The first step in tackling Yemen's humanitarian crisis is acknowledging that that the tragedy in Yemen is the result of foreign military intervention in the internal affairs of that country. Of recent, Congress took a first step in recognizing this with a bill, titled H.CON.RES.81, which calls for the invocation of the War Powers Act to end US participation in the war in Yemen. But while the bill was promising in the beginning, in the end it was denied privileged status, which would have expedited its hearing, and it was sent to oblivion in committee.
H.CON.RES.81, also known as the Khanna bill, ran into opposition, not just from Republicans disposed to support a president who tweets in support of the Saudi Prince but also from the Democratic Whip, Steny Hoyer, who urged fellow Democrats to refuse to sign onto the bill.
It seemed America, yet again, was not willing to stop sticking their nose where it doesn't belong. In fact, while we often hear of Yemen's humanitarian crisis, it is barely acknowledged how America's support of Saudi Arabia plays a large role in causing this humanitarian crisis.
It started when, in 2014, Houthi rebels under the backing of Iran deposed Yemen’s government and took over the capital. In response, Saudi Arabia launched a military operation to oust the Houthi and restore the government. The US, having just signed the Iran Deal and in fear of a diminishing relationship with Saudi Arabia, backed Saudi Arabia. The result has been is a split country experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Three million Yemeni citizens are now displaced, and the country is experiencing famine – 60% of Yemen’s 28 million people are food insecure, while half a million children under the age of five are suffering life-threatening malnutrition, the U.N. says. What's more, cholera, an often fatal bacterial disease contracted from infected water supplies, has made a comeback killing over 2,000 people and infecting 900,000. The disease is particularly prevalent in regions cut off from supplies due to airstrikes and blockades by a Saudi-led military coalition.
Exacerbating the humanitarian crisis are war crimes. In the months between June and September this year, Human Rights Watch documented five unlawful airstrikes that killed 39 civilians, including 26 children. A United Nations Human Rights Council report from September detailed more than 5,000 civilian casualties from March 2015 to August 2017. Children accounted for more than 1,000 of the victims. Not all of them were killed by airstrikes, and some died at the hands of Houthi rebels, but the report made clear that the vast majority of civilian casualties were from coalition strikes. In the wake of these disasters, the US has remained utterly compliant; Trump went so far as to announce a new $110 billion arms package with Saudi Arabia.
Further, the United States has continued selling the Saudi monarchy missiles and warplanes, assisting in the coalition’s targeting selection for aerial bombings and actively providing mid-air refueling for Saudi and United Arab Emirates jets that conduct indiscriminate airstrikes.
At the beginning of this month, things took a turn for the worse when Saudi Arabia's Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, displayed his ruthless ambitions by cracking down on businessmen and members of the royal family. What he tried to play off as an anti-corruption probe was nothing more than a fundamental power play to cement his internal control over the kingdom. However, while Salman's detaining of numerous members of the royal family, as well as current and former prime ministers and affluent businessmen, has dominated the headlines, the most immediate danger of his coup is his willingness to worsen tension with Iran, and consequently exacerbate Yemen's current humanitarian crisis.
Trump's response to these destabilizing activities was to align immediately with the authoritarian Prince. On Monday, the 6th of November, he said he had "great confidence" in Salman's crackdown without providing a shred of evidence upon which this confidence was based.
Meanwhile, that same Monday, Saudi Arabia charged that a missile fired at its capital from Yemen over the weekend was an “act of war” by Iran, revealing a new level of hostility in a long-time mounting rivalry.
Saudi Arabia responded by closing all air, sea, and land ports to stem the flow of arms to Iran-backed Houthis. This blocked virtually all humanitarian deliveries to Yemen, including at least three United Nations airplanes full of emergency supplies. The World Food Program and the anti-hunger agency of the United Nations, which had been feeding seven million people a month in Yemen, were unable to do so. It would seem this move would call for heightened accountability, but the US demanded none.
However, it was over two weeks until Saudi Arabia, under pressure, announced plans to reopen the port of Al Hudaydah, a major lifeline for residents of Houthi-controlled areas and to reopen the airport in Sana, the capital, to United Nations aid planes.
Even so, Humanitarian groups warned that the arrival of lifesaving supplies should not be misunderstood as an end to the pressing crisis, but instead as the first step in re-establishing a consistent flow of food and medicine to a country with millions of civilians in need.
While Salman's anti-corruption rhetoric and a moderate Middle East is music to all western ears, it cannot be ignored that he is simultaneously escalating a devastating human rights crisis. It must also not be ignored that Salman's country is responsible for the rise of Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative form of Islam and the root of intolerance in the Middle East. In July 2013, the EU Parliament identified Wahhabism as the main source of global terrorism. Finally, let us not forget that 15 of the 19 hijackers responsible for the 9/11 attacks were Saudi Arabian. This problematic history should make us weary of staying in bed with Saudi Arabia, despite the Prince's words.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman has not been elusive in his intentions with Iran. In a speech to reassure foreign investors, he said that Saudis want to “return to a moderate Islam that had existed in the country prior to 1979.” He is blaming Iran and its 1979 revolution for Saudi Arabia’s turn toward state-sponsored radicalization of religious thought (ignoring that it was America who overturned democracy in Iran in 1954). And to return to moderate Islam, in the eyes of Salman, it is necessary to demolish Iran regardless of the victims of this decision.
The US relationship with Saudi Arabia is supposedly built on a foundation of common interests, not common values. However, Saudi interest has recently dominated American values and dwarfed the respect for human rights are country prides itself on. It is clear that Saudi Arabia, under Salman's control, intends to escalate their conflict with Iran in a way that encourages more Saudi-led offensives in Yemen. It is also clear that the utterly clueless Donald Trump has no problem with any of this.