two-month high in new cases in the U.K. and a new wave of infections in Portugal, just as developed countries ease restrictions before the summer vacation season, almost certainly opening the door to the next wave. The U.K., which has a slightly higher vaccination rate than the United States, had planned a further relaxation of restrictions on June 21st, but that is now in question.

China, Vietnam, New Zealand and other countries defeated the pandemic in its early stages by prioritizing public health over business interests. The United States and Western Europe instead tried to strike a balance between public health and their neoliberal economic systems, breeding a monster that has now killed millions of people. The World Health Organization believes that six to eight million people have died, about twice as many as have been counted in official figures.

Now the WHO is recommending that wealthier countries who have good supplies of vaccines postpone vaccinating healthy young people, and instead prioritize sending vaccines to poorer countries where the virus is running wild.

President Biden has announced that the United States is releasing 25 million doses from its stockpiles, most of which will be distributed through the WHO’s Covax program, with another 55 million to follow by the end of June. But this is a tiny fraction of what is needed.

Biden has also agreed to waive patent rights on vaccines under the WTO’s TRIPS rules (the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), but that has so far been held up at the WTO by Canada and right-wing governments in the U.K., Germany, Brazil, Australia, Japan and Colombia. People have taken to the streets in many countries to insist that a WTO TRIPS Council meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday, June 8-9, must agree to waive patent monopolies.

Since all the countries blocking the TRIPS waiver are U.S. allies, this will be a critical test of the Biden administration’s promised international leadership and diplomacy, which has so far taken a back seat to dangerous saber-rattling against China and Russia, foot-dragging on the JCPOA with Iran and war-crime-fueling weapons-peddling to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Ending international vaccine apartheid is not just a matter of altruism, or even justice. It is a question of whether we will end this pandemic before vaccine-resistant, super-spreading and deadlier variants fuel even more toxic new waves. The only way humanity can win this struggle is to act collectively in our common interest. 

Public Citizen has researched what it would take to vaccinate the world, and concluded that it would cost only $25 billion – 3% of the annual U.S. budget for weapons and war – to set up manufacturing plants and distribution hubs across the world and vaccinate all of humanity within a year. Forty-two Progressives in Congress have signed a letter to President Biden to urge him to fund such a plan.

If the world can agree to make and distribute a People’s Vaccine, it could be the silver lining in this dark cloud, because this ability to act globally and collectively in the public interest is precisely what we need to solve so many of the most serious problems facing humanity.

For example, the UN Environment Program (UNEP) is warning that we are in the midst of a triple crisis of climate change, mass extinction and pollution. Our neoliberal political and economic system has not just failed to solve these problems. It actively works to undermine efforts to do so, granting people, corporations and countries who profit from destroying the natural world the freedom to do so without constraint.

That is the very meaning of laissez-faire, to let the wealthy and powerful do whatever they want, regardless of the consequences for the rest of us, or even for life on Earth. As the economist John Maynard Keynes reputedly said in the 1930s, “Laissez-faire capitalism is the absurd idea that the worst people, for the worst reasons, will do what is best for us all.”

Neoliberalism is the reimposition of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism, with all its injustices, inequality and oppression, on the people of the 21st century, prioritizing markets, profits and wealth over the common welfare of humanity and the natural world our lives depend on.

Berkeley and Princeton political theorist Sheldon Wolin called the U.S. political system, which facilitates this neoliberal economic order, “inverted totalitarianism.” Like classical totalitarianism, it concentrates ever more wealth and power in the hands of a small ruling class, but instead of abolishing parliaments, elections and the superficial trappings of representative government as classical totalitarianism did, it simply co-opts them as tools of plutocracy, which has proved to be a more marketable and sustainable strategy.

But now that neoliberalism has wreaked its chaos for a generation, popular movements are rising up across the world to demand systemic change and to build new systems of politics and economics that can actually solve the huge problems that neoliberalism has produced.

In response to the 2019 uprising in Chile, its rulers were forced to agree to an election for a constitutional assembly, to draft a constitution to replace the one written during the Pinochet dictatorship, one of the vanguards of neoliberalism. That election has now taken place, and the ruling party of President Pinera and other traditional parties won less than a third of the seats. So the constitution will instead be written by a super-majority of citizens committed to radical reform and social, economic and political justice.

In Iraq, which was also swept by a popular uprising in 2019, a new government seated in 2020 has launched an investigation to recover $150 billion in Iraqi oil revenues stolen and smuggled out of the country by the corrupt officials of previous governments.

U.S.-backed former exiles flew into Iraq on the heels of the U.S. invasion in 2003 “with empty pockets to fill,” as a Baghdad taxi driver told a Western reporter at the time. While U.S. forces and U.S.-trained Iraqi death squads destroyed their country, they hunkered down in the Green Zone in Baghdad and controlled and looted Iraq’s oil revenues for the next seventeen years. Now maybe Iraq can recover the stolen money its people so desperately need, and start using its oil wealth to rebuild that shattered country.

In Bolivia, also in 2019, a U.S.-backed coup overthrew its popular indigenous president, Evo Morales. But the people of Bolivia rose up in a general strike to demand a new election, Morales’ MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo) Party was restored to power, and Luis Arce, Morales’ former Economy Minister, is now Bolivia’s President.

Around the world, we are witnessing what can happen when people rise up and act collectively for the common good. That is how we will solve the serious problems we face, from the COVID pandemic to the climate crisis to the terminal danger of nuclear war. Humanity’s survival into the twenty-second century and all our hopes for a bright future depend on building new political and economic systems that will simply and genuinely “do what is best for all of us.”

The post A People’s Vaccine Against a Mutating Virus and Neoliberal Rule first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Imperialist Origins of Saudi Arabia

Why is Saudi Arabia, a Sunni absolute monarchy, enthusiastically supported by the West, considered a global promoter of “democracy”? This question is rarely asked. The apparent mismatch between liberal democracy and religious fundamentalism is hastily airbrushed when the matter is about oil trade and arms deals. This attitude is not an expression of mere hypocrisy on the part of the West; it is deeply rooted in a historical process whereby Saudi Arabia was propped up by major powers as an outpost of imperialist interests and a bulwark against revolutionary ideologies.

Creating the Kingdom

Sheikh Mohammed Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism, was an 18th century peasant who left date palm cultivation and cattle grazing to preach locally, calling for a return to the pure beliefs of the seventh century. He denounced the worship of holy places and stressed the “unity of one God”. He insisted singularly on beatings, leading to inhumane practices: thieves should be amputated and criminals executed in public. Religious leaders in the region objected when he began to perform what he preached and the local chief in Uyayna asked him to leave. Wahhab fled to Deraiya in 1744, where he made a pact with Mohammed Ibn Saud, the leader of the Najd tribes and the founder of the dynasty that rules Saudi Arabia today. Wahhab’s daughter became one of Ibn Saud’s wives. Ibn Saud utilized Wahhab’s spiritual fervor to ideologically discipline the tribes before hurling them into a battle against the Ottoman Empire. Wahhab considered the Sultan in Istanbul as undeserving of any right to be the Caliph of Islam and preached the virtues of a permanent jihad against Islamic modernizers and infidels. Lamenting the demise of the former greatness of Islamic civilization, he wished to remove all bidah (innovations), which he regarded as heretical to the original meaning of Islam. Basing himself on the Sunnah (customary practices of the Prophet Muhammad) and the Hadiths (accounts, collections of reports, sayings and deeds of the Prophet), he wished to purge the Islamic world of what he viewed as the degenerative practices introduced into the Islamic world by the Ottoman Turks and their associates.

