Well, that could have gone better...
During a media briefing in the US capital a few days ago, State Department spokesperson John Kirby struggled to respond to questions regarding the difference for Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen, which the US supports, and Russia’s bombing campaign in Syria, which the US condemns. Both have led to civilian loss of life. Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen has killed over 10,000 people, a majority of them civilians, since early 2015 while Russian airstrikes have claimed the lives of 1,700 in the past year.
The US itself has also caused tremendous loss of civilian life in Syria. A group of independent journalists found that just one week’s worth of US airstrikes had killed 459 civilians, with more than 100 of those being children. The death toll is likely much higher has the US has launched 5,700 airstrikes since it began its “temporary” bombing campaign meant to target ISIS in 2014. However, much international scrutiny has recently been focused on the Saudi war in Yemen as an air strike on the Yemeni capital targeted a packed funeral hall this Saturday, killing 140 civilians and injuring scores more. Saudi Arabia has denied culpability and claims they will investigate the incident.
At the media briefing, Matt Lee of the Associated Press posed the following question to Kirby: “Over the weekend there was this air strike on a funeral by the Saudi-led coalition. I was just wondering: does the administration see any difference between this kind of thing, and what you accuse the Russians, Syrians and the Iranians of doing in Syria, and particularly Aleppo?” Kirby attempted to answer the question by saying “Well yeah I think there are. […] Look there’s a couple things” before an awkward and uncomfortable silence set in. Kirby eventually said that the Saudi’s promised to launch an investigation of the funeral hall incident while the Russians had done no such nothing. However, Russia did indeed call for an investigation into the bombing of a UN aid convoy on September 19th.
Lee continued to press Kirby on the Yemeni issues, asking:
“an increasing number of Yemeni civilians are at risk and being killed by weapons that the United States has furnished to the Saudis and their coalition partners. You don’t find any kind of issue with this? Because a lot of people do, including on [Capitol] Hill.”
The question follows accusations of US co-guilt for Saudi war crimes in Yemen, as the Obama administration has sold $115 billion in weapons to the Saudis, significantly more than any previous presidential administration. Kirby insisted that Syria and Yemen were different as the Iran-backed rebellion in Yemen, whom the Saudis are fighting, had killed Saudi citizens. 100 Saudis have died from Yemeni rebel attacks, the vast majority of them Saudi security forces. He went on to say “The Saudi-led coalition were invited in by the Yemeni government – now I know what you’re going to say, the Russians were invited by [Syrian President] Assad… but [the Saudis] are under real threat on their side of the border in that war.” What Kirby failed to say is that the US has always protected and funded Saudi Arabia due to powerful deals brokered in the 1970s and, since then, have failed to condemn or even scrutinize the country known for its atrocious human rights record and funding of terrorists. However, as Kirby’s floundering performance showed, this dirty little secret is getting harder and harder to cover up.
Watch John Kirby’s full response to Matt Lee’s question below:
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