The United States’ decision to end airborne refueling support to Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen means nothing militarily. It is cost-free virtue signaling by the Trump administration.
It’s an opportunity to appear a little bit cross over the alleged murder of Jamal Khashoggi while making sure that the Kingdom’s strategic trajectory stays on course.
It’s a way to appear annoyed that soon after the US called for a ceasefire in the Yemen war, the Saudi-led coalition launched an air and ground assault on the port of Hodeida, which is held by Yemeni Houthis.
And it’s a way to distract attention from the fact that the French and British, just like their US allies, are continuing much more important military support for the Saudi side in the war.
Ending mid-air refueling by US air tankers for Saudi jets is right up there with a “strongly worded letter.”
Saudi Arabia’s efforts in the war, which the United Nations says could lead to 14 million people facing famine, will be unaffected by the US gesture. In fact, the Saudis even claimed ending the refueling was their idea.
Recently the Kingdom and the Coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in Yemen. As a result, in consultation with the United States, the Coalition has requested cessation of inflight refueling support for its operations in Yemen,” the Saudi government said in a statement.
Ending refueling might be the first stage in a greater effort to force the Saudis to the negotiating table, along with their allies from the Yemeni government and all other parties in this war.
The US is the major supplier of munitions to the Saudi Air Force, and also supplies military intelligence. The United Kingdom and France also provide weapons to Saudi Arabia.
But the Yemen war is ugly. Reports are emerging of starving children, fears of a cholera epidemic, and it’s hard to drum up support in Washington for air strikes prosecuted by oil-rich Arab monarchies against Yemen tribesmen.
US support for the Saudi-led coalition suffers from a bipartisan lack of support in Washington. So it’s important for the Trump administration to appear to be exercised about human rights violations, and be trying to avoid humanitarian catastrophe.
But it’s all window dressing.Morality is often trumped by reality in foreign affairs, especially in this administration.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author .