In 1801, Ibn Saud’s army attacked the Shia holy city of Karbala, massacring thousands and destroying revered Shiite shrines. They also razed shrines in Mecca and Medina, erasing centuries of Islamic architecture because of the Wahhabist belief that these treasures represented idol worship. The Ottomans retaliated, occupied Hijaz and took charge of Mecca and Medina. The Ibn Saud-Wahhab alliance remained in the interior until the Ottomans collapsed after World War I. By 1926, the al-Saud clan – led by their new patriarch Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud – and their fanatical Wahhabi allies – the Ikhwan, or “Brotherhood” – once again seized control of the holiest cities in Islam, as well as important trading ports on the western coast of the peninsula.  Like the initial advances of the 1700s, it was a campaign defined by bloodshed, forced conversions, enslavement, and the enforcement of the strict and eccentric laws of Wahhabism. It was also a campaign that was grounded in an alliance between Abdul Aziz and the British Empire; a 1915 treaty turned the lands under Abdul Aziz’s control into a British protectorate, ensuring military support against rival warlords and uniting the two against the Ottomans. The intimate relationship between British imperialists and Abdul Aziz continued even after the dismantlement of the Ottoman empire, reflected in their close cooperation in the war against Sharif Hussein of Mecca, the Guardian of the Holy Cities, the chief of the clan of Hashem and directly descended from the Prophet.

Hussein had contributed the most to the Ottoman Empire’s defeat by switching allegiances and leading the “Arab Revolt” in June 1916 which removed the Turkish presence from Arabia. He was convinced to alter his position after Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, made him believe that a unified Arab country from Gaza to the Persian Gulf would be established with the defeat of the Turks. The letters exchanged between Hussain and McMahon are known as the McMahon-Hussain Correspondence. As soon as the war ended, Hussein wanted the British to fulfill their war-time promises. The latter, however, wanted Sharif to accept the division of the Arab world between the British and the French (Sykes-Picot agreement) and the implementation of the Balfour Declaration, which guaranteed “a national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine through a process of colonization done by European Jews. These demands were laid out in the Anglo-Hijaz Treaty – written by the British – which Hussein refused to sign. In 1924, the British unleashed Ibn Saud against Hussein. Lord Curzon hailed this as the “final kick” against Hussein.

Meanwhile, the Ikhwan grew increasingly angry about Abdul Aziz’s accommodation with the imperial powers that financed him. They disliked his lavish lifestyle, his family’s relations with the West, the relative lenience toward Shia (while they were being savagely repressed, they weren’t being forcibly converted, deported, or executed at a desired rate), and the introduction of new technologies (the telegraph, for example, was viewed as being of satanic origin). Consequently, the Ikhwan began to openly rebel in 1927, shortly after Abdul Aziz signed another treaty with the British which recognized his “complete and absolute” rule of the twin kingdoms of Hijaz and of Najd and their dependencies. The Ikhwani insurgents, after conquering the various regions of Arabia, began to attack the British and French protectorates of Transjordan, Syria and Iraq in order to subject them to Wahhabi doctrines. They came into direct conflict with imperialist interests in the Middle East. After some three years of fighting, Abdul Aziz – with military assistance from the British Empire – defeated the rebellion and executed the leaders.  Then, in 1932, he confirmed his conquests by crowning himself as king of a new state, named after himself and his family: Saudi Arabia. The suppression of the Ikhwan revolt did not in any way signify the weakening of Wahhabi fundamentalism. Threatened by Islamic radicalism, the royal family co-opted the Ikhwan movement by incorporating its local leaders into the Saudi state apparatuses. This laid the foundations for the backward ideology of the state: unity of religion and loyalty to one family, making Saudi Arabia the only state in the world that was titled as the property of a single dynasty.

Cozying Up to USA

In 1933, Abdul Aziz had to face a severe financial crisis because his main source of income, taxation of the hajj (Muslim pilgrimage), had been undermined by the world slump; for £50,000 in gold he gave an oil concession to Standard Oil of California (SOCAL). The deal between Abdul Aziz and SOCAL provided crucial funds for the fledging king to consolidate his precarious rule; indeed, at the time, his rule was so tenuous that Britain had more control over the House of Saud than the House of Saud had over their own recently conquered dependencies.  SOCAL gave Abdul Aziz a $28 million dollar loan, and paid an annual payment of $2.8 million in exchange for oil exploration rights throughout the 1930s. SOCAL later merged with three other US firms (Esso, Texaco, Mobil) to form the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO). This began exploration in eastern Arabia and in 1938 production of Saudi Arabian oil commenced. The developing political economy of Saudi Arabia quickly became linked to ARAMCO and its American backers, as the company built labor camps, corporate towns, roads, railways, ports, and other infrastructure necessary for the production and export of oil. These infrastructural projects tapped into subsidies from the US government that ran into the tens of millions of dollars.

During the Second World War, the role of Saudi Arabia as a reliable partner of a nascent American empire was strengthened. In 1943, Washington decided that “the defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States” and lend-lease aid was provided: a US military mission arrived to train Abdul Aziz’s army and the United States Air Force (USAF) began construction of an airfield at Dhahran, near the oil wells, which was to give the US a position independent of the British bases at Cairo and Abadan; this base became the largest US air position between Germany and Japan, and the one nearest Soviet industrial plants. Washington managed to retain the base only until 1962, when anti-imperialist resistance forced the Saudi monarchy to ask the Americans to leave. Not until three decades later, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, were the Americans provided with an opportunity to reoccupy the base.

The relationship between the US and Saudi Kingdom was famously sealed in a 1945 meeting on the Suez Canal between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Abdul-Aziz. The two leaders agreed that the kingdom would supply the US with oil, and the US government would provide the kingdom with security and military assistance. Over the years, US presidents reiterated their commitments to Saudi Arabia’s security. The 1947 Truman Doctrine, which stated that the United States would send military aid to countries threatened by Soviet communism, was used to strengthen US – Saudi military ties. In 1950, President Harry S. Truman told Abdul-Aziz, “No threat to your Kingdom could occur which would not be a matter of immediate concern to the United States”. This assurance was repeated in the 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine. The 1969 Nixon Doctrine included aid to three strategic American allies in the region – Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. After the US-supported ruler in Iran was overthrown and the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, President Jimmy Carter issued his Doctrine as a direct threat to the Soviets, essentially asserting USA’s monopoly over Middle East’s oil. Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, extended this policy in October 1981 with the “Reagan Corollary to the Carter Doctrine”, which proclaimed that the USA would intervene to protect the Saudi rulers. While the Carter Doctrine focused on threats posted by external forces, the Reagan Corollary promised to secure the kingdom’s internal stability.

Spreading Counter-revolution

The 1960s and 1970s saw the emergence of Saudi petro-nationalism, based upon the rapidly expanding oil industry and the growth of transnational energy corporations. The petrol bonanza – driven by the western economies’ steady consumption of oil – not only filled the coffers of the Saudi state, but also provided the Saudi state the ability to spread Wahhabi ideology not as a minor creed of militant jihad, but as a cultural export to influence the direction of Islam. Oil wealth enabled the Saudi royal family to counter the rival interpretations and denominations of the Islamic world, and spread its influence over the Ummah (the community of the faithful). In other words, the Saudi ruling elite attempted to project itself as the ultimate definer and protector of the Ummah. The export of Wahhabism to other countries was a part of the post-World War II US-Saudi strategy, wherein the two countries were allies in their opposition to Soviet “godless communism,” with USA focused on communism while the Saudis were more concerned about the “godless” side of the equation. Wahhabism also served as a counter-revolutionary instrument against Nasserism, Ba’athism, and the Shia radicalism of the Iranian revolution. Saudi Arabia started an organisation called the World Muslim League in 1962 to “combat the serious plots by which the enemies of Islam are trying to draw Muslims away from their religion and to destroy their unity and brotherhood.” The main targets were republicanism (Nasserite influence) and communism. The objective was to push the idea that these anti-monarchical ideologies were shu’ubi (anti-Arab). Saudi Arabia was also a central member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), created in 1969 as a counter-balance to the socialist-oriented Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Apart from this geo-political function, OIC was used by Saudi Arabia to undermine its regional adversary, namely Nasserite Egypt.

