by Sarah Lazare, In These Times
It took the apparent murder and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi for the violence of the Saudi monarchy to finally register with the US media and political elite. Since March 2015, the United States, Saudi Arabia and other allies have waged a war on Yemen that has killed tens of thousands of people, pushed the poorest country in the Middle East to the brink of famine and unleashed a devastating cholera outbreak. On behalf of its Saudi partner, the United States has shipped arms, refueled bomber jets, deployed troops and provided political cover — all without a congressional vote, serious political debate or meaningful media coverage.
Recently, the dogged work of activists and the war’s undeniable brutality have led to greater scrutiny from some in Congress. Also among the war’s new critics are former high-ranking Obama aides, including former UN Ambassador Samantha Power and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes, both of whom got in line behind the US-Saudi war on Yemen and defended the intervention. As US participation in Saudi war crimes becomes a P.R. liability for those who built their personal brands on the Obama administration’s supposed moral authority, former aides’ criticisms force us to grapple with what constitutes atonement for complicity in mass killing — and how to distinguish true accountability from a hollow exercise in image rehabilitation.
On September 2th6, Power tweeted her support for a bill introduced by Representative Ro Khanna (D-California) to invoke the War Powers Resolution and end US backing of the Saudi-led war. Noting the “horrific, pointless bloodshed,” she acknowledged “we in the Obama admin should have cut off aid.” On October 4th, Rhodes called the War Powers Resolution “a much-needed check on a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe in Yemen.” While any acknowledgement of wrongdoing, no matter how understated, is better than nothing, their half-hearted attempts demand a more thoughtful examination of what real public atonement — and justice — should look like when one admits to complicity in an unjust war of aggression.
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