The War Nerd: How Many Dead Yemeni Nobodies Does It Take to Equal 1 Wapo Contributor?

By Gary Brecher. Republished from the Radio War Nerd subscriber newsletter. Subscribe to Radio War Nerd for podcasts, newsletters and more!

The headline here is not a joke, unfortunately. It’s a question you can’t help asking if you’ve followed the war in Yemen.

You probably noticed that on Radio War Nerd we’ve pointed out over and over that some wartime deaths get a whole lot of attention, others very little — or none. But it’s not easy to get a real-life scientific-type test of the relative weight of a WaPo writer’s death and the deaths of “enemy” civilians.

Well, we’ve got such a test now. I just found it at the BBC News site. This thing is going to be the gold standard of pixels-per-death calculations from now on. It’s Nobel Prize in Media Physics stuff. What’s the molecular weight of a dead Yemeni civilian? It’s an amount so tiny that mere laypeople using crude stone tools could never guess it. But thanks to this BBC story, we can use our advanced math skills to figure it out.

Here’s the story, our Eureka moment, our Rosetta Stone, our electron media microscope: a BBC article headlined “Saudi Arabia: Just how deep are its troubles?”, published on May 13 2020, under the byline of Frank Gardner, “BBC Security Correspondent.”

Gardner identifies many problems for the Kingdom, most of them purely financial: the COVID-19 pandemic, the oil glut and falling prices. He briefly mentions the PR problem suffered by de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS):

“Meanwhile the crown prince, while still largely popular at home, remains something of a pariah in the West due to lingering suspicions over his alleged role in the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

That’s Gardner’s sixth paragraph, so the PR problem rates below the purely financial problems, but still pretty high.

Paragraph placement in a news story is very important. And like the NFL draft, it’s not so much whether you get drafted or not but where you’re placed. The earlier the better, the more value you have, whether you’re a cornerback or a dead civilian. So being mentioned in the sixth paragraph of a long (50-paragraph) story like this, as Khashoggi is, makes you something like a third-round choice. Khashoggi must be proud, wherever he is now.

The point is that killing Khashoggi is MbS’s ONLY PR problem, as far as the BBC is concerned.

There’s no doubt the killing of Khashoggi, an elite Saudi who’d gone rogue, was not a triumph of professional assassinations. Forget Jean Reno, this was more like hiring the boys from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to do the cleanup operation. MbS’s agents brought their hacksaws to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, killed Khashoggi on the premises, were too stupid to realize Turkish intel had the place bugged up worse than an Ontario cabin in July, and had no cover story ready when the tapes showed up online.

And the Saudis’ attempt at damage management was the most inept of all. The Saudis’ first response was that Khashoggi had left the consulate intact, his limbs a virgin forest untouched by the saw, and only admitted under pressure that he’d been killed and dismembered inside their consulate. No one’s disputing that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi was a bloody mess in every sense.

But the thing is, that wasn’t the bloodiest mess MbS and the Kingdom were involved in. And Khashoggi wasn’t the only maimed body left in the wake of MbS’s “reform” policies.

Not by a loooooong shot. There was this other thing going on: The Saudi-led invasion and blockade of NW Yemen, the mostly Shia highland provinces of Yemen. That bloody massacre started in March 2015, and it’s been killing untold (and I do mean “untold”) hundreds of thousands since then.

How many people have died horrible deaths in Yemen since 2015? The official sources like WaPo and NYT and BBC used to fix on a static figure: 10,000 dead.

Everyone laughed at that one. Every knew it had to be much, much higher, but that just annoyed our news sources of record. So they tried fudging the numbers with the face-saving formula “at least” 10,000, but even buzzards sometimes gag, and people got sick of hearing such an obvious callous lie.

So by now, how many Yemeni Shia nobodies are dead? How many inconvenient corpses, disproportionately children (because they’re always the first to die in a famine) are buried, untold, in that rocky ground?

Nobody even tries very hard to guess anymore, because nobody in the Western media is interested. Especially not the crusaders at the Washington Post. As far as they and their buddies in the NYT and BBC are concerned, those deaths don’t matter. No, that’s wrong: those deaths are actually an annoyance, a distraction. It’s not that the news sites of record can’t be bothered to cover the hundreds of thousands who’ve died in Yemen after years of blockade, air strikes, and artificial famine. It’s not that at all. They care, all right; they’re annoyed.