The Iranian Revolution of 1979 brought shudders into the palaces of the Saudi royal family, and into the US higher establishment. The overthrow of the monarchy of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi announced the creation of an Islamic form of republicanism. Iranian Islamic leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said that Islam and hereditary monarchies were incompatible and he characterized Saudi Arabia as a US agent in the Persian Gulf. Saudi rulers felt threatened. They denounced Iran’s revolution as an upheaval of heretical Shiites, but to no avail as Islamic republicanism swept the region, from Pakistan to Morocco. Ultimately, the Saudis and the West egged on Saddam Hussein to send in the Iraqi army against Iran in 1980; that war went on till 1988, with both Iran and Iraq bled for the sake of Riyadh and Washington. Iraq, weakened by the lengthy war, turned against its Gulf Arab benefactors for insufficient support and invaded Kuwait in 1990, threatening Saudi Arabia as well. The US entered the picture with its full spectrum warfare – bombing Iraq to smithereens and providing Saudi Arabia with the confirmation that the US military would protect it till the end of time.

Once the history of Saudi Arabia is understood, it can be easily concluded that the monarchs of the kingdom willingly entered into a relationship of geo-political servitude to the West. The kingdom would have had marginal or limited importance in the world if it was not supported wholeheartedly by the British and American empires. Thanks to the significant backing it received by them, Saudi Arabia became an international political player. With the help of their enormous oil wealth, the decadent kings and princes of Saudi Arabia have been perpetrating massacres and wars in various countries, such as the bombing of Yemen, the indirect attacks in Syria and Libya. All this has been allowed to happen by the West, which provides both tacit and explicit support to the House of Saud in its myriad crimes. As Che Guevara said, “The bestiality of imperialism…knows no limits…has no national boundaries”.

The post The Imperialist Origins of Saudi Arabia first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Reimagining US Foreign Policy

Since the end of WWII, especially since the breakup of the Soviet Union, it appears as if US political leaders feel they are trapped in a time warp and are unable to break free. They seem to believe that they must repeat the same disastrous foreign policy of regime change over and over. Since 9/11, the US has attacked or supported attacks against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen. The attacks, especially the horrendous US-led war crime against Iraq, have destabilized and created havoc in the Middle East, devastated these nations and caused death and appalling suffering for the people.

In addition, the US has troops in about 800 locations worldwide, further threatening international stability. In particular, US forces surround much of Russia, China and Iran, needlessly heightening the risk of war. Moreover, illegal US sanctions, an economic form of warfare, continue to cause immense suffering for, among others, the people of Venezuela, Syria, North Korea, Cuba and Iran.

Now US political leaders are greatly concerned about China challenging US primacy or hegemony in East Asia. Wait a darned minute – why must the US be the hegemonic power in East Asia? Or in Europe, Africa or anywhere else? Why isn’t it sufficient for the US to become a member in good standing in the community of nations instead of trying to control the world?

US leaders and its corporate media proclaim that the US is the exceptional nation and that this exceptionalism conveys upon it a special responsibility to prevent chaos from happening. Talk about your chutzpah! Are these leaders blind to the chaos the US has already caused throughout the world?

Besides its two horrific original sins – the sin of genocide against the American Indians and the sin of slavery, I would agree that the US is exceptional in at least two ways. The first is that it denies its residents many of the human rights spelled out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; e.g., the right of health care, that many other economically advanced nations provide. The US is also exceptional in that it has been at war throughout most of its existence. Shamefully, most often, these were wars of aggression, stealing the land and/or resources of other peoples to benefit US businesses.

US Marine Corps legend Major General Smedley Butler captured it very well when he wrote:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. …

Although President Biden has announced that the US is back and ready to lead, does the world want a self-righteous US to lead? Certainly US history as well as its record of causing, not preventing, chaos undercut any idea of US moral authority. Moreover, the numerous US violations of international laws, its failure to ratify treaties that, among other things, ban land mines and cluster bombs and safeguard the rights of women and of children, and its failure to join the International Criminal Court, hardly recommend it for a position of leadership.

Instead of attempting to lead, the US should join with Russia, China and other nations in working through the United Nations to bring about world peace and to lessen the impact of other global problems such as the current pandemic, the threat of nuclear war, and climate chaos. Even President Eisenhower, hardly a peacenik, recommended as much when, among other things, he stated that: “No nation’s security and well-being can be lastingly achieved in isolation but only in effective cooperation with fellow-nations.”

If the US were to focus on cooperation instead of coercion, that is, focus on defense, US weapons spending could be cut dramatically, yielding three key positive benefits. Firstly, this cut would allow more funding for domestic jobs such as restoring the physical and social infrastructure and combating climate chaos. Many more constructive jobs would thus be gained than lost by cutting the spending on unnecessary weapons. Secondly, this new focus would allow the US military, the world’s largest user of fossil fuels, to reduce this use. This huge reduction would be an important step in the campaign to ameliorate the impact of climate chaos. Thirdly, this cut in weapons funding would greatly reduce the threat of nuclear war.

What are we waiting for?

The post Reimagining US Foreign Policy first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Will Biden End America’s Global War on Children?

The first day of the 2020 school year in Tiaz, Yemen (Ahmad Al-Basha/AFP)

Most people regard Trump’s treatment of immigrant children as among his most shocking crimes as president. Images of hundreds of children stolen from their families and imprisoned in chain-link cages are an unforgettable disgrace that President Biden must move quickly to remedy with humane immigration policies and a program to quickly find the children’s families and reunite them, wherever they may be.

A less publicized Trump policy that actually killed children was the fulfillment of his campaign promises to “bomb the shit out of” America’s enemies and “take out their families.” Trump escalated Obama’s bombing campaigns against the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and loosened U.S. rules of engagement regarding airstrikes that were predictably going to kill civilians.

After devastating U.S. bombardments that killed tens of thousands of civilians and left major cities in ruins, the United States’ Iraqi allies fulfilled the most shocking of Trump’s threats and massacred the survivors – men, women and children – in Mosul.

But the killing of civilians in America’s post-9/11 wars did not begin with Trump. And it will not end, or even diminish, under Biden, unless the public demands that America’s systematic slaughter of children and other civilians must end.

The Stop the War on Children campaign, run by the British charity Save the Children, publishes graphic reports on the harms that the United States and other warring parties inflict on children around the world.

Its 2020 report, Killed and Maimed: a generation of violations against children in conflict, reported 250,000 UN-documented human rights violations against children in war zones since 2005, including over 100,000 incidents in which children were killed or maimed. It found that a staggering 426,000,000 children now live in conflict zones, the second highest number ever, and that, “…the trends over recent years are of increasing violations, increasing numbers of children affected by conflict and increasingly protracted crises.”

