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While the US and UK have called for a ceasefire in Yemen, Col. Larry Wilkerson says they are not truly committed to ending Saudi Arabia’s “total war” on Yemen. Trump and May are saving face after the Khashoggi killing, and the kingdom is still bombing civilian areas with American and British help

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BEN NORTON: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Ben Norton.

Yemen is suffering from the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the entire world, and the U.S. and British governments have played a key role in bringing it to this horrific state. According to the U.N. Children’s Fund, Yemen is “a living hell, not for 50 to 60 percent of children. It is a living hell for every single boy and girl.” UNICEF’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa made this shocking remark in a meeting earlier in November. After 43 months of war, however, the U.S. and the UK claim that they now want a ceasefire in this war. In late October, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Defense Secretary Jim Mattis joined their British correspondent, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and together all of them called for a cease fire in Yemen within 30 days. That would be the end of November. Britain has also called for the UN Security Council to vote for an end to the war in Yemen.

This comes after the gruesome killing of Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi was a Saudi royalist and also a columnist for The Washington Post. He defected to the United States, although he still remained close to elements of the Saudi royal family, and he was murdered in a gruesome killing in the Saudi consulate inside Turkey that was likely ordered by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This has led to a kind of cooling of relations between Britain, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia. In response to this, the United States has said that it’s actually going to end in-air refueling for Saudi war planes bombing Yemen. However, even mainstream corporate media outlets have acknowledged the fact that even though theU.S. is going to end an era of fueling, other more significant forms of military support to Saudi Arabia will continue. As even CNN put it, “U.S. decision to stop refueling Saudi jets attacking Yemen means nothing.”.

At the same time that the U.S. is calling for a ceasefire, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are, in fact, ramping up fighting inside Yemen at the port city of Hodeida. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sent thousands of troops and launched a ground and aerial assault on this crucial city, which is the livesaving port for Yemen, where 80 percent of humanitarian aid comes into the country.

So the fact that all of these things are happening at the same time has, of course, raised the question: are the U.S. and the UK truly committed to ending the war in Yemen? To explore this question we are joined by Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the former chief of staff of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. He is currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William and Mary, and a regular contributor to The Real News Network. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

So can you respond to the news from both the U.S. and the UK? The Secretary of State and the Foreign Secretary, they say they want a ceasefire within 30 days, and the U.S. has, at least for now, said that it will end in a refueling. Do you think this represents a true commitment to finally ending this 43-month war?

LARRY WILKERSON: I do not. I’m glad to hear someone official from the United States government say something against what the Saudis and the UAE are doing in Yemen, but I don’t think this means much. I think what it is, it’s a preemption of House Continuing Resolution 138 and Senate Resolution 54, both of which would invoke the War Power and the War Powers Act, and thus the Constitution, to essentially tell the president the United States you’ve got 30 days to stop this war. We’ll cut off your appropriations using the constitutional power of the Congress, which has lain dormant so often, to, in fact, stop this brutal war.

So what Defense wants to do and what the White House wants to do is preempt that, so they don’t have to give in to that. They don’t have to be forced to stop this war because of appropriate congressional action. But they can say, well, we stopped it ourselves.

Now, not for a moment do I think they’re going to stop it. There are all sorts of technicalities here. For example, the Saudis have extended range F-15s. They’re not the whole fleet, but they are part of the fleet. Those F-15s, which can drop bombs very well, thank you, do not need refueling; midair refueling. And just as you pointed out, stopping midair refueling does not necessarily throw a real monkey wrench into the business for either the Saudis or the UAE. So we’ve heard this before. We’ve heard these really sort of weak, milksop statements by Pompeo and by Mattis. We’ve seen these things before. As you pointed out, the Saudis just- when they hear that something might be in the works, no matter how weak it is, they just intensify their bombing. They just intensify the war. And in the last 30 to 45 days the civilian targets that they’ve targeted with these precision-guided munitions have just been overwhelming.