Because those who died were nobodies, and the wrong-est kind of nobodies. They were Shia, and Shia are all our enemies, as far as Riyadh, D.C., London and Jerusalem are concerned. When a Shia Yemeni child dies gasping of an easily curable disease like cholera, it’s not just unimportant, it’s enemy propaganda — because the Houthi, or Ansarullah if you prefer — the main Shia militia in Yemen — are officially “Iranian proxies.”

They’re not, of course. The Shia of NW Yemen have been fighting against the Najd, home of the Sauds in Central Arabia, for centuries.

Najran was a Yemeni city before the 1930s, when the nouveaux riches Saudis “rented” it from the dirt-poor Yemenis and simply refused to return it when the lease was up. The Saudi response was simply “Oh, you want us to return Najran? Meet our new friends, the US and UK militaries. We’re paying them for protection now, so if you take one step across the new border, they’ll blow you to bits.”

Since then the alliance between Riyadh, Washington, and London has only deepened. Arab leftists have been wiped out in Yemen, Oman, and Saudi itself. It’s corrupt Islamists/Royalists all the way down these days.

And this is just fine with the staff at WaPo/NYT/BBC. They have never had ANY problem with all that. They had no problem at all backing the Saudi “coalition’s” blockade of medicines and food directed against NW Yemen; no problem with the videos of kids dying of medieval diseases; no problem with Saudi bombing of Hodeidah, the one port serving NW Yemen, and no problem with the US Navy doing patrols to enforce the Saudi blockade on food and medicine reaching the Shia provinces.

Remember, when Jamal Khashoggi was killed in 2018, this artificial blockade and famine had been going on for almost three years. No one knows exactly how many Shia Yemeni died in those years, because no one who matters wants to know. I’m using “not want to know” as a transitive verb here; it’s not that they “failed” to find out but that their policy was outright boycott on Yemen horror stories, even as they were hyping mostly BS horror stories from Syria, which happened to align with the interests of the DC/Riyadh/London cartel (and, annoyingly but not very importantly, a lot of woke-left idiots who never noticed that they were doing fine PR work for the cartel).

So we’re ready to set our experiment in motion. Jamal Khashoggi is mentioned in Paragraph Six of this story. How about the hundreds of thousands of dead nobodies in Yemen?

They are mentioned a total of three times in this 50-paragraph story. Always very briefly, “in passing” as suave reporters like to say, and using terms like “a spat” to describe the kerfuffle, as if it was a snarly moment on a cooking show.

Here’s the first of the three mentions. This one — the first one, remember! — is in the eighth paragraph, two paragraphs after Jamal Khashoggi’s death — in NFL draft terms, a fourth- or fifth-round choice. Note also the phrasing here:

“Then the war in neighbouring Yemen has bled Saudi coffers for more than five years now with no tangible gains, and a spat with Qatar has wrecked the surface unity of the six-nation Gulf Arab Cooperation Council (GCC).”

There is nothing on how many have died, or how many of the dead were civilians, or how many (MANY) of the famine dead were children. Nothing at all about that. Ah, but there is something about blood! “…[T]he war in neighboring Yemen has bled Saudi coffers for five years now…” Huh, there’s a medical novelty. Some hippie said “Only women bleed,” but it turns out here that only “coffers” bleed. “Only money bleeds,” as it were. Yemenis, no; “coffers,” yes.

And you know the worst about that fiscal bloodletting? It was all for “no tangible gains.” A bad investment, a far worse sin, apparently, than several hundred thousand dead.

Now here’s the second mention of Yemen. This one comes far down, about the 32nd paragraph (out of 50 paragraphs, remember) — which makes it like an eighth-round draft choice in NFL terms.

This one is very brief, very dodgy in every sense:

“The Yemen War, prosecuted in part from the air by Saudi warplanes supplied by the US and Britain, has seen alleged war crimes committed by all sides.”

This one kind of makes me sick (and I once did a survey of British journalism during the Great Famine of the late 1840s, so I have a tough gut.) You’ll note that it was “prosecuted” by the Saudis, a nice way of saying “They invaded Yemen.” Furthermore, they were only responsible “in part” for this prosecution (though their “Coalition of the Willing” was even more reluctant and useless than ours in Iraq). And just to put an extra coat of whitewash on this squeamish, quick allusion to a genocide, Gardner tops off the paragraph with “war crimes committed by all sides.” Yeah Frank, one’s as bad as the other, right? Even if one side, the ones with the money, have all the weapons, all the offensive firepower, and all the lapdog media on their side. It’s an old trick, this “one’s as bad as the other,” but it works all too often.

