by Andy Braham
As you read this, Saudi Arabian jets bought and paid for by US taxpayers are flying over Yemen, dropping thousands of pounds of explosives on the poorest country in the Middle East. Yemen, which has roughly the same population as Texas, faces the possibility of mass starvation due to a war between the Houthi south and the Sunni north that began in 2015. Through our explicit support of the Saudi Arabian government, which is currently bombing the country, we are supporting actions described by the international community as war crimes. A bill that would attempt to reduce our support by the invoking the War Powers Act, forcing Congress to approve or deny funding for the Saudi atrocities, failed.
To understand the conflict and see why it is not in our national or moral interest to support the Saudi Arabian government in this situation, we must first take a look at recent Yemeni history. The communist South Yemen and the northern Yemen Arab Republic merged in the early 90s, leaving the pro-western northern leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, in power until 2012. Saleh ruled similarly to other plutocratic Arab regimes supported by the US; he oppressed the Shiite minority and allowed CIA anti-terrorism operations. The terrorists were, in this case, a Sunni insurgency group which morphed into Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Saleh’s rule ended after the Arab Spring of 2012 pushed him out of power and Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi took over the presidency. Shortly following Saleh’s resignation, Shiite Houthi rebels in the south of the country took up arms and a war began. Saudi Arabia feared Yemen would fall into the hands of the Houthis who are supported by the Iranians, Saudi Arabia’s biggest geopolitical foe. As the war escalated, we stopped fighting AQAP and started funding efforts to root out the Shia separatists, including selling over twenty billion dollars of weapons to the Saudi Arabian government.
Terror attacks executed by factions of each side and direct fighting by the rebels and the Yemeni security forces have killed many, but so far the largest killer has been aerial bombing from Saudi jets. More than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed by Saudi bombing raids since 2015. The Saudis have targeted civilian infrastructure including hospitals, schools, water treatment plants, and most significantly the main seaport of Al-Hudaydah which bring in food and humanitarian supplies.
Not only are these bombings war crimes, they put at risk millions of malnourished Yemeni children who rely on foreign food for their survival. In the early 2000s, Yemen shifted from producing a wide array of agricultural products to producing sorghum, cotton, and coffee after a series of large IMF loans. These loans made Yemen one of the least food secure nations. The international community essentially made Yemen reliant on imports to feed their people, but they need functioning ports to import this food. Its ports are not functional when they are being bombed by the Saudis every day. In addition to the possibility of more than half million children starving to death in the next few years, millions of children are at risk of dying of cholera. Roughly seventy percent of the Yemeni people are without access to clean drinking water. Already there have been 900,000 cases of cholera and 10,000 children have died.
In an attempt to gain geopolitical strength over Iran, Saudi Arabia’s actions have amounted to trying to win through starvation and deprivation, which are international crimes. A recent UN resolution makes it clear that any third party that materially supports a nation committing war crimes shares a portion of the responsibility. Therefore, the US fits this definition. Since March 2016, we have refueled over 1,600 Saudi jets during bombing missions, bombing with American-made cluster bombs that we sold to the Saudis in the last year. The Obama administration succumbed to Saudi and Israeli pressure and reauthorized weapons sales even though officials were personally concerned with the possibility of being liable for war crimes. In released memos, senior officials argued over the Law of Armed Combat (LOAC) and whether the US would be classified as third party to any wrongdoings. The fact that the administration worried about LOAC means that they were well aware that the bombings constituent war crimes. When pressed about our continued support, the Obama administration declared that they are supporting the Saudi Arabian government to fight Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, yet the Saudi Government is bombing the Houthis, direct rivals to any Sunni rebel forces who are actually supported by the Saudis. Essentially, we have little practical reasons to support the Saudis in this pursuit besides maintaining an alliance with Saudi Arabia.
The Yemeni crisis may be the largest humanitarian issue of the decade and we Americans have a duty to deny any support to any country that exacerbates this situation. From the point of view of the Yemenis, the situation is not going to get any better until people stop bombing them. Just recently, a Congressional resolution, sponsored by Congressman Ro Khanna, was stopped in its tracks by small group of Democrats and a three Republicans. Many in the anti-war movement supported this resolution, even though all it does is require Congress to vote on the authorization of support for Saudi Arabia, instead of executive edict. Even a small move to reduce our support of needless violence in the middle east, lacks support. Just as half a million children were starved to death in Iraq in the 90s, the blockade itself is liable to kill than the bombings. This is history repeating itself and that we have responsibility to stop it.
(Sources: antiwar.com, CNN, Foreign Policy, Scott Horton, Gareth Porter, Samantha Power)