Many of the injuries to children come from explosive weapons such as bombs, missiles, grenades, mortars and IEDs. In 2019, another Stop the War on Children study, on explosive blast injuries, found that these weapons that are designed to inflict maximum damage on military targets are especially destructive to the small bodies of children, and inflict more devastating injuries on children than on adults. Among pediatric blast patients, 80% suffer penetrating head injuries, compared with only 31% of adult blast patients, and wounded children are 10 times more likely to suffer traumatic brain injuries than adults.

In the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, US. and allied forces are armed with highly destructive explosive weapons and rely heavily on airstrikes, with the result that blast injuries account for nearly three-quarters of injuries to children, double the proportion found in other wars. The U.S. reliance on airstrikes also leads to widespread destruction of homes and civilian infrastructure, leaving children more exposed to all the humanitarian impacts of war, from hunger and starvation to otherwise preventable or curable diseases.

The immediate solution to this international crisis is for the United States to end its current wars and stop selling weapons to allies who wage war on their neighbors or kill civilians. Withdrawing U.S occupation forces and ending U.S. airstrikes will allow the UN and the rest of the world to mobilize legitimate, impartial support programs to help America’s victims rebuild their lives and their societies. President Biden should offer generous U.S. war reparations to finance these programs, including the rebuilding of Mosul, Raqqa and other cities destroyed by American bombardment.

To prevent new U.S. wars, the Biden administration should commit to participate and comply with the rules of international law, which are supposed to be binding on all countries, even the most wealthy and powerful.

While paying lip service to the rule of law and a “rules-based international order”, the United States has in practice been recognizing only the law of the jungle and “might makes right,” as if the UN Charter’s prohibition against the threat or use of force did not exist and the protected status of civilians under the Geneva Conventions was subject to the discretion of unaccountable U.S. government lawyers. This murderous charade must end.

Despite U.S. non-participation and disdain, the rest of the world has continued to develop effective treaties to strengthen the rules of international law. For instance, treaties to ban land-mines and cluster munitions have successfully ended their use by the countries that have ratified them.

Banning land mines has saved tens of thousands of children’s lives, and no country that is a party to the cluster munitions treaty has used them since its adoption in 2008, reducing the number of unexploded bomblets lying in wait to kill and maim unsuspecting children. The Biden administration should sign, ratify and comply with these treaties, along with more than forty other multilateral treaties the U.S. has failed to ratify.

Americans should also support the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW), which is calling for a UN declaration to outlaw the use of heavy explosive weapons in urban areas, where 90% of casualties are civilians and many are children. As Save the Children’s Blast Injuries report says:

Explosive weapons, including aircraft bombs, rockets and artillery, were designed for use in open battlefields, and are completely inappropriate for use in towns and cities and among the civilian population.

A global initiative with tremendous grassroots support and potential to save the world from mass extinction is the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which just came into force on January 22 after Honduras became the 50th nation to ratify it. The growing international consensus that these suicide weapons must simply be abolished and prohibited will put pressure on the U.S. and other nuclear weapons states at the August 2021 Review Conference of the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty).

Since the United States and Russia still possess 90% of the nuclear weapons in the world, the main onus for their elimination lies on Presidents Biden and Putin. The five-year extension to the New START Treaty that Biden and Putin have agreed on is welcome news. The United States and Russia should use the treaty extension and the NPT Review as catalysts for further reductions in their stockpiles and real diplomacy to explicitly move forward on abolition.

The United States does not just wage war on children with bombs, missiles and bullets. It also wages economic war in ways that disproportionately affect children, preventing countries like Iran, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea from importing essential food and medicines or obtaining the resources they need to buy them.

These sanctions are a brutal form of economic warfare and collective punishment that leave children dying from hunger and preventable diseases, especially during this pandemic. UN officials have called for the International Criminal Court to investigate unilateral U.S. sanctions as crimes against humanity. The Biden administration should immediately lift all unilateral economic sanctions.

Will President Joe Biden act to protect the children of the world from America’s most tragic and indefensible war crimes? Nothing in his long record in public life suggests that he will, unless the American public and the rest of the world act collectively and effectively to insist that America must end its war on children and finally become a responsible, law-abiding member of the human family.

The post Will Biden End America’s Global War on Children? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Yemen Civil War Arms Bonanza

“Making billions from arms exports which fuel the conflict while providing a small fraction of that in aid to Yemen is both immoral and incoherent.”  So thundered Oxfam’s Yemen Country Director, Muhsin Siddiquey after consulting figures from the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) showing that members of the G20 have exported over $17 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia since the Kingdom entered the conflict in Yemen.  “The world’s wealthiest nations cannot continue to put profits above the Yemeni people.”

They do, and will continue to do so, despite the cholera outbreak, coronavirus, poorly functioning hospitals, and 10 million hungry mouths.  The latest illustration of this is the Trump administration’s hurried $23 billon sale of 50 F-35 fighter aircraft, 18 MQ-9B Reaper drones, air-to-air missiles and various other munitions to the United Arab Emirates.  The UAE used to be a more enthusiastic member of the Saudi Arabian-led coalition that has been pounding Yemen since 2015.  Despite completing a phased military withdrawal from the conflict in February 2020 to much fanfare, Abu Dhabi remains involved in the coalition and an influential agent.  Amnesty International has issued a grim warning that such weapons might well be used in “attacks that violate international humanitarian law and kill, as well as injure, thousands of Yemeni civilians.”

With the imminent change of administration in the United States, there is a moral flutter in Congressional ranks, though much of it remains meek and slanted.  Democratic Senators Bob Menendez (NJ) and Chris Murphy (Conn.), along with Republican Senator Rand Paul (Ky) intend introducing separate resolutions disapproving of President Donald Trump’s sale. Menendez felt morally mighty in warning the Trump administration that “circumventing deliberative processes for considering a massive infusion of weapons to a country in a volatile region with multiple ongoing conflicts is downright irresponsible.”

Murphy expressed his support for “the normalization of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but nothing in that agreement requires us to flood the region with more weapons and facilitate a dangerous arms race.”

The US President-elect, Joe Biden, has thrown a few titbits of promise to critics of the US-Gulf States circle of love and armaments.  During the Atlanta Democratic debate held in November last year, he entertained a departure from a policy embraced during the Obama administration, certainly with regards to Saudi Arabia.  “I would make it very clear that we were not going to in fact sell more weapons to them.”  A Biden administration would “make them pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are.”  Specifically on the Yemen conflict, he promised to “end the sale of material to the Saudis where they’re going in and murdering children.”  Fighting words, easily said when a candidate.

This view was reiterated to the Council on Foreign Relations in August this year.  “I would end US support for the disastrous Saudi-led war in Yemen and order a reassessment of our relationship with Saudi Arabia.”  The Trump administration had issued the kingdom “a dangerous blank check. Saudi Arabia has used it to extend a war in Yemen that has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, pursue reckless foreign policy fights, and repress its own people.”

Progressive groups have picked up a scent they find promising.  Policy director for Win Without War, Kate Kizer, expressed hope “that [Biden] starts by immediately undoing as many of the just-notified sales to the UAE as possible, and by putting the brakes on transfers that Congress has previously tried to reject under Trump.”

The moral wash on this is, however, thin.  Menendez, for instance, is hardly giddy about the fate of Yemeni civilians in the context of such arms sales, citing “a number of outstanding concerns as to how these sales would impact the national security interests of both the United States and of Israel.”  Priorities, priorities.