Ah, but Gardner does go on to admit there have been problems due to the genocide in Yemen. What kind of problems? PR problems, of course! He says in the next paragraph that KSA”s “prosecution” of a war has led, for reasons which seem to be wholly incomprehensible to our friends at the BBC, to some bad press.

“But the civilian death toll caused by those air strikes has led to mounting criticism in Washington and elsewhere.”

It’s that first word, “But…” that gets me. “But”? Why “but”? Read it aloud with the “but” and then without. You’ll see that with the “but” in the beginning the sentence implies that the air strikes, the artificial famine, all of it, is not a problem in itself; the problem is “But…” these perfectly valid policies have, alas, led to “mounting criticism in Washington and elsewhere.”

We’d better move on, to the third and final mention of Yemen, before I spew on the monitor. So here it is, in a mere photo caption just below the 39th paragraph of the story (in NFL terms, a UDFA):

“Five years of war in Yemen have cost Saudi Arabia dearly” [photo caption]

Or rather, here it was — because, in the time since I first read the article, the BBC has changed the caption so that it now reads “Five years of war in Yemen have achieved little.”

Ah, those sly dogs at the BBC copy desk! They think they’ve thwarted our rhetorical analysis but they are mistaken. Because now we can compare the original caption and the revision as if they were lines from a poem.

Here they are, Exhibits A (the original) and B (the new version):

A: “Five years of war have cost Saudi Arabia dearly”

B: “Five years of war in Yemen have achieved little”

This is a very revealing change. Exhibit A made the emphasis on money a little too clear when it said that the war has “cost Saudi Arabia dearly.” That’s the author’s real priority, of course, but somebody — a reader or an editor, a paid empath or something — flinched at it, decided to blur the raw indifference to those who’ve suffered by talking about what’s been “achieved” rather than what the war cost Riyadh. So now we get the nice, bland predicate “…have achieved little.”

So now, the article isn’t saying outright that the war was too expensive for KSA, but that it was wasted carnage, carnage that doesn’t “achieve” anything. It’s dizzying to try to find a meaning in that; what would a successful “achievement” be? The annihilation of NW Yemen? The crushing of all Shia resistance in Yemen? Saudi hegemony over the whole country?

But I’m quibbling. Readers won’t ask questions like that. They’ll glean something vague and well-meaning on the lines of “War, what is it good for?” and let the BBC off the hook. See? The Beeb isn’t totally obsessed with Saudi finances!

But the new caption is balanced, in that winsome NYT/WaPo/BBC manner, because it doesn’t go too far by mentioning dead Yemenis. It’s still looking solely at the Saudi perspective.

From the Yemeni perspective, this war has “achieved” quite a bit, in a grim sense: killing hundreds of thousands, crippling the next generation (because no child ever really recovers from protracted starvation in childhood, as studies have shown).

In fact, you could argue, if you were Satan, that this was an “achievement” for the KSA: by stunting the mental and physical development on a generation of Yemeni Shia, KSA has hit, in military jargon, the “second echelon,” the upcoming generation of potential enemies.

Now, thinking rhetorically, guess what the next photograph gracing the story might be. Remember, this is a news-site of record from the Anglo/Saudi consensus. So what would remind readers that after all, MbS is a reformer, a maker of omelettes, despite all the broken and bloody eggs he splattered over the landscape. What would show his progressive side?

Yup, a shot of a rich elite Saudi woman driving a car. And that is indeed the next photograph.

So see, folks, there’s good coming out of MbS’s tough love after all.

And really, the story tells us, his only real mistake was killing Khashoggi, a real human being, a Made Man in the global mafia. That death mattered. The dead Yemenis? They were Shia; they were “pro-Iranian”; they were, above all, dirt poor.

But us, we’re scientists here. We have to figure out the ratio: how many dead Shia poor people does it take to equal one Khashoggi?

Which means we have to come up with some estimate of how many untold deaths have happened in Yemen. Keep in mind, very few of the dead were killed in the air strikes that get the publicity, brutal as those no doubt were.

The real killer in Yemen has been famine and a blockade on essential medicines. That technique kills or cripples a whole population, starting with young children (as the BBC should know better than anyone).

