The United States is helping Saudi Arabia commit “war crimes” in Yemen, according to US Congressman Ro Khanna.
In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera’s UpFront aired on Friday, Khanna, a Democratic congressman from California, said the US made a mistake in supporting the Saudi-led coalition’s bombing campaign of Yemen.
“Today, I believe that we are aiding Saudi Arabia in Saudi Arabia’s committing war crimes,” Khanna told UpFront host Mehdi Hasan.
The US House of Representatives passed a resolution earlier this week that called on the US armed forces to withdraw from “unauthorised hostilities” in the Saudi-led bombing campaign of Yemen, which began in 2015.
Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict and the Saudi-led coalition has bombed key infrastructure and imposed a strict blockade on the country.
Yemen is facing a dire humanitarian crisis and millions of people will die in what could be the worst famine in decades if the blockade is not lifted, the United Nations recently warned.
The US has assisted Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in “conducting aerial bombings in Yemen” and provided “midair refueling services” to their warplanes, according to the resolution, which was overwhelmingly adopted by a vote of 366-30.
By aiding the Saudis in airstrikes that kill civilians, we are creating a security vacuum that allows groups like ISIS to gain a foothold.
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) November 13, 2017
While the resolution is non-binding, Khanna, who was one of its co-sponsors, said it would put pressure on the Saudis to provide greater humanitarian access to Yemen and allow food and basic medicine to reach Yemenis.
“That’s going to make a difference. That can at least save lives,” Khanna said.
In his interview with UpFront, Khanna had harsh words for Saudi Arabia and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in particular.
“Salman strikes me as not smart,” Khanna said about the Crown Prince, who is also known by the initials MBS.
“He’s not judicious and he’s not prudent and he may do things that ultimately aren’t even in his country’s interest, which usually cause war.”
Khanna continued: “Napoleon once said worse than a crime is a blunder, and Salman strikes me as a blunderer.”
MBS has rapidly consolidated power since he was named next in line for the Saudi throne by his father, King Salman, last June.
Dozens of senior Saudi officials have been rounded up and held since early November in what the kingdom has described as a crackdown on corruption.
The Saudis have also faced a barrage of criticism for their alleged role in forcing Saad Hariri to resign as Lebanon’s prime minister.
Saudi Arabia has been accused of keeping Hariri in detention in Riyadh, an allegation it has denied.
A war of words has also broken out between Saudi Arabia and its regional rival, Iran, over the ongoing political crisis in Lebanon.
‘Strike on Iran’
Asked how the US should respond to a possible Saudi attack on Iran, Khanna said the US “should condemn it”.
“We should certainly not come to their defence if they are perpetrating an attack on Iran,” the congressman said, adding that “it would be utter folly” for the Saudi crown prince “to start a direct war with Iran”.
Should the US intervene in the case of an Iranian counterattack on Saudi Arabia, its longtime ally in the region? “Certainly not,” Khanna said.
Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan then asked the congressman whether the US would intervene on behalf of another ally, Israel, which has also been vocal in its condemnations of Tehran.
Israel also recently instructed its diplomats to lobby their respective countries in support of Saudi Arabia, according to leaked diplomatic cables.
“Obviously, if Iran starts to say, ‘we’re going to annihilate Israel’, then we have to defend it,” Khanna answered.
“But I don’t expect that to be the response.”
Khanna said that, in his view, the US “certainly would not condone a strike on Iran by either Saudi Arabia or Israel”.