Biden’s top foreign policy advisor, Tony Blinken, seems less concerned about who will be the target of the weapons in the UAE sale than any upset caused to that most unimpeachable of allies, Israel.  Sales of the F-35, for instance, were intended as a US-Israeli preserve.  Selling it to other powers in the Middle East might well compromise the “qualitative military edge” doctrine Washington adopts towards the Jewish state.  “The Obama-Biden administration made those planes available to Israel and only Israel in the region,” explained Blinken in an interview with the Times of Israel.  The new administration would have to “take a hard look” at the F-35 sale.  Was it, he wondered, a quid pro quo for the normalisation deal between Israel and the UAE?

Mammoth arms sales continue to remain matters of business and politics, with business tending to be the crowing representative.  Halting or curbing arms sales is only ever trendy and never permanent.  Oxfam reminds us of that blood-soaked truth.  “When arms exports by G20 nations to other members of this [Arab] coalition are included, the figure of $17 billion rises to at least $31.4 billion between 2015 and 2019, the last year for which records are available.”

The post The Yemen Civil War Arms Bonanza first appeared on Dissident Voice.

European Hypocrisy: Empty Words for Palestine, Deadly Weapons for Israel

In theory, Europe and the United States stand on completely opposite sides when it comes to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. While the US government has fully embraced the tragic status quo created by 53 years of Israeli military occupation, the EU continues to advocate a negotiated settlement that is predicated on respect for international law.

In practice, however, despite the seeming rift between Washington and Brussels, the outcome is, essentially, the same. The US and Europe are Israel’s largest trade partners, weapon suppliers and political advocates.

One of the reasons that the illusion of an even-handed Europe has been maintained for so long lies partly in the Palestinian leadership itself. Politically and financially abandoned by Washington, the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas has turned to the European Union as its only possible saviour.

“Europe believes in the two-state solution,” PA Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said during a video discussion with the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs on October 12. Unlike the US, Europe’s continued advocacy of the defunct two-state solution qualifies it to fill the massive gap created by Washington’s absence.

Shtayyeh called on EU leaders to “recognize the State of Palestine in order for us, and you, to break the status quo.”

However, there are already 139 countries that recognize the State of Palestine. While that recognition is a clear indication that the world remains firmly pro-Palestinian, recognizing Palestine as a State changes little on the ground. What is needed are concerted efforts to hold Israel accountable for its violent occupation as well as real action to support the struggle of Palestinians.

Not only has the EU failed at this, it is, in fact, doing the exact opposite: funding Israel, arming its military and silencing its critics.

Listening to Shtayyeh’s words, one gets the impression that the top Palestinian official is addressing a conference of Arab, Muslim or socialist countries. “I call upon your Parliament and your distinguished Members of this Parliament, that Europe not wait for the American President to come up with ideas … We need a third party who can really remedy the imbalance in the relationship between an occupied people and an occupier country, that is Israel,” he said.

But is the EU qualified to be that ‘third party’?  No. For decades, European governments have been an integral part of the US-Israel party. Just because the Donald Trump administration has, recently, taken a sharp turn in favour of Israel should not automatically transform Europe’s historical pro-Israel bias to be mistaken for pro-Palestinian solidarity.

Last June, more than 1,000 European parliamentarians representing various political parties issued a statement expressing “serious concerns” about Trump’s so-called Deal of the Century and opposing Israeli annexation of nearly a third of the West Bank. However, the pro-Israel US Democratic Party, including some traditionally staunch supporters of Israel, were equally critical of Israel’s plan because, in their minds, annexation means that a two-state solution would be made impossible.

While US Democrats made it clear that a Joe Biden administration would not reverse any of Trump’s actions should Biden be elected, European governments have also made it clear that they will not take a single action to dissuade — let alone punish — Israel for its repeated violations of international law.

Lip service is all that Palestinians have obtained from Europe, as well as much money, which was largely pocketed by loyalists of Abbas in the name of ‘State-building’ and other fantasies. Tellingly, much of the imaginary Palestinian State infrastructure that was subsidized by Europe in recent years has been blown up, demolished or construction ceased by the Israeli military during its various wars and raids. Yet, neither did the EU punish Israel, nor did the PA cease from asking for more money to continue funding a non-existent State.

Not only did the EU fail to hold Israel accountable for its ongoing occupation and human rights violations, it is practically financing Israel, as well. According to Defence News, a quarter of all of Israel’s military export contracts (totaling $7.2 billion in 2019 alone) is allocated to European countries.

Moreover, Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner, absorbing one-third of Israel’s total exports and shipping to Israel nearly 40% of its total import. These numbers also include products made in illegal Jewish settlements.

Additionally, the EU labours to incorporate Israel into the European way of life through cultural and music contests, sports competitions and in a myriad other ways. While the EU possesses powerful tools that can be used to exact political concessions and enforce respect for international law, it opts to simply do very little.

Compare this with the recent ultimatum the EU has given the Palestinian leadership, linking EU aid to the PA’s financial ties with Israel. Last May, Abbas took the extraordinary step of considering all agreements with Israel and the US to be null and void. Effectively, this means that the PA would no longer be accountable for the stifling status quo that was created by the Oslo Accords, which was repeatedly violated by Tel Aviv and Washington. Severing ties with Israel also meant that the PA would refuse to accept nearly $150 million in tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the PA. This Palestinian step, while long overdue, was necessary.

Instead of supporting Abbas’ move, the EU criticized it, refusing to provide additional aid for Palestinians until Abbas restores ties with Israel and accepts the tax money. According to Axios news portal, Germany, France, the UK and even Norway are leading the charge.

Germany, in particular, has been relentless in its support for Israel. For months, it has advocated on behalf of Israel to spare Tel Aviv a war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). It has placed activists, who advocate the boycott of Israel, on trial. Recently, it has confirmed the shipment of missile boats and other military hardware to ensure the superiority of the Israeli navy in a potential war against Arab enemies. Germany is not alone. Israel and most European countries are closing ranks in terms of their unprecedented military cooperation and trade ties, including natural gas deals.

Continuing to make references to the unachievable two-state solution, while arming, funding and doing more business with Israel is the very definition of hypocrisy. The truth is that Europe should be held as accountable as the US in emboldening and sustaining the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Yet, while Washington is openly pro-Israel, the EU has played a more clever game: selling Palestinians empty words while selling Israel lethal weapons.

The post European Hypocrisy: Empty Words for Palestine, Deadly Weapons for Israel first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Two Years After Khashoggi’s Murder, Why is America Still an Accomplice to MBS’s Crimes?

Trump holds a chart of weapon sales as he welcomes Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office,  March 20, 2018. (Photo: Reuters)

Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered on October 2, 2018 by agents of Saudi Arabia’s despotic government, and the CIA concluded they killed him on direct orders from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Eight Saudi men have been convicted of Khashoggi’s murder by a Saudi court in what the Washington Post characterized as sham trials with no transparency. The higher ups who ordered the murder, including MBS, continue to escape responsibility.

Khashoggi’s assassination and dismemberment was so horrific and cold-blooded that it sparked worldwide public outrage. President Trump, however, stood by MBS, bragging to journalist Bob Woodward that he saved the prince’s “ass” and got “Congress to leave him alone.”

MBS’s ascent to dictatorial power, soon after his elderly father King Salman became king in January 2015, was sold to the world as ushering in a new era of reform, but has in reality been characterized by violent, ruthless repression. The number of executions has doubled, from 423 executions between 2009 and 2014 to more than 800 since January 2015.