But “untold” means “untold, right? How can we even guess? It’s not easy, because people-of-record don’t want you to think about it. But we have had a few brave people willing to name some sums. The representative for one NGO trying to work in Yemen estimated that,

“…an estimated 1,000 children are dying every week from preventable killers like diarrhoea, malnutrition and respiratory tract infections.”

That was back in 2016. So if you do the math: 52 weeks a year for five years, that’s roughly a quarter of a million dead children.

Most Western news sources of the respectable sort won’t do the math. They’ll stick to that comically absurd “10 thousand dead” figure. I swear I’ll never understand those people. They’re so very moral — except when it doesn’t suit them. They take me back to the respectable press in 1847 Britain, and that’s the last place I want to be.

They even retain the habit of not counting those who die in an artificial famine, as if blockading a country that was always heavily dependent on food imports and medical supply flights was an Act of God. They sometimes count Yemeni civilians dead in direct “Coalition” air strikes on markets and funerals, but even then there are dark hints that those might have been “pro-Iranian” weddings, “pro-Iranian” funerals, “pro-Iranian” food markets. You know, the suspect kind where they sell pro-Iranian onions.

The Iranian link to the Shia of Yemen is, let me repeat, BS. There’s a very, very powerful link between Iran and Hezbollah, as both sides will tell you with pride; there’s a somewhat more fraught link between Iran and Syria; but Yemen has always fought the push from Saudi Arabia, and would do so if Iran ceased to exist tomorrow. The people telling that lie must know better, but…well, who knows how a weasel thinks? Proud to say I don’t.

And Lord knows that’s a depressing topic.

But let’s go back to the original question up top and do the math as best we can. Drum roll, while we reveal the answer to the big q:

“How many dirt-poor, wrong-sect, non-English-speaking nobodies does it take to equal one made man in the Cartel’s media elite like Jamal Khasoggi?”

Answer (after the necessary wonk-ish qualifiers, e.g. “We can’t set an exact figure here…”) The answer is roughly…

A quarter of a million. And that’s a conservative estimate, not (by any means) a neoliberal one.

Yup, that’s the ratio: One dead WaPo contributor weighs as much, news-wise, as a quarter-million nobodies from the wrong side of the sectarian tracks.

That’s how these virtuous people think. Makes me gladder than ever I’m not virtuous.

Gary Brecher is the nom de guerre-nerd of John Dolan. Buy his book The War Nerd Iliad. Subscribe to the Radio War Nerd podcast!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Fresh Cream

    I share your disgust. The the reporters and editors of the NYT and USA media in general have vomit inducing ethics and zero empathy for everyone not like themselves. I pity their children.

    1. sbin

      Have enjoyed your writing since the Exiled days!
      Interesting that 250,000 plus Yemeni deaths are not mentioned.
      500,000 Iraqi deaths via sanctions are “worth it”

      England exporting massive amounts of food from Ireland during a famine is another topic not covered in most history lessons.
      Nakba is almost forbidden topic of discussion.
      14 year old daughter came home from holocaust week in middle school.When I had her read about Nakba she was treated like a Catholic school child discussing Pope history of poisoning and murder.
      At her age I mentioned that the pope invited Martin Luther to the vatican to murder him.
      Idiotic teacher sent me to principal office thinking I was talking about Martin Luther King.

  2. rkka

    The Anglosphere Foreign Policy Elite & Punditocracy (AFPE&P) have truly limitless capacity to bear suffering, misery, agony, starvation, & death inflicted on others.

    But let a leader they’ve targeted for Regime Change lift a finger in his own defense, and the AFPE&P scream about their “crimes” until the heavens resound.

  3. MillenialSocialist

    I hate that this is my first thought, but after the anti-surveillance bill failing to pass last week by one vote, one wonders how long the democratization of information will be allowed to continue

    1. ambrit

      Not just the “official” legality of dissenting opinions and ‘facts,’ but the corporatized control of news dissemination as well. The “private” campaign against “fake news” proceeds apace. Twitter banning and facebook ‘disappearances’ are the new face of Authoritarianism.
      See you at the barricades.

  4. doug

    Thank you for printing this, and thanks to the author for writing it. Humans are defective and over rated.

  5. rob

    “disgusting”… is definitely the right word.
    The establishment media of the west is disgusting. And as this author points out… this is nothing new. in fact…. this IS “the playbook”.

    And the question of how many dead yemini’s add up to a dead khassogi…. is a “trick” question. In the eyes of the elites…. the little people NEVER add up to one of their own.

    and “this” khassogi.. isn’t actually his uncle who was infamous for being team reds’ man in the iran contra affair… or one of the bush clan, in the savings and loan scandal. The guy from BCCI…. the CIA’s bank doing “disgusting” things for decades…before they went underground..again. But it is hard to read the name.. and not think at least some recognition comes from proximity to power.

  6. James E Keenan

    This is powerful writing. I couldn’t take it in one gulp and had to come back for smaller bites to finish it.

    1. Sorryus

      I have to admit, early on in this post, I know very little of the places described in this story. We got very little in the way of education while in grade school or High School for that matter. What little news made it to the newspaper was mostly negative and we had better things to do than to find out about a place and religion totally foreign to us. Life went on in my world without ever really knowing much about those places or religions. That said, I DO KNOW THIS . I’ve seen the smiling faces of the children from those places. The children that never asked to be brought into this world. They nontheless showed up, totally innocent, they had no hatred, no religion, no desire to do anything but play in the sun and have fun. Their large brown eyes are haunting, they’re smiling and laughing while playing in a bombed out shell of a former city. They have no hope of going to school or improving their lives. They never asked to be brought here, and now, quite probably will be killed or get sick and eventually die because there are no medical facilities left after the bombing. THEY NEVER ASKED TO BE BROUGHT HERE

  7. WheresOurTeddy

    One recalls 2005, when my brother-in-law (then in his late 30s) who works in finance and has never done an honest day’s work in his life told me with a straight face “10,000 Iraqis are not worth 1 American life to me”.

    This was despite his support for “The Surge”.

    He has made millions of dollars for himself and indefensible amounts of money for his clients since then, largely in China. I haven’t spoken to him in about 4 years but I can safely assume he has no idea there is a war in Yemen, and can 100% guarantee that if he does know, he doesn’t give a shit.

    1. richard

      His job dictates that he not care very much about muricans either, so he must have really hated those Iraqis. I’ve met several individuals who mirror this thinking. It’s not a small sub-group, due to the fearless work of WaPo and related consent manufacturing facilities.
      Thanks for running this article Lambert.

  8. mpalomar

    What can one say except to question the underlying premises that insist, less and less convincingly, that there is something salvageable about the grand vision of egalitarian humanity and civilisation.

    Yemen is a chapter in a long chronicle of brutality and reminiscent of the emergence of fundamental doubts concerning moral certitudes following the carnage of WWI further borne out by WWII.

    As the article points out this attitude is nothing new and of course it is also very much a part of our contemporary societal construction. As the planet itself undergoes what has become a largely accepted ecocide, war and its industries are still honoured and accepted as legitimate policy and strategy. The frontiers of human ingenuity, science and technology, are driven partly by the business of mass murder.

    Back in the fatherland, stepping unconcernedly over the bodies and wreckage of economic/societal choice outcomes is basic training for successful careers in the managerial class.

      1. NotTimothyGeithner

        Pre-Covid, I would have disagreed, not that I disagree the West is on a significant decline, but now…who knows?

        Biden is running for President, and there is no discussion about the US and its place in the world. We use to talk about the “adults in the room” with Obama, but I suspect the imperialists are so out of ideas they can’t even articulate a view.

  9. Charles Yaker

    I am sorry but this article became dated when the USA passed 100,000 deaths (30,000 unnecessary according two a study mentioned in the NYT) and nobody cares because it’s just numbers. Just go to your Memorial Day barbecue or the beach because that is what memorial day is for isn’t it?

    Another way of looking at it however is that naming names is more powerful then citing numbers.

    Note to Yves and Lambert why don’t you start each newsletter with the several names of Covid and Yemeni victims ?

    1. The Rev Kev

      Powerful stuff that but you will never see the New York Times have the names and descriptions of 1,000 Yemeni children on their front page. Or Iraqi. Or Syrian. Or Venezuelan. Or Iranian. They literally do narratives and not news.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      Oddly, or not, there has been no list of the tens of thousands of excess deaths yearly due to falling life expectancy, or the tens of thousands of deaths of despair, or the many thousands of opioid deaths. Of course, that’s forgivable, because those deaths took place in flyover, so who cares, right? There has also been no list of the 68,000 deaths without #MedicareForAll, but that too is forgivable because #MedicareForAll is bad policy.

      I may be a minority of one on this, but I don’t grant the Times as an institution standing to be the designated mourner for anything. It’s a form of stolen valor, given their support for policies of high lethality over many years, including both globalization generally and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, who didn’t merit front page coverage either, no more than the back-row yahoos in flyover do. So, “get it,’ but for some definition of get it.

