To mark the one-year anniversary of the start of the Saudi-led war on Yemen, The Wall Street Journal obligingly gave the Saudi ambassador a platform to repeat his government’s propaganda:
When I woke the next morning, I began to understand what was weighing on King Salman: Saudi Arabia and its allies had launched “Operation Decisive Storm,” a military campaign to restore stability to Yemen [bold mine-DL], a country in chaos on our southern border. The action was urgently requested by Yemen’s President Abd-Rabu Mansur Hadi, after Iranian-backed Houthi militias [bold mine-DL] occupied most of the country, including its capital, San’a.
The ambassador repeats all the usual falsehoods and half-truths that the Saudis and their allies have been telling for the last year. The intervention in Yemen was never likely to “restore stability,” and of course has done just the opposite by escalating and internationalizing an internal Yemeni conflict. Iran’s role in the conflict has always been negligible, and it advised the Houthis against taking the capital. Since the Houthis don’t answer to Tehran, they ignored this advice. Framing the Saudi-led war as a fight against expanding Iranian influence has been a deliberate distortion on the part of the Saudis and their allies, and the distortion has been successful in getting many Western governments to perceive the Saudi-led bombing and invasion of the country as a justifiable response rather than the aggressive and unnecessary action that it was.
The Saudi ambassador also mentions the growing power of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but he misrepresents the cause of their ability to recruit and expand. While the Saudis and their allies have focused on fighting the Houthis, they have ignored AQAP and allowed it to take over more territory in the south of the country. The campaign to “restore stability” directly led to the empowerment of jihadist groups, and there have been reports that AQAP has sometimes coordinated with the forces supported by the Saudis’ coalition on the ground. As for raising sectarian tensions, the Saudis and their allies have also been stoking anti-Shia sentiment at least since the war began.
Naturally, the ambassador has nothing to say about the civilian casualties caused by the coalition bombing campaign. The U.N. has said on several occasions the campaign is responsible for most of the civilian casualties in the war. There are many credible reports from reputable human rights organizations and aid groups documenting the war crimes that the Saudi-led coalition has committed. Rasha Mohamed and Rawan Sharif recount some of these in their recent article on the war:
The Houthis and their allies — armed groups loyal to Saleh — are the declared targets of the coalition’s 1-year-old air campaign. In reality, however, it is the civilians, such as Basrallah and Rubaid, and their children, who are predominantly the victims of this protracted war. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in airstrikes while asleep in their homes, when going about their daily activities, or in the very places where they had sought refuge from the conflict. The United States, Britain, and others, meanwhile, have continued to supply a steady stream of weaponry and logistical support to Saudi Arabia and its coalition.
The pattern of coalition attacks on civilian targets has caused some human rights organizations to argue that the Saudi-led coalition may even be guilty of crimes against humanity. So it is a flat-out lie when the ambassador says this:
Saudi Arabia has been working with its allies to take all precautions to protect civilians, medical staff, humanitarian organizations and journalists in Yemen.
None of this is true. Among other things, the Saudis and their allies have repeatedly bombed civilian targets in places where no legitimate military targets existed. They illegally declared all of Saada province a military target, and since then have indiscriminately bombed there with devastating effects on the civilian population. They have bombed hospitals, including several affiliated with Doctors Without Borders. They have repeatedly used inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions, and have used them in densely-populated areas including the capital. They also blew up an Oxfam aid warehouse. It would be far more accurate to say that the Saudis and their allies take almost no precautions to protect any of the groups listed above, and the horrible results of that recklessness are impossible to miss.
The ambassador also neglects to mention the grave humanitarian crisis caused in large part by the blockade enforced by the Saudi-led coalition. The consequences of that blockade are severe and getting worse the longer that the war drags on. One of the biggest threats to much of the civilian population is lack of access to food and other humanitarian aid:
On Wednesday, Oxfam said half of Yemen’s residents, or nearly 14.4 million people, have no access to food or humanitarian assistance due to the conflict, adding that such crisis would only worsen amid expected price increases for food and supplies.
“An invisible food crisis … risks turning famine warnings into a reality over the coming months,” the organization said.
The coalition’s role in starving the civilian population of basic necessities with their blockade is one of the least-covered, least-noticed aspects of the war, but it is the one that is doing the greatest damage to the people of Yemen.
Mohamed and Sharif also provide a good summary the war’s terrible effects:
Attacks like the one on Khamees market have become the norm for civilians in Yemen. More than 3,000 civilians have been killed during the conflict, according to the United Nations. Thousands of others have been injured, more than 2.5 million have been displaced, and 83 percent of Yemenis are reliant on humanitarian assistance. There is barely a single corner of Yemen or a single soul that hasn’t in some way been touched and scarred by this war.
The Saudi-led coalition’s response to reports of civilians unlawfully killed — and homes, schools, and infrastructure destroyed — has been to constantly repeat the mantra that “only military targets are hit by airstrikes.” The situation on the ground tells a very different story. With each unlawful coalition airstrike, it becomes more evident that Saudi Arabia and other coalition members either do not care about respecting international humanitarian law or are incapable of adhering to its fundamental rules.
Given the strong evidence of war crimes committed by the Saudis and their allies in Yemen, I’m not surprised the Saudi ambassador doesn’t want to own up to what the coalition has done. But it is disgusting that he has been given a prominent platform in the U.S. media to promote his government’s propaganda. U.S. media outlets usually just ignore the war, and that’s bad enough. It is even worse to pay attention to the war only to give the Saudi government an opportunity to repeat its lies.
Even more inexcusable than giving the Saudi government a platform for its propaganda is the Obama administration’s disgraceful decision a year ago to provide fuel, arms, and intelligence to aid the Saudis and their allies in their unnecessary and indefensible war. Despite ample evidence of coalition war crimes, the U.S., Britain, and a few other Western governments have continued to arm and supply the coalition’s effort. There have been many opportunities since then to halt U.S. support for the war, but it hasn’t happened. Instead, U.S. officials have praised the governments involved and boasted that the U.S. stands with them. U.S. support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen continues to be a disgrace for our country and especially for the president that approved it.