In his first major foreign policy address on February 4, President Joe Biden announced that he was "ending all support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales." If only. Five months later, US assistance to the Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen continues, even though some observers don't realize it. In an otherwise perceptive article on President Biden's foreign policy in the May 27, 2021 New York Review of Books, Jessica T. Matthews writes that President Biden "withdrew American support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen that has produced little more than an atrocious level of human suffering."
Only the second half of this sentence is true. Two hundred and thirty-three thousand Yemenis have died over the course of the war which entered its seventh year in March. The country is on the brink of famine with twenty-four million Yemenis relying on humanitarian aid to survive. Over two million children are acutely malnourished with a child dying every 75 seconds. The American Public Health Association governing council has twice passed policy statements condemning the U.S.-supported blockade of Yemen, most recently in 2020 ("A Call to End the Bombing of Yemen and the Blockade on Its Ports"). Small wonder the UN has declared Yemen "the world's worst humanitarian crisis."
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and eight other Gulf and Arab nations attacked Yemen in March 2015 after the country's Houthi rebels overthrew the pro-Saudi government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. President Barack Obama took the US into the war in order to mollify the Arab states which opposed Obama's nuclear deal with Iran. Since then, the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations have provided the coalition with intelligence, targeting assistance, spare parts for coalition aircraft, arms sales, and (until November 2018) in-flight refueling of coalition warplanes. Yemenis speak of the "Saudi-American war."
The Saudis continue to bomb Yemen despite their June 10 announcement that they were suspending airstrikes. The US continues to service Saudi warplanes through private contractors. Without maintenance, the Royal Saudi Air Force would be grounded.
That would save thousands of lives. A staggering 23,000 Saudi-UAE air raids have struck Yemen since 2015. An August 9, 2018 airstrike on a school bus killed 40 children. Forty-one Democrats in the US House of Representatives wrote President Biden in February, calling attention to "the coalition's unconscionable record of indiscriminately bombing tens of thousands of civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, refugee camps, sewage treatment plants, and markets."
Food, fuel, and medicine have become unaffordable owing to a coalition land, sea, and air blockade. The Saudis severely restricted entry of fuel tankers into the Houthi-controlled port of Hodeidah for the first four months of 2021. Yet the Biden Administration did not even acknowledge the existence of the blockade until an exposé in March by CNN senior correspondent Nima Elbagir.
While the Saudi-led coalition continues to blockade Yemen's principal port of Hodeidah, the Houthis adamantly oppose to a ceasefire until the blockade is lifted. Yemen's desperate people, however, are running out of time. Each day the blockade remains in place brings Yemen closer to famine. The blockade must be lifted now, with or without a ceasefire. The Saudi coalition cannot be allowed to use starvation as leverage over the Houthis.
Biden could have issued an executive order on his first day in office ending US support for the Saudi coalition. Biden's failure to do so means that Congress must act. In 2019, in an historic move, Congress passed a War Powers Resolution which would have ended all US assistance to the Saudi coalition. President Trump vetoed the resolution. Congress must pass a new War Powers Resolution, this time by veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.
While he is a welcome change from the incompetence, venality, and cruelty of the Trump Administration, Biden has continued the Obama and Trump Administrations' support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen. Commentators like Jessica T. Matthews give Biden credit he does not yet deserve. We should hold our applause until Biden actually ends US support for Yemen's destruction.
This article was supported and co-authored by Aisha Jumaan, Charles Pierson, Hassan El-Tayyab, Amy Hagopian, Mary Anne Mercer, CODEPINK, Just Foreign Policy, Isaac Evans-Frantz, Ed Kinane, Ann Tiffany, and Jack Gilroy.