      I am highly allergic to any demand for selective or performative empathy (“I cannot heave my heart into my mouth,” as Cordelia said). Almost as allergic as I am to threadjacking.

      1. J.k

        “It’s a form of stolen valor, given their support for policies of high lethality over many years, including both globalization generally and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi civilians, who didn’t merit front page coverage either, no more than the back-row yahoos in flyover do. ”. Strether.

        Could not agree more. Thanks for posting from War Nerd.

      2. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

        Craig Murray points out very inconveniently that if we are going to have a WW-II sized efforts to avoid deaths then perhaps we should start with totally preventable *hunger*. 25,000 deaths per day. Marshall Plan death avoidance #2: Stop AWFFAP (American War For Fun And Profit).

        But I do appreciate the author’s attempt to turn the deaths calculation into a formula. From what I see though he missed a few key variables in his math: skin color and net worth. Take the affected population, if they are brown then simply divide by 1,000. For net worth apply an income factor starting from the top: Bezos is Citizen Number One, with his income of approximately $1.2M per minute. Calculate from there. If you are white and possess one-hundred seventy thousand million dollars then humanity will do absolutely everything to prevent your death. Lesser beings, not so much.

        1. Diuretical

          I feel like there needs to be a shout-out to Noam Chomsky here — his DNA is all through this piece. Countin’ column inches in The Paper of Record since the 60s. Sadly, Manufacturing Consent remains more relevant today than ever.

          1. Acacia

            The old Chomsky, yes, but in recent years unfortunately he’s strayed into some woke-liberal territory, e.g. parroting the official line on Assad being a “terrible dictator”, etc.

            1. Michael Fiorillo

              Are you suggesting that Assad is not a dictator?

              And isn’t it possible to simultaneously hold the opinion that, even he is a dictator, that the US should not fund mercenaries and terrorists to overthrow him?

      3. Temporarily Sane

        I am highly allergic to any demand for selective or performative empathy


  10. Felix_47

    Even worse our feckless politicians and lawyers created and financed the monster that is Saudi Arabia today. The US discovered and bought the right to the oil in Saudi Arabia. It would be just like a Saudi Oil Company finding and developing oil in Montana. No US court could take that right away. So the US major oil companies had a signed and valid contract to pay royalties for the oil extracted that started in 1950 or so and continued as I remember until 2000 or later. The royalties were substantial but not enough to enable the Saudis to take over Aramco. As outlined by Daniel Yergin in the Prize which I recommend to all NC readers, “The American government was now even more worried about communist influence and Soviet expansion in the Middle East and about regional stability and secure access to oil…..The State Department wanted to see more revenues going to Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries in the region in order to maintain pro Western governments in power and to keep discontent within manageable bounds.” Thus the Department successfully backed the 50/50 agreement. And elsewhere Yergin discusses that the agreement was cooked up to get the oil companies to renegotiate their legally binding royalty agreements through Aramco. In other words to provide a US tax subsidy to make it palatable. The result was that in 1950 Aramco paid the US Treasury $50 million in US taxes, while Saudi Arabia received 60 million in fees. In 1951 once the 50/50 agreement was locked in Aramco paid the US government $6 million and Riyadh received 110 million. The reason Aramco could save 40 million in US taxes and give it to the Saudis was because the Saudis created, upon the recommendation of US lawyers, an income tax on Aramco that our government lawyers cleared with the IRS ahead of time that would allow the oil majors to deduct their new Saudi taxes in lieu of changing the royalty agreements. The oil majors rightfully refused to change the royalty agreements when the Saudi King wanted more money. If it were Texas or South Dakota and I sell my oil rights for a fee I don’t get to change the rules later because I want 50 more wives or another girlfriend in Munich or London or a bigger yacht in Cannes. It was not until congressional hearings 20 years later that the lawmakers figured out how the US taxpayer had been screwed. 20 years later with the embargo our long economic downhill slide started as energy costs exploded never to really retreat. I date 1970 as the last time I thought the economy was progressing in the US. Basically what the US did with the 50/50 agreement was to take US tax dollars and send them to Saudi Arabia so the Saud family could buy Aramco on the US taxpayers dime. Had the US government not done that the oil majors had no obligation to change anything until the end of the royalty agreement many decades later. In some ways the creation of the mideast oil states was one of the more pernicious results of the cold war with Russia. I had the opportunity to spend six months in Saudi Arabia in 1991. I found it appalling. They had baked and fried chicken stands lined up on Fridays around execution square. They had severe poverty and even black slaves. I will admit the slaves seemed quite happy to be there since being a black slave in Saudi Arabia was a lot better than living in Sudan or Nigeria. The wealth and excess of Saudi Arabia is a creation of the US government and law industry. In a way the death of Kashoggi and the death of hundreds of thousands of Yemenis can be laid at the feet of the Truman administration and the fear of Communism. Again, I urge all NC readers who have not to read the Prize. It gives one a real understanding of how feckless and incompetent our leadership has been for a long time. And I suspect one of the reasons the Obama bank bailout was so focused on certain money center banks and why the current bailout was so focused on big finance is because the Saudis own so much equity in US financial institutions. They expect their financial interests to be covered by Washington. We call it petrodollars and the theory at the time was that they would circulate back to our stock market but they would not recirculate the money if they thought the market is going to go down. And the volume of oil money is one of the factors contributing to the huge proportion of our GNP represented now by finance. Because of our government’s consistent policy of America last we now have the best government Riyadh and Jerusalem can buy.