So no, I don’t think this is the end of it. I think it’s an attempt to preempt congressional action. And it’s also an attempt to buy time for what ultimately is going to solve this problem, this brutal war, and that’s a political solution and a cessation of hostilities on the ground so that the UN nd others can get in and do the much-needed work that needs to be done to feed and treat cholera victims, and so forth.

BEN NORTON: Yeah, and I want to look specifically into the U.S. and Saudi decision on ending in-air refueling. What’s interesting is that this issue has not gotten much media attention in the past few years, despite the fact that the U.S. has refueled war planes that carried out thousands of air sorties. But what’s interesting is that even though this hasn’t gotten much attention, the media reports were actually quite skeptical, surprisingly, of this attempt by the Trump administration to save face.

I’m going to look really quickly- the Associated Press published a report that noted the U.S. is going to end refueling, but it mentioned- this is a quote from the AP report. “The refueling change does not affect the U.S. military assistance and training to improve the Saudi airstrikes, which have reportedly caused thousands of civilian deaths. As a result, the decision to halt the U.S. refueling will likely have little impact on the fight, but will allow the Trump administration to say it has taken action against the Saudis for the devastation in Yemen.” This is the Associated Press saying that very explicitly. The Associated Press also notes that the Saudi kingdom itself had requested an end to the in-air refueling, because Saudi Arabia claimed that it had increased its capability to independently conduct in-flight refueling, and therefore it requested cessation of in-flight refueling.

So this is really acknowledging, from the horse’s mouth, that this was coordinated between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.; that Saudi Arabia says that it actually requested for the U.S. to stop in-air refueling, while other forms of military support have continued. That includes targeting assistance. And then, of course, includes the most egregious form, which is that these weapons that Saudi Arabia is using to drop on civilian areas in Yemen- a few weeks ago Saudi Arabia bombed a vegetable market, killing nearly two dozen people. These are U.S.-made and British-made weapons.

So, Larry, can you respond to the report that Saudi Arabia was in fact working in liaison with the U.S. when it released this statement saying that it requested an end to in-air refueling? And then maybe you can talk about other forms of support the U.S. and Britain have provided to Saudi Arabia in Yemen.

LARRY WILKERSON: I think there’s no question that the United States and Saudi Arabia coordinated on this supposed new policy. I would be naive if I thought otherwise. I do think that the degree that the Saudis have attacked food, water, and other- what we would call in our parlance of war crime targets- is a decided part of their strategy. This is a brutal total war strategy. There aren’t that many strategic targets to bomb in the first place, so they are going after everything and anything that could conceivably be construed by their opponents as something that they hold dear, or don’t want to lose, or composes the society around them. And this is not to say that the Houthis themselves haven’t been as brutal from time to time. But they don’t have airplanes with precision-guided munitions made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, and so forth. That’s what the Saudis have. And over 15,000 strikes, and fully a third of them have hit civilian targets. Clearly civilian targets.

That means those precision-guided munitions, those GBUs and JDAMs are are being used essentially as they were designed to be used, but they are being used purposefully on civilian targets. I could come to no other conclusion. They’re being used purposefully. And this is a brutal, all-out, total war. And incidentally, the Saudis are losing it. As far as I can see, the Yemeni opponent of the Saudi-UAE coalition is as resilient as it was, for example, against the Egyptians in the ’60s. They are going to hold out until the last person is there, and they’re going to cost the Saudis billions of dollars. They’re going to cost them all kinds of international reputation for the brutality with which they are waging this war.

So the Saudis are losing this war. They’re losing it. It’s just absurd for the United States to still be involved with this loss. I’ve heard all the reasons from members of Congress on how we can’t desert the Saudis. I’ve seen the statements made by Secretary Mattis. We can’t desert our allies, and so forth. This is just so much bull. Until we withdraw our support, both politically and materially, we’re not going to see this war end. And the only way it’s going to end is to force all the parties to the table and start talking, and in that cessation of hostilities begin to treat the incredible problems, humanitarian problems, that Yemen now has.

BEN NORTON: In response to this crucial point, I think what’s interesting is to look at Donald Trump’s rhetoric. In an interview on November 4, Trump said that the problem was not that the U.S. is arming Saudi Arabia, but rather that Saudi Arabia “didn’t know how to use” the bombs that Trump, and Obama before him, sold Saudi Arabia. Specifically, Trump was responding in the interview to an August 9 attack in which Saudi Arabia bombed a school bus full of children, killing at least 51 civilians, including 40 children. Trump said in the interview, he said that that “wasn’t operated by U.S. people. We don’t do that. Our people are the best operators in the world.” And then he said the reason that Saudi Arabia did that is because they didn’t know how to use the bombs.

So there’s a lot you could say in response to this, but I think what’s interesting about this quote is Trump is is either, he either believes that we- he thinks that we would believe that Saudi Arabia doesn’t know how to use the bombs, and that also he is still going to continue selling those weapons to Saudi Arabia. Trump has repeatedly boasted of signing a deal that is more than $100 billion of arms sales to Saudi Arabia. You know, some analysts have said that that actually could be exaggerated, that it includes a bunch of different arms packages that have not all been signed yet. But regardless, Trump is bragging about selling weapons to someone that he claims doesn’t know how to use them. Can you respond to that?

LARRY WILKERSON: Well, I’ve actually, in the long-ago past, trained some Saudi pilots, helicopter pilots. And I can tell you that I don’t have high esteem for their competence or their courage. So the fact that they might launch a GBU, a JDAM, whatever; precision-guided munition from an F-15 or whatever, and launch it outside its range, which is normally 15 nautical miles, or 29 miles for the extended range GBU, is not something I would totally discount. That means it just becomes an iron bomb; it falls.

But from what I’ve seen of the extensive recording by various entities, including the UN, from inside Yemen, as the number of strikes, the targets they’ve hit, the strike profiles they’ve used, and the way they’ve concentrated at times on civilian targets, I’d have to say that you’re right; that most of the time it’s because they fully intend to hit that target, and the JDAM or whatever worked exactly the way it was supposed to. That’s not giving them that high degree of competence so much as it is saying that that equipment’s pretty good equipment.

And at the same time, I have to say that, watching this unfold as a military professional, they are, in fact, waging this kind of war. And so- this kind of war where you attack economic targets, you attack civilians, you attack anything you can attack that’s in the so-called “infrastructure,” and you do it relentlessly, and thereby you wear your enemy down. This is a form of warfare. We’ve seen it before in the world. And the Saudis are doing that intentionally, I think. And when Pompeo and Mattis make statements, as they did the other day, about how the real enemy in Yemen is Iran, the real enemy is those Persians who have brought all this sophisticated weaponry and everything to the rebels and are doing all this nefarious stuff to go after what is U.S. interests, is just so much hogwash. And when you hear it you just can’t, you can’t contemplate the degree of obfuscation and even outright lying that this administration will stoop to. And remember, you’re talking to a man who was in the George W. Bush first administration, where Dick Cheney orchestrated lies like Pavarotti sings; an incredible number of lies, and an incredible number of policies based on those lies.

But I’m seeing something here today from Pompeo and Mattis both, I hate to say that about Jim, but I’m seeing something that just borders on similar activities to Cheney and the gang in 2002 and 2003 with respect to Iraq. Iran wasn’t even in Yemen until the Saudis started killing [inaudible]. And what they have brought is very unsophisticated; very low-tech stuff. We’re dropping the latest Lockheed Martin GBU outfits, guided bomb units, from F-15s and other aircraft on these targets. And we’re hitting fully a third of the targets; civilian targets. To me it’s not rocket science to see that that’s a design of Saudi-UAE strategy.

BEN NORTON: Well, we’ll have to end our conversation there. We were joined by Colonel Larry Wilkerson. Larry is the former chief of staff of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and is currently an adjunct professor of government at the College of William and Mary. Thanks for joining us, as always, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me.

BEN NORTON: Of course. For The Real News Network, I’m Ben Norton.

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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.