A humanitarian crisis is ravaging Yemen and, despite numerous promises, U.S. politicians — including President Biden — have done nothing to stop it. In fact, not only have U.S. policies failed to address the unfolding disaster, but they have actually enabled and worsened it.
Civil war has wracked the country since 2014, when Houthi rebels launched an offensive in which they seized control of the capital city of Sanaa, ousted Yemeni officials, and installed a new government to replace one that had been led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Since then, the struggle to rule Yemen has been a violent contest between members of the Houthi insurgency and remaining elements of the previous Yemeni government.
Shortly after the conflict began, a coalition organized and directed by Saudi Arabia began to intervene on behalf of the official government of Yemen. For almost eight years, the coalition has attempted to undermine the Houthi regime through airstrikes as well as a blockade on Yemeni ports. Although direct fighting has diminished over the last year, the blockade remains.
The consequences have been devastating. By June of last year, the Saudi air campaign in Yemen had killed almost 9,000 civilians: an estimate that is considered to be “conservative.” At the same time, the siege of Yemeni sea- and airports has caused a severe and “unprecedented” famine, in which more than 17 million Yemeni men, women, and children do not have reliable and consistent access to food. As is often — maybe always — the case, the primary victims of the armed struggle have been innocent noncombatants.
Saudi military action in Yemen has been criminal by any rational, coherent, and moral standard. Many Saudi attacks have deliberately targeted civilian structures and population centers. Others, while ostensibly conducted against legitimate military targets, have been carried out with little to no regard for the high risks of civilian casualties. These assaults, along with the blockade that has prevented food from reaching millions of Yemeni tables, are decisive evidence that the salient Saudi strategy in Yemen is to torture and murder civilians.
And yet, the U.S. government has been quick and eager to implicate itself in these atrocities. In the five years between 2015 and 2020, the United States has provided more than $64 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, and has likely trained some of the very Saudi pilots who execute its lethal airstrikes.
How were those weapons used? Unfortunately, nobody knows. That is because both the Pentagon and the Department of State neglected to keep track of whether U.S. arms were involved in the Saudi intervention in Yemen, making it very possible — arguably likely — that the United States provided direct support of Saudi war crimes.
As the Yemeni people are bombarded from the air and starve on the ground, U.S. politicians offer their empathy and pledge their assistance. Then they do absolutely nothing.
In some of his first remarks on foreign policy after he was elected, President Biden said “we’re… stepping up our diplomacy to end the war in Yemen… [and] we are ending all American support for offensive operations… including relevant arms sales.”
By the letter of the law, he has honored that commitment. The $650 million in air-to-air missiles that were sold to Saudi Arabia in 2021 — a sale approved by President Biden — were described as “means to defend ,” Saudi skies from Houthi air attacks.
But these actions are nowhere close to good enough. Under President Biden’s leadership, the United States has continued to “enable the blockade… by servicing Saudi fighter jets, assisting [the coalition] with military defense operations, and providing military and diplomatic support to [the coalition].”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress sits on its hands and looks the other way. In December, Senator Bernie Sanders withdrew his Yemen War Powers Resolution, which would have “remov[ed] United States Armed Forces from hostilities in… Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.” After initially clashing with the president over the resolution, Senator Sanders eventually pulled it at the behest of the Biden administration.
Americans must demand an end to this. In January, Rehumanize International, along with more than 50 other organizations and advocacy groups, signed an Action Corps statement calling for nationwide demonstrations against Saudi operations in Yemen and U.S. patronage of them.
1) to introduce, sponsor, and pass a Yemen War Powers Resolution that secures the complete cessation of U.S. participation in the Saudi war effort;
2) to stop all weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and other coalition member states;
3) to put pressure on the coalition to end its naval and air blockade of Yemen;
4) to expand humanitarian aid for the people of Yemen;
5) to hold congressional hearings into the role of the United States in the war; and
6) to remove the National Security Council Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa — Brett McGurk, a champion of U.S. arms deals with Saudi Arabia and support for the coalition’s war — from his post.
On Wednesday, March 1st, representatives of Action Corps, Rehumanize International, and numerous other organizations will assemble and insist that these requirements are met. Americans everywhere are asked to join, and to deliver a clear message: we will not tolerate destructive and dehumanizing violence, and we will not sit idly by as a humanitarian crisis born of this violence unfolds.
In Yemen, thousands of lives have already been lost. Tens of millions more hang in the balance. Americans, their legislators, and the global community cannot afford to wait any longer.