    1. Synoia

      Please use paragraphs. One line spacing in between paragraphs easier to read. Thanks

  11. John Wright

    One must note the humanitarian concern expressed by an op-ed in the Washington Post from March 5, 2020

    “The strategic argument is clear-cut. What happens in Syria doesn’t stay in Syria. A new wave of refugees will destabilize European democracies. The United States has interests all over the region that will be threatened by the rising chaos. The Islamic State will seize the opportunity to revive itself. Eventually, when strong enough, its fighters will attack Americans wherever they can.”


    “After our troubles in Iraq and Afghanistan, many Americans just want the United States out of the Middle East. But Syria is not Iraq. With just a few hundred soldiers and some help to our allies, the lives of millions can be spared from Assad’s cruel rule. And if we allow this slaughter, there will be more slaughters to come. We have a moral imperative to try to stop that.”


    Only a few hundred soldiers are needed?

    Maybe this small number of US soldiers will be supplied by volunteering op-ed writers/media talking heads/think tank staffers/politicians/humanitarian hawks who continually push for “humanitarian US military actions” around the world?

    1. wilroncanada

      I suspect the US is already paying for at least a few hundred soldiers/mercenaries, including some of the selfsame ISIS fighters, since they usually supply some of the people, as well as most of the weaponry, to both sides in most conflicts. How else can it support the MIC, the think tanks, the professional punditocracy, and the ‘scientists’ of war, in order to steal the resources of those nations to further enrich the US .01 percent?

    2. fajensen

      A new wave of refugees will destabilize European democracies. The United States has interests all over the region that will be threatened by the rising chaos. The Islamic State will seize the opportunity to revive itself. Eventually, when strong enough, its fighters will attack Americans wherever they can.”

      All Features, not Bugs!

      1) America *wants* European democracies destabilised because they are Un-American,
      2) Threatened ‘interests’ means that MIL-SEC spending will still rise 5%/pa every year,
      3) Islamic State is mainly a joint KSA and CIA operation, it’s main purpose is objectives ‘1’ and ‘2’,
      4) “Dead Americans” is OK, the right kind of “Dead American” generates the public support for policies that further objectives ‘1’ and ‘2’. Remember: The USA is a country that entertains on average 1 school shooting per week, and too many police shootings to bother with statistics on them, meaning that ‘American Lives’ are entirely a fungible commodity for whatever interests there are!

  12. Daniel Raphael

    A brilliant, heartful piece, one of the best I’ve read at this site. Tweeted, collated at my blog, and highly recommended. Please continue.

  13. Geoff Gray

    Powerful. In the good old days–the 50s and 60s– the USA hid it’s mass extermination programs because it collided with our sense of ourselves as decent people and because it would give us a black eye in the developing world. Now the US of A’s mass extermination programs are out in the open. We’ve changed as a people. We are no longer ashamed about being the world’s leading genocidaire.
    The USA is a rogue terrorist country that needs to be stopped. .

  14. Alex Cox

    Excellent piece.

    And let’s not forget today’s good news: Iranian tankers successfully ran the US blockade to deliver supplies to Venezuela.

    The US could have started two new shooting wars of choice this morning. Instead the behemoth blinked.