They include the mass execution of 37 people on April 23, 2019, mostly for taking part in peaceful Arab Spring protests in 2011-12. These protests took place in Shiite areas where people face systemic discrimination in the majority Sunni kingdom. At least three of those executed were minors when they were sentenced, and one was a student arrested at the airport on his way to attend Western Michigan University. Many of the victims’ families have said that they were convicted based on forced confessions extracted by torture, and two victims’ beheaded corpses were put on public display.

Under MBS, all dissent has been crushed. In the last two years, all of Saudi Arabia’s independent human rights defenders have been imprisoned, threatened into silence, or have fled the country. This includes women’s rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathoul, who opposed the ban on women drivers. Despite some openings for women under MBS, including the right to drive, Saudi women remain subject to discrimination in law and practice, with laws that ensure they are subordinate citizens to men, particularly in relation to family matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.

The Trump administration has never challenged Saudi Arabia’s internal repression, and worse yet, it has played a vital role in the brutal Saudi-led war on neighboring Yemen. After Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi failed to leave office at the end of his two-year term as the head of a transitional government, or to fulfill his mandate to draw up a new constitution and hold a new election, the Houthi rebel movement invaded the capital, Sana’a, in 2014, placed him under house arrest and demanded that he do his job.

Hadi instead resigned, fled to Saudi Arabia and conspired with MBS and the Saudis to launch a war to try to restore him to power. The United States has provided in-air refueling, intelligence and planning for Saudi and Emirati air strikes and has raked in over 100 billion dollars in arms sales. While U.S. support for the Saudi war began under President Obama, Trump has provided unconditional support as the horrors of this war have shocked the entire world.

According to the Yemen Data Project, at least 30% of US-supported airstrikes on Yemen have hit civilian targets, including hospitals, health clinics, schools, marketplaces, civilian infrastructure, and a particularly horrific airstrike on a school bus that killed 40 children and 11 adults.

After five years, this brutal war has succeeded only in wreaking mass devastation and chaos, with dozens of children dying every day from starvation, malnutrition and preventable diseases, all now compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Belated Congressional efforts to end U.S. support for the war, including the passage of a War Powers bill in March 2019 and a bill to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia in July 2019, have been vetoed when they reached President Trump’s desk.

The U.S. alliance with the Saudis certainly predates Trump, going back to the discovery of oil in the 1930s. While its traditional role as an oil supplier is no longer vital to the U.S. economy, Saudi Arabia has become one of the largest purchasers of U.S. weapons, a major investor in U.S. businesses and an ally against Iran. After the failed U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. began grooming Saudi Arabia to play a leading geopolitical and military role, alongside Israel, in a new U.S.-led alliance to counter the growing influence of Iran, Russia and China in the Middle East.

The war on Yemen was the first test of Saudi Arabia’s role as a leading U.S. military ally, and it exposed both the practical and moral bankruptcy of this policy, unleashing another endless war and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis in one of the poorest countries on Earth. MBS’s assassination of Jamal Khashoggi came at a critical moment in the unraveling of this doomed strategy, laying bare the sheer insanity of basing America’s Middle East policy for the 21st century on an alliance with a neo-feudal monarchy sustained by murder and repression.

President Obama tried to change tack towards the end of his administration, putting a hold on the sale of munitions to Saudi Arabia and signing a nuclear deal with Iran. Trump reversed both these policies, and continued to treat Saudi Arabia as a critical ally, even as the world recoiled in horror at Khashoggi’s assassination.

While Saudi abuses have not diminished the Trump administration’s unconditional support, they have ignited global opposition. In an exciting new development, exiled Saudi activists have formed a political party, the National Assembly Party or NAAS, calling for democracy and respect for human rights in the kingdom. In its inaugural statement, the party laid out a vision for Saudi Arabia in which all citizens are equal under the law and a fully elected parliament has legislative and oversight powers over the state’s executive institutions. The founding document was signed by several prominent Saudi activists in exile, including London-based professor Madawi al-Rasheed; Abdullah Alaoudh, a Saudi academic who is also the son of jailed Islamic scholar Salman al-Awda; and Shia activist Ahmed al-Mshikhs.

Another new initiative, timed for the second anniversary of Khashoggi’s murder, is the launch of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), an organization conceived by Jamal Khashoggi several months before his murder. DAWN will promote democracy and support political exiles across the Middle East, in keeping with the vision of its martyred founder.

Progressive groups in the United States continue to oppose U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s Yemen war and to push USAID to restore direct humanitarian aid that has been slashed to Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen in 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. European activists have launched successful campaigns to stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in several countries.

These past two years have also seen activists organizing boycotts of Saudi events. Pre-COVID, when the kingdom opened up to musical extravaganzas, groups such as CODEPINK and Human Rights Foundation pressured entertainers like Nicki Minaj to cancel appearances. Minaj put out a statement saying, “It is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression.” Meghan MacLaren, the U.K.’s top woman golfer, withdrew from a lucrative new golf tournament in Saudi Arabia, citing reports by Amnesty International and saying she cannot take part in “sportwashing” Saudi human rights abuses.

A new group called Freedom Forward, which seeks to sever the US-Saudi alliance, has focused on the upcoming G20 in Riyadh, which is taking place virtually in November, urging invitees to refuse to participate. The campaign has successfully lobbied the mayors of several major cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, Paris and London, to boycott the event, along with notables invited to side events for women and global thinkers.

As we mark two years since Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, we may also soon be marking the end of the Trump administration. While it is hard to take Vice President Biden on his word that he would not sell more weapons to the Saudis and would make them “pay the price” for killing Khashoggi, it is good to hear a presidential candidate admit that there is “very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia” and call it a “pariah state.” Perhaps with enough pressure from below, a new administration could start the process of disentangling the U.S. from the deadly embrace of the Saudi dictatorship.

But as long as U.S. leaders continue to coddle the Saudis, it’s difficult not to ask who is more evil—the maniacal Saudi crown prince responsible for Khashoggi’s murder and the slaughter of more than a hundred thousand Yemenis, or the mendacious Western governments and business people who continue to support and profit from his crimes?

The post Two Years After Khashoggi’s Murder, Why is America Still an Accomplice to MBS's Crimes? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Reversal

Another Mother for Peace (Poster Credit: Lorraine Schneider, 1966)

With survival at stake, can weapon makers change course?

Today, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic attack on Hiroshima, should be a day for quiet introspection. I recall a summer morning following the U.S. 2003 “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq when the segment of the Chicago River flowing past the headquarters of the world’s second largest defense contractor, Boeing, turned the rich, red color of blood.  At the water’s edge, Chicago activists, long accustomed to the river being dyed green on St. Patrick’s Day turned the river red to symbolize the bloodshed caused by Boeing products. On the bridge outside of Boeing’s entrance, activists held placards urging Boeing to stop making weapons.

This summer, orders for Boeing’s commercial jets have cratered during the pandemic, but the company’s revenue from weapon-making contracts remains steady. David Calhoun, Boeing’s CEO, recently expressed confidence the U.S. government will support defense industries no matter who occupies the Oval Office. Both presidential candidates appear “globally oriented,” he said, “and interested in the defense of our country.”

Investors should ask how Boeing’s contract to deliver 1,000 SLAM- ER weapons (Standoff Land Attack Missiles-Expanded Response) to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “defends” the United States.

Here are excerpts from Jeffrey Stern’s account of a missile’s impact on the town of Arhab in a remote area of Yemen. In this case, the missile was manufactured by Raytheon:

Now, as Fahd walked into the hut, a weapon about the length of a compact car was wobbling gracelessly down through the air toward him, losing altitude and unspooling an arming wire that connected it to the jet until, once it had extended a few feet, the wire ran out and ripped from the bomb.

Then it was as if the weapon woke up. A thermal battery was activated. Three fins on the rear extended all the way and locked in place. The bomb stabilized in the air. A guidance-control unit on the nose locked onto a laser reflection — invisible to the naked eye but meaningful to the bomb — sparkling on the rocks Fahd walked over.

At the well, at the moment of impact, a series of events happened almost instantaneously. The nose of the weapon hit rock, tripping a fuse in its tail section that detonated the equivalent of 200 pounds of TNT. When a bomb like this explodes, the shell fractures into several thousand pieces, becoming a jigsaw puzzle of steel shards flying through the air at up to eight times the speed of sound. Steel moving that fast doesn’t just kill people; it rearranges them. It removes appendages from torsos; it disassembles bodies and redistributes their parts.

Fahd had just stepped into the stone shelter and registered only a sudden brightness. He heard nothing. He was picked up, pierced with shrapnel, spun around and then slammed into the back wall, both of his arms shattering — the explosion so forceful that it excised seconds from his memory. Metal had bit into leg, trunk, jaw, eye; one piece entered his back and exited his chest, leaving a hole that air and liquid began to fill, collapsing his lungs. By the time he woke up, crumpled against stone, he was suffocating. Somehow he had survived, but he was killing himself with every breath, and he was bleeding badly. But he wasn’t even aware of any of these things, because his brain had been taken over by pain that seemed to come from another world.

In 2019, the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen observed “the continued supply of weapons to parties involved in Yemen perpetuates the conflict and the suffering of the population.”

These experts say “the conduct of hostilities by the parties to the conflict, including by airstrikes and shelling, may amount to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”

A year and a half ago, were it not for a presidential veto, both houses of the U.S. Congress would have enacted a law banning weapons sales to Saudi Arabia.

Another end-user of Boeing’s weapons is the Israeli Defense Force.

The company has provided Israel with AH-64 Apache helicopters, F-15 fighter jetsHellfire missiles (produced with Lockheed Martin), MK-84 2000-lb bombs, MK-82 500-lb bombs, and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits that turn bombs into “smart” GPS-equipped guided bombs. Boeing’s Harpoon sea-to-sea missile system is installed on the upgraded 4.5 Sa’ar missile ships of the Israeli Navy.

Apache helicopters, Hellfire and Harpoon missiles, JDAM guiding systems, and Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) munitions have been used repeatedly in Israeli attacks on densely populated civilian areas, resulting in thousands of civilian casualties in Lebanon, the West Bank, and Gaza. The human rights community, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, and United Nations commissions, ruled these attacks to be human rights violations and at times war crimes.

I lived with a family in Gaza during the final days of the 2009 “Operation Cast Lead” bombing. Abu Yusuf, Umm Yusuf, and their two small children, Yusuf and Shahid, welcomed Audrey Stewart and me to stay with them. Once every 11 minutes from 11 p.m. – 1:00 a.m. and again from 3:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m., we heard an ear-splitting blast. Normally, I wouldn’t have known the difference between the sound of a Hellfire Missile exploding and that of a 500 lb. bomb dropped from an F-15, but soon I could tell the difference. Little Yusuf and Shahid taught us to distinguish one gut-wrenching sound from the other. They had been cringing under the bombs for 18 days and nights.

I don’t see how the sale of weapons to governments which use them against civilian populations, against people like Fahad, in Arhab or Abu Yusuf and his family in Gaza, defends people in the U.S.

Boeing’s vast resources for scientific know-how, skillful engineering, and creative innovation could, however, help defend the U.S. against the greatest threat we  now face, environmental climate catastrophe. Writing for The New York Review of Books, Bill McKibben predicts “a century of crises, many of them more dangerous than what we’re living through right now.” The main question, he says, is whether human beings can hold the alarming rise in temperature “to a point where we can at great expense and suffering, deal with those crises coherently, or whether they will overwhelm the coping abilities of our civilization.”

“A rise of one degree doesn’t sound like an extraordinary change,” McKibben writes, “but it is: each second, the carbon and methane we’ve emitted trap heat equivalent to the explosion of three Hiroshima-sized bombs.”

Boeing’s engineers, scientists, designers and marketers could help turn the tide of human actions destroying our earth. Their expertise could truly “defend” people.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the river flowing outside of Boeing’s headquarters. It actually flows backwards. Long ago, brilliant engineers designed a way for the river to reverse its course. In doing so, they saved Chicago from sewage contamination of its drinking water supply – Lake Michigan. This action was hailed as one of the great engineering wonders of the world.

The City’s sewers discharged human and industrial wastes directly to its rivers, which in turn flowed into the lake. A particularly heavy rainstorm in 1885 caused sewage to be flushed into the lake beyond the clean water intakes. The resulting typhoid, cholera, and dysentery epidemics killed an estimated 12 percent of Chicago’s 750,000 residents, and raised a public outcry to find a permanent solution to the city’s water supply and sewage disposal crisis.”

The Sanitary and Ship Canal was constructed at an estimated cost of over $70,000,000. After its completion, in 1900, waterborne disease rates quickly and dramatically improved, and its water supply system was soon regarded as being one of the safest in the world. With its water source made safe and dependable by the canals, Chicago and the region grew and prospered rapidly.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to dye the Chicago River red or green. We need to protect the river and all wildlife dependent on it. But, we must continually confront Boeing and other weapon manufacturers, and insist they not destroy lives, homes and infrastructures in other lands. We must urge Boeing, like the river, to reverse course and participate, with dignity and humility, in the pursuit of human survival.

Yemen: A Torrent of Suffering in a Time of Siege

When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!”  When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable, the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.

— Bertolt Brecht, “When evil-doing comes like falling rain” [Wenn die Untat kommt, wie der Regen fällt] (1935), trans. John Willett in Poems, 1913-1956, p. 247

 In war-torn Yemen, the crimes pile up. Children who bear no responsibility for governance or warfare endure the punishment. In 2018, UNICEF said the war made Yemen a living hell for children. By the year’s end, Save the Children reported 85,000 children under age five had already died from starvation since the war escalated in 2015. By the end of 2020, it is expected that 23,500 children with severe acute malnutrition will be at immediate risk of death.

Cataclysmic conditions afflict Yemen as people try to cope with rampant diseases, the spread of COVID-19, flooding, literal swarms of locusts, rising displacement, destroyed infrastructure and a collapsed economy. Yet war rages, bombs continue to fall, and desperation fuels more crimes.

The highest-paying jobs available to many Yemeni men and boys require a willingness to kill and maim one another, by joining militias or armed groups which seemingly never run out of weapons. Nor does the Saudi-Led Coalition  which kills and maims civilians; instead, it deters relief shipments and destroys crucial infrastructure with weapons it imports from Western countries.

The aerial attacks displace traumatized survivors into swelling, often lethal, refugee camps. Amid the wreckage of factories, fisheries, roads, sewage and sanitation facilities, schools and hospitals, Yemenis search in vain for employment and, increasingly, for food and water. The Saudi-Led-Coalition’s blockade, also enabled by Western training and weapons, makes it impossible for Yemenis to restore a functioning economy.

Even foreign aid can become punitive. In March, 2020, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) decided to suspend most aid for Yemenis living in areas controlled by the Houthis.

Scott Paul, who leads Oxfam America’s humanitarian policy advocacy, strongly criticized this callous decision to compound the misery imposed on vulnerable people in Yemen. “In future years,” he wrote, “scholars will study USAID’s suspension as a paradigmatic example of a donor’s exploitation and misuse of humanitarian principles.”

