Radio Sputnik's By Any Means Necessary spoke with MacKenzie Hamilton, executive manager at STAND: The Student-led Movement to End Mass Atrocities, about violence reduction in Yemen and how the Khashoggi affair has coincided with the cracking of the edifice of the Saudis' image, which could lead to greater visibility for — and greater opposition to — the Saudi-led and US-supported war in Yemen.
Hamilton said it's important that people are talking about the Khashoggi case because "a lot of people are thinking about that in terms of how do we talk about global conflict in general and the Yemen arms sales issue that we've been working to bring to the fore in terms of US Congressional action. I think that a lot of people are looking at this as a moment where we can make that change," she said.
Hamilton told hosts Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon that "the way that we get at addressing these issues are through stories, really, are through thinking about the individual people whose lives are affected by violent conflict around the world," noting that one reason for the broader outrage about Khashoggi's murder as compared to the Saudi war in Yemen might be the lack of such stories about individual Yemenis in the media. But she said the Saudis are "doing the same thing to individual journalists as they are to civilians in Yemen, really."
Late last month, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) introduced a resolution invoking the 1973 War Powers Act, declaring that US President Donald Trump must cease backing the Saudi war against the Ansar Allah movement in Yemen, also called the Houthis, because Congress was never consulted and never signed off on the conflict. The Intercept notes that as a privileged resolution, the motion will most likely receive a vote on the House floor and not get clogged up in committee.
A similar bipartisan measure was introduced in March by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT), but it failed in a 55-45 vote after US Defense Secretary James Mattis wrote to Congressional leaders that the move "could increase civilian casualties, jeopardize cooperation with our partners on counterterrorism and reduce our influence on the Saudis — all of which would further exacerbate the situation and humanitarian crisis." Mattis also said the move would embolden Iran.
Hamilton noted that Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) submitted a bill Tuesday prohibiting military aid and sales to the Saudi government. "Under both Democratic and Republican Administrations, I've called for a serious review of our arms sales to the Saudi government," McGovern, who co-chairs the House's Human Rights Commission, said in a press release Tuesday. "With the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it's time for the United States to halt all weapons sales and military aid to Saudi Arabia. Our democratic values are on the line here — and we need to step up as a country and do the right thing."
While Hamilton anticipated that some of these measures might not pass before the new Congress that'll be voted into office on November 6 takes office on January 3, there's still time for Khanna's bill to get through by the end of the year.
Hamilton noted new bills in Congress aimed at "addressing global levels of violence," including the Elie Wiesel Genocide and Atrocities Prevention Act and the Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act, "looking to really change the way that the US looks at violence reduction around the world."
"There is a lot of global conflict going on," Hamilton said, noting that "Yemen seems to be one of the only issues that people are talking about. I think Honduras is another one, but it's only in relation to how does it affect the US. I think through the ‘arms sale' conversation, that's that tie back to the US, it's the US-UK-French arms manufacturers who are really selling these arms to Saudi Arabia, and if we can push this War Powers Resolution vote, it'll have much larger, wider implications for future arms sales issues. So while it is about this one issue in Yemen right now, it can have implications down the road in how we treat arms sales and human rights violations in the future."
"I think people aren't going to give up their power and wealth. You have to make them, and I think the fact that there's more investigative work being done on these arms manufacturers and how these weapons are being used is really important, and I think that people do care about it."
She noted the international uproar following the August bombing by the Royal Saudi Air Force of a Yemeni school bus that killed over 40 school children and injured dozens of others, especially once it was revealed the bomb was a GBU-12 Paveway II — a weapon built by US defense contractor Lockheed Martin and sold to the Saudis by the US.
Hamilton said that another way to rally opposition to war is to note its global economic cost. She noted a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) in 2015 that found that war costs the world $14 trillion a year, or 13.4 percent of the global GDP.
"There's also a lot of money, theoretically, to be made from peace-building," Hamilton noted. "I think if you can build peace, you're theoretically building markets, you're building stronger societies who can be better consumers, too."
"There has been a really big change in recent years in what's really driving humanitarian need. I think in the past it was a lot of natural disaster situations, but now it's actually violence and violent conflict that's the leading cause of displacement around the world. It's driving 80 percent of humanitarian need right now."
"We can really highlight Yemen on this, where, as you mentioned, 14 million people are in need of humanitarian aid — that's 75 percent of the population. There is absolutely no way that the UN World Food Program can actually fund the needs of that many people. We're hearing stories of women who are able to get healthcare for children under the age of two — only — and so they go in with their child, and they're able to get a kind of peanut butter nutrition bar; they cut that into six pieces for each of their children and go hungry themselves."
"This is a trend, it's growing, and it's very clear that we can't continue the way that we're going. We have to look at these preventative measures. And there's a lot that we know that works, in terms of prevention. We're just not putting it into action."
"So I think it's really looking at that very localized, rigorous historical analysis and giving funding accordingly. And the US can drive some of that funding through USAID [US Agency for International Development] and State Department measures. But having inter-governmental coordination on these issues — there's folks in [the US Defense Department, the US State Department], USAID, et cetera, who all work on these issues — they don't always have an integrated approach that works together on addressing these issues, and we need a lot of regional and on-the-ground coordination as well. And some of that is what this Global Fragility and Violence Reduction Act is seeking to influence and incorporate."