The Lobbying War for War in Yemen

"Coalition airstrikes are based on intelligence and extensive monitoring and surveillance, to ensure all targets are military installations…Extensive precautions are taken to avoid civilian areas, especially where women and children are present," a spokesman for the Saudi coalition in Yemen, announced on December 20.

Six days later, a Saudi coalition air strike ripped through a crowded market in Yemen, killing at least 54 civilians, including eight children. That same day another Saudi coalition air strike killed 14 civilians on a farm in Yemen. All were members of the same family. According to the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, these were in addition to 84 civilians killed in just the previous 10 days in Yemen, and "These incidents prove the complete disregard for human life that all parties, including the Saudi-led Coalition, continue to show in this absurd war."

A spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition responded, not by consoling the victims’ families, but by questioning the "credibility" of the United Nations, and "the competence of its employees working in Yemen."

While a seemingly unexpected response, this denial wasn’t a new tactic by the Saudi government. Since the war in Yemen began, and despite the United Nations confirming that more than 10,000 civilian lives have been lost in the conflict, the Saudi government and their lobbyists in D.C. have been working to keep Yemen off most policymakers’ radar and keep U.S. military support and weapons flowing into Saudi Arabia in record numbers.

In 2017 alone, Saudi Arabia spent more than $16 million on 28 lobbying and public relations firms registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). These efforts appear to have borne fruit quickly as President Trump spoke with Saudi Arabia’s King just days after his inauguration. During the call, "the Kingdom pledged to support safe zones in Syria and Yemen," according to a Podesta Group press release sent to more than 50 prominent think tank experts.

A year later, there are no "safe zones" in Yemen, only more promises by the Saudi’s to create them.

On February 13, 2017, two weeks after Trump spoke with King Salman, Qorvis MSL Group distributed a press release on behalf of Saudi Arabia declaring that "Safeguarding civilians remains foremost priority" for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

Two days later a Saudi coalition strike reportedly killed nine women and one child who had gathered to mourn the death of a local woman.

On May 20, 2017, Trump landed in Saudi Arabia on his first trip abroad as President, announcing a $110 billion arms sale to the Kingdom. Four days prior, Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber, Schreck, filed a "fact sheet" it’s lobbyists had circulated on reducing civilian casualties, which claimed "Saudi Arabia has taken several steps to create a more thorough vetting process for target selection and validation for the Saudi-led Coalition’s operations in Yemen."

Five days later a Saudi coalition strike reportedly killed 24 civilians at a Yemen market.

On August 22, 2017, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia met with Jared Kushner and other members of the Trump administration and "committed to strengthen the relationship and close cooperation" between the two countries, according to a press release distributed by Qorvis MSLGroup on behalf of the Saudi Embassy.

The next day Saudi coalition strikes around Yemen’s capital reportedly killed or wounded at least 30 civilians.

Nonetheless, the Saudi’s and their lobbyists in DC have continued to tout Saudi humanitarian efforts in Yemen. On January 22, 2018 they announced the Yemen Comprehensive Humanitarian Operations (YCHO) plan to address the humanitarian situation in Yemen.

The next day a Saudi coalition airstrike in Yemen reportedly killed nine civilians, including four children.

Despite these and many other instances where the Saudi lobby’s claims have been rebutted by the horrifying realities on the ground in Yemen, the US has continued to support the Saudi led coalition. But, that support may be coming to an end if Congress passes legislation introduced this week by Senators Sanders (I-VT) and Lee (R-UT) to block US support for the Yemen war.

Saudi lobbyists are likely feverishly working to ensure the legislation doesn’t pass. They will not tell of the immense suffering of the Yemen people in the world’s largest humanitarian crisis or of how the war is helping al Qaeda grow stronger and richer. They’ll make promises of humanitarian assistance, of improvements to avoid civilian casualties. They’ll promise things belied by the realities of the Yemen war. It’s time that Congress stopped believing them.

Ben Freeman, Ph.D., is the Director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy, and author of The Foreign Policy Auction, an investigation of foreign influence in America. E-mail: