US Complicit in the Destruction of Yemen
By: Presley West
Although international media coverage of the conflict has been sparse, the ongoing civil war in Yemen that began two years ago continues to devastate the poorest nation in the Arab world. The war between the internationally recognized government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi and Houthi rebels, who champion Yemen’s Sunni minority, has created a massive humanitarian crisis in the country that intensified exponentially when Saudi Arabia and Iran, who have conflicting interests, joined the fight.
Airstrikes from a Saudi and Emirati-led coalition backing the President’s rule and Iranian military support for the Houthi rebels have triggered “ the world’s worst humanitarian aid crisis” in Yemen. A deadly cholera outbreak plagues the country. Over half of the population are uncertain about where they will get their next meal. A Saudi naval blockade, intended to prevent Houthi rebels from acquiring weapons from abroad, has effectively choked off the supply of food, medicine, and aid flowing into the country. Human Rights Watch has declared that both sides of the conflict are guilty of committing serious human rights abuses.
Yemen is being laid to waste in front of the world’s eyes and global powers such as the United States are not only ignoring the devastation caused by foreign involvement; they are enabling it. By militarily and diplomatically backing a Saudi campaign that has been placed on a UN blacklist for the killing and maiming of children, America has become complicit in violations of international humanitarian law in Yemen.
The United States military’s involvement in the conflict has not been insignificant. Air Force intelligence services provide critical intel on the location of Houthi targets. The Air Force also provides Saudi jets with refueling capabilities, allowing the Saudis to conduct air operations without having to return to a base to refuel. Though the U.S. remains “uninvolved” by keeping the American Air Force out of Yemeni airspace, statistics from the Pentagon show that Saudi jets have been refueled by the U.S. Air Force over 9,000 times.
Although the U.S. has conducted no airstrikes of its own, the logistical and technological support that the U.S. military is providing to Saudi forces is, without doubt, aiding in the killing of thousands of Yemeni civilians and destroying their hospitals, churches and homes.
U.S. support of the Saudi-led coalition began during the Obama administration due to the proxy war’s high stakes for the regional balance of power. Regional analysts widely agree that a victory for the Houthi—and thus, Iran—would change the balance of power in the Middle East. The Obama administration intervened in the conflict with the intention of preventing that shift in power. However, an unlawful airstrike on a funeral that killed at least 100 people prompted the administration to discontinue the mass sale of arms to Saudi Arabia during Obama’s final few days in office. Still, the administration continued providing military support and intel that is still being provided today in an effort to maintain Saudi dominance in the region.
In a rare instance of agreement with Obama, President Trump has continued to provide the military support for the Saudi-led coalition that originated in the Obama administration. Under Trump’s leadership, ties with Saudi Arabia have actually grown stronger. In July, Congress narrowly voted to allow a $500 million arms deal with Saudi Arabia. Legislators in support of the bill reasoned that improved economic and diplomatic relations with an ally in the Middle East would be beneficial. However, those in opposition argued that arming Riyadh shows a gross neglect of the suffering being inflicted in Yemen.
“Today I stand for the millions of voiceless children in Yemen who will be killed by the Saudi blockade,” said Rand Paul in a moving, but ultimately unsuccessful, Senate floor speech prior to the vote. “Today I stand up for saying we, the United States, should no longer be fueling the arms race in the Middle East.”
Paul’s speech addressed the glaring morality issue of backing a military campaign that has committed, and continues to commit, war crimes. In a Senate floor speech in late September, Paul addressed another issue with current U.S. involvement in the war: unconstitutionality.
Congress has never authorized, or even voted upon, U.S. military involvement in Yemen’s civil war.
This clear violation of the Constitution and War Powers Act of 1973 is not unprecedented; the US has not formally declared war since 1942. As the nature of war has changed drastically over the past few decades, so has legislators’ role in overseeing conflicts. However, a bipartisan group of senators has banded together to “reassert Congress’ sole constitutional authority to debate and declare war,” with the ultimate goal of ending US involvement in a war that is both unconstitutional and immoral.
U.S. involvement in the war can continue without congressional action; legislators must vote on whether or not to continue military support for the Saudi and Emirati-led coalition. As legislators Ro Khanna, Mark Pocan, and Walter Jones said in an op-ed to the New York Times, “too many lives hang in the balance to allow this American war to continue without congressional consent.”
After a vote, the next steps are a little less clear. While many call for a complete withdrawal of U.S. support, others argue that supporting the Hadi regime is critical to U.S. interests in the Middle East.
In either case, the United States is complicit in human rights violations in Yemen’s civil war. Whether or not congress ultimately votes to continue involvement or withdraw from the conflict, steps must be taken to ensure that the U.S. does not back a regime that is effectively starving an entire population with no regard for human suffering. The U.S. should band together with other Western countries that also back Saudi Arabia, such as France and the United Kingdom, to demand that the Saudis stop using tactics that disproportionately affect innocent civilians, such as blockading Yemen and refusing to allow medicine and relief into the country. If demands to end these tactics are not met, the United States should cease support for a coalition that is perpetrating devastation and destruction against innocent Yemenis.