Since last March, Saudi Arabia has been fighting a truly appalling war in Yemen in order to prevent the country’s government from changing from a Sunni Islam regime to a Shi’ite Islam regime. Though Yemen’s conflict, like Syria’s, is often labeled as a civil war, foreign armies are largely involved in the fighting there. It is essentially a proxy war between Saudi Arabia (Sunni) and Iran (Shi’ite). In its numerous bombing campaigns in Yemen this past year, the Saudis have killed 10,000 people, the majority of them civilians, and have even used white phosphorus, a chemical weapon, in their attacks on civilians. They have also bombed a school full of children, several Doctors Without Borders hospitals filled with sick and injured people, a food factory, and, most recently, a water well.
Saudi Arabia defended its actions by saying that the Shi’ite faction is hiding military personnel in schools and hospitals. Saudi Arabia often carries out what are known as “double tap” bombings, meaning they pass over the same area twice in quick succession, often bombing in the second pass all of the people who rushed to help those bombed in the first. These are undeniably war crimes and the US is the country making it all possible.
Saudi Arabia bought $29.5 billion-worth of F-15 aircraft from the US in 2010, followed by $10 billion in US weapons in 2013. The bombs Saudi Arabia have used to kill civilians were sold to them by the US as was white phosphorus, the chemical weapon the Saudis have illegally used against innocent Yemenis. The US also provides “intelligence” to Saudi Arabia about the targets it hits, which includes the hospitals, schools, and critical infrastructure that have been leveled since the conflict began. The US military is also helping to resupply Saudi planes after their bombing “runs.”
Clearly, the US is complicit in its support of these atrocities of war. In spite of the fact that human rights organizations and the UN have all called for an investigation of Saudi war crimes in Yemen, the Senate just approved selling an additional $1.15 billion in new arms to Saudi Arabia. Why is the US so intent on supporting Saudi Arabia’s destructive proxy war in Yemen? It’s the same reason why they give $1.47 million in foreign aid annually to the oil-rich kingdom, why they tried to block the release of the classified “28 pages” that showed Saudi links to 9/11 hijackers, and why Obama then vetoed a bill to let 9/11 victims sue Saudi Arabia.
It’s called the petrodollar system, and it actually explains a lot about US foreign policy in the Middle East. After World War II, the 1944 Bretton Woods conference declared the US dollar to be the reserve currency of the world and, at that time, the US dollar was backed by gold. Dollars could be traded for a certain amount of gold ($35 per oz), creating what was known as the “international gold standard.” This arrangement didn’t last very long, however, because the US didn’t take its responsibility very seriously.
By 1971, the US government had spent all of the international gold reserves, mostly on the Vietnam War, and ended the gold standard. Richard Nixon, then US president, desperately needed a way to avoid a collapse of the dollar and the US economy. Within the next 2 years, Henry Kissinger, then US Secretary of State, struck a deal with Saudi Arabia where every barrel of oil sold by Saudi Arabia would be priced in dollars. Under this arrangement, any country wanting to buy oil from Saudi Arabia had to first convert their money into US dollars. In return for selling all of their oil in dollars, Saudi Arabia received weapons from the US and military protection. By 1975, all of the OPEC nations, which together hold 81% of the world’s oil reserves, had agreed to be part of the petrodollar system.
This system forces almost every country to buy and sell all oil in US dollars, creating an artificial international demand for US dollars. That means that the value of the dollar is largely artificial as it is not based on a commodity of real value, like gold. The petrodollar system is the reason the US dollar still has any value as a currency and is also the reason why the US dollar continues to be the world’s reserve currency. This is why the US invaded Iraq and Libya and why the US hates Iran (they sell their oil in Euros). Most importantly, it’s also the real reason that the US government lets Saudi Arabia commit egregious war crimes and why they will continue to let them do whatever they want.
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