  15. David

    OK, let’s just remember that the title of the BBC piece is “Saudi Arabia: How Deep are its Troubles?”, not “How I hate these genocidal head-chopping religious extremists in Riyadh.” There are lots of that sort of article around already: one pops up in my RSS feed every few days, usually mentioning the war in Yemen at length. The article is quite right in its implicit judgement that the war against the Houthi there, for all its brutality, hasn’t made much of an impact on the western media because it’s Arabs killing Arabs, in a wider context which, even of you’ve never been there, you are bound to realise is almost surrealistically complex. By comparison, the Khasoggi story got a lot of coverage, not simply because the unfortunate victim was linked to the western media, but because it’s simple and easy to understand, with a clear and obvious distinction between victim and perpetrators.
    The media – and not just the western media – was ever thus.The fact is that the Khashoggi affair has hurt the Saudis in ways that the Yemen war hasn’t, and the article reflects this reality. (My understanding, though, is that quite a few foreign governments are privately furious with the Saudis for their intervention).There’s not a lot of point in criticising a journalist for not writing the story you think he should have written.

      1. Gnome Chompsky


        And here, in David, we have a live example of exactly how someone can think that it’s somehow not a problem that media considers a single death more noteworthy than hundreds of thousands of deaths — it’s in how they equate media class interests with political class interests.

        Quite revealing.

        1. witters

          I would add that there is perhaps too a certain rancor at the sheer quality of the writing

        2. David

          How on earth could you imagine that I would think that? I’ve watched the media around the world focus on the wrong things for decades, and ignore stories because there was no hook for readers from their country. But it’s silly and unfair to pick on the BBC (which has covered the war in Yemen extensively – look at their site) for writing a story about something else, which in the opinion of this author should have been about MBS’s war. Why not pick on the Wa Po instead’ if you want an outlet for heavy-handed irony and cheap cynicism?

  16. Cathie Reid

    I find this article to be a brilliant piece with an incisive perspective. Informative and compelling. Thank you to the author and to this blog for posting.

  17. CoryP

    I love John Dolan (and Mark Ames). Thanks for featuring them again. This should be widely published.

    Radio War Nerd is an extremely good value-for-money podcast.

  18. Fazal Majid

    The Saudis buy a lot of weapons from the UK, and if the Yemeni quagmire drags on and causes the Saudi budget to implode, so will the British government paymasters of the BBC.

    That said, MSM (pronounced “miasma”) amnesia doesn’t just cover fiscally inconvenient Yemeni war dead. Who knows during the Secong Congo war 40,000 people a month were dying in that conflict, for a decade? No one, after all, they were just black lives, and everyone knows they don’t matter, even less than Yemeni civilians.

    By the way, when Saudi Arabia was waging proxy war with Nasser’s Egypt in Yemen in the 60s, the Saudis supported the Houthis, because they were royalists, not republicans.

  19. Tomonthebeach

    Alas, nobody in the US cares what happens to backward people in shit-hole countries that few Americans have ever visited, and that produce nothing we need for our relatively luxurious standard of living. Trump’s evangelicals will even go so far as to assert that the genocide is God’s will.

    COVID-19 is God’s wake-up call to the West. Unfortunately, it seems that we still want to sleep in.

  20. RBHoughton

    I don’t blame MBS for the carnage in Yemen. This war has been conducted on his behalf by British technicians to prepare and fire the guns and rockets, send the drones over and release their cargoes. British mercenaries from BaE are the star actors in this struggle and its been a nice little earner. Thank Heavens the media never mentions it. It could go on as long as the oil money lasts.

  21. Chris Harris

    John Dolan’s forensic unpicking of evasive language reminds me of George Orwell’s best essays.

  22. Anarcissie

    It surprises me that the article, and so much of the commentary, reads as if the thus revealed character of the New York Times and its like is considered news, even shocking news. Am I to suppose that until now most of you read it with earnest faith in the veracity and fairness of its contents? Really?

  23. ira

    Perhaps the greatest tragedy of what has been happening in Yemen is that almost all the deaths have been due to actions that have absolutely no military rationale:

    The blockade of the seaport of Aden and the airport in Sana’a of food and medical supplies

    The destruction of the cranes and food warehouses in Hodeida, the principal food importing seaport

    The deliberate bombing of water purification and sewage treatment plants

    The bombing of the fishing industry

    And now the WHO has announced that it will have to curtail approximately 80% of its medical services in the country due to Trump’s budget cuts to the agency

    This Is Tuly Genocide

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