Asher Orkaby reviews the origins of the war on Yemen and describes the horrible humanitarian catastrophe that it has created. Here he notes that the Saudis’ justification for the intervention was made up to win international backing:
In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab nations from the Gulf Cooperation Council launched a military campaign to push back the Houthis and restore the government. Saudi Arabia presented the intervention as a response to the threat of Iranian expansionism, arguing that the Houthis were effectively an Iranian proxy. This won it the support of other Arab countries and the United States. Yet Saudi rhetoric has grossly misrepresented Iran’s role in the conflict. Although some small arms and money have flowed from Iran to the Houthis, the amounts are not large, and there is no real Houthi-Iranian alliance [bold mine-DL].
It has been common in Western coverage of the war to frame it as a “proxy war” between the Saudis and Iran, and also to describe it primarily in sectarian terms, but both of these are inaccurate and have been promoted by the Saudis and their Western supporters to obscure the real reasons for the conflict. Hawkish supporters of the war on Yemen have been eager to echo Saudi claims about Iranian “expansionism” because it dovetails with their other alarmist claims about Iran’s role in the region, and it somehow makes the wrecking and starving of Yemen more acceptable to our political class if it is being done for anti-Iranian reasons. Regardless, the war is indefensible, and the U.S. should have no part in it. Because the U.S. has backed the war from the start, it is incumbent on our government and the public to bring it to an end and attempt to repair the damage that has been done to Yemen.
The famine and cholera crises that the Saudi-led campaign and blockade have caused are the worst in the world. Orkaby reminds us of the details:
The intervention, which began as a series of air strikes against Houthi military targets, has morphed into an attempt to destroy Yemen’s economic infrastructure in order to turn public opinion away from the Houthi movement and its anti-Saudi stance. Hospitals, factories, water mains, sewage facilities, bridges, and roads have all been demolished in bombing raids. The Saudi coalition, with help from the United States, has blockaded Yemen’s ports and rendered it dangerous for civilian aircraft to fly over the country, making it difficult for aid agencies or businesses to bring goods into Sanaa’s airport and for wounded Yemenis to go abroad for treatment [bold mine-DL].
Yemen’s economy, already weak, has collapsed under the pressure. For many Yemenis, buying food or medicine is now difficult or impossible. According to the UN, two-thirds of Yemen’s 28 million people face food shortages and do not have access to clean water. Seven million of them live in areas on the brink of famine, and nearly two million Yemeni children are acutely malnourished [bold mine-DL]. Without working public services, rubbish and sewage have piled up on the streets and leached into drinking wells. Since April, cholera, which spreads in contaminated water, has infected over 600,000 people, killing more than 2,000.
As Reuters reported earlier this month, the widespread malnutrition and famine are the result of the coalition blockade. The cholera epidemic has become even worse than it was when Orkaby was writing this, as there are now over 840,000 cases. The Red Cross estimates that there will over one million by the end of the year, and that is probably a conservative estimate. Millions of lives are threatened by starvation and preventable disease, these crises are being caused in large part because of the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed campaign and blockade, and the suffering of the civilian population could be significantly ameliorated if those were brought to an end.
The Trump administration has shown no sign of halting its support for the coalition or pressuring the Saudis to end their failed war. If it is left up to the executive, U.S. support for the war will never end, and that is why Congress must assert itself to end our involvement. That is why it is imperative that the House pass H. Con. Res. 81 next month. The vote is expected to be held on November 2, so there is still time to contact your representatives and urge them to support the resolution. The House will have the opportunity to repudiate the disgraceful support that the U.S. has been providing to the coalition, and I urge them to take it.