As the evil-doing in Yemen comes “like falling rain,” so do the cries of “Stop!” from millions of people all over the world. Here’s some of what’s been happening:

  • U.S. legislators in both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted to block the sale of billions of dollars in weapons and maintenance to Saudi Arabia and its allies. But President Trump vetoed the bill in 2019.
  • Canada’s legislators declared a moratorium on weapon sales to the Saudis. But the Canadian government has resumed selling weapons to the Saudis, claiming the moratorium only pertained to the creation of new contracts, not existing ones.
  • The United Kingdom suspended military sales to Saudi Arabia because of human rights violations, but the UK’s international trade secretary nevertheless resumed weapon sales saying the 516 charges of Saudi human rights violations are all isolated incidents and don’t present a pattern of abuse.
  • French NGOs and human rights advocates urged their government to scale back on weapon sales to the Saudi-Led coalition, but reports on 2019 weapon sales revealed the French government sold 1.4 billion Euros worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
  • British campaigners opposing weapon transfers to the Saudi-Led Coalition have exposed how the British Navy gave the Saudi Navy training in tactics essential to the devastating Yemen blockade.
  • In Canada, Spain, France and Italy, laborers opposed to the ongoing war refused to load weapons onto ships sailing to Saudi Arabia. Rights groups track the passage of trains and ships carrying these weapons.

On top of all this, reports produced by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and the International Commission of the Red Cross repeatedly expose the Saudi-Led Coalition’s human rights violations.

Yet this international outcry clamoring for an end to the war is still being drowned out by the voices of military contractors with well-paid lobbyists plying powerful elites in Western governments. Their concern is simply for the profits to be reaped and the competitive sales to be scored.

In 2019 Lockheed Martin’s total sales reached nearly 60 billion dollars, the best year on record for the world’s largest “defense” contractor. Before stepping down as CEO, Marillyn Hewson predicted demand from the Pentagon and U.S. allies would generate an uptake between $6.2 billion and $6.4 billion in net earnings for the company in 2020 sales.

Hewson’s words, spoken calmly, drown out the cries of Yemeni children whose bodies were torn apart by just one of Lockheed Martin’s bombs.

In August of 2018, bombs manufactured by Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin fell on Yemen like summer rain. On August 9, 2018, a missile blasted a school bus in Yemen, killing forty children and injuring many others.

Photos showed badly injured children still carrying UNICEF blue backpacks, given to them that morning as gifts. Other photos showed surviving children helping prepare graves for their schoolmates. One  photo showed a piece of the bomb protruding from the wreckage with the number MK82 clearly stamped on it. That number on the shrapnel helped identify Lockheed Martin as the manufacturer.

The psychological damage being inflicted on these children is incalculable. “My son is really hurt from the inside,” said a parent whose child was severely wounded by the bombing. “We try to talk to him to feel better and we can’t stop ourselves from crying.”

The cries against war in Yemen also fall like rain and whatever thunder accompanies the rain is distant, summer thunder. Yet, if we cooperate with war-making elites, the most horrible storms will be unleashed. We must learn — and quickly — to make a torrent of our mingled cries and, as the prophet Amos demanded, ‘let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Some of the 40 blue backpacks worn in a protest in New York city against the war in Yemen. Each backpack was accompanied by a sign with the name and age of a child killed on a school bus in Dahyan, northern Yemen, on August 9, 2018, in a Saudi/UAE airstrike. (Photo: CODEPINK)

A version of this article first appeared in The Progressive Magazine.

Trudeau okays more arms sales to Saudi Arabia

As Canadians focus on the coronavirus pandemic the Trudeau government announced it was lifting its suspension of arms export permits to Saudi Arabia. It has also renegotiated the government’s $14 billion armoured vehicle deal with the belligerent, repressive, monarchy.

This is not surprising. The government set the stage for this decision when with its September review that found no evidence linking Canadian military exports to human rights violations committed by the Saudis. The Global Affairs review claimed there was no “credible” link between arms exports to the Saudis and human rights abuses even though the April 2016 memo to foreign minister Stéphane Dion originally approving the armoured vehicle export permits claimed they would assist Riyadh in “countering instability in Yemen.” The five year old Saudi led war against Yemen has left 100,000 dead. Throughout their time in office the Liberals have largely ignored Saudi violence in Yemen.

Despite a great deal of public attention devoted to a diplomatic spat after Riyadh withdrew its ambassador over an innocuous tweet from the Canadian Embassy in August 2018, the Liberals have sought to mend relations and continue business as usual. In December 2018 HMCS Regina assumed command of a 33-nation Combined Maritime Forces naval coalition patrolling the region from Saudi Arabia. Last September foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said, “Saudi Arabia is an important partner for Canada and we continue to work with Saudi Arabia on a number of different issues at a number of different levels.” For its part, the Canadian Embassy’s website continues to claim, “the Saudi government plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability.”

According to an access to information request by PhD researcher Anthony Fenton, Freeland phoned new Saudi foreign minister Ibrahim Abdulaziz Al-Assaf in January 2019. In briefing notes for the (unannounced) discussion Freeland was encouraged to tell her counterpart (under the headline “points to register” regarding Yemen): “Appreciate the hard work and heavy lifting by the Saudis and encourage ongoing efforts in this regard.”

After Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s (MBS) thugs killed and dismembered journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, Trudeau treaded carefully regarding the murder. Ten days after the Canadian Press reported, “the prime minister said only that Canada has ‘serious issues’ with reports the Washington Post columnist was killed by Saudi Arabian operatives inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey.” Six weeks later the Liberals sanctioned 17 Saudi nationals over the issue but none of them were in positions of significant authority.

Foreign minister Freeland looked the other way when Saudi student Mohammed Zuraibi Alzoabi fled Canada last year — presumably with help from the embassy — to avoid sexual assault charges in Cape Breton. While Freeland told reporters that Global Affairs was investigating the matter, Halifax Chronicle Herald journalist Aaron Beswick’s Access to Information request suggested they didn’t even bother contacting the Saudi embassy concerning the matter.

In April 2019 the Saudis beheaded 37 mostly minority Shiites. Ottawa waited 48 hours — after many other countries criticized the mass execution — to release a “muted” statement. The Trudeau government stayed mum on the Saudi’s effort to derail pro-democracy demonstrations in Sudan and Algeria in 2018/19 as well as Riyadh’s funding for Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar’s bid to seize Tripoli by force.

While they implemented a freeze on new export permit approvals, shipments of Canadian weaponry continued. The year 2018 set a record for Canadian rifle and armoured vehicle sales to the Saudis. Over $17 million in rifles were exported to the kingdom in 2018 and a similar amount in 2019. Canada exported $2 billion worth of “tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles” to the Saudis in 2019. In February Canada exported $155.5 million worth of “Tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles” to Saudi Arabia.

The Global Affairs review that claimed there was no “credible” link between Canadian weapons exports to the Saudis and human rights abuses noted there were 48 arms export permit applications awaiting government approval.

As Fenton has documented in detail, armoured vehicles made by Canadian company Streit Group in the UAE have repeatedly been videoed in Yemen. Equipment from three other Canadian armoured vehicle makers — Terradyne, IAG Guardian and General Dynamics — was found with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen. Fenton has shown many examples of the Saudi-led coalition using Canadian-made rifles as well.

The Trudeau government arming the monarchy’s military while saying little about its brutal war in Yemen should be understood for what it was: War profiteering and enabling of massive human rights abuses.