Yemen received a few mentions last night, but none of the references was to the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war there. Huckabee mentioned the country to ding Obama for having called his counter-terrorism policy there a success, but he had nothing to say about the conflict or the U.S. role in it. Rubio mentioned the emerging ISIS affiliate there in passing, but pointedly failed to address the Saudi-led intervention he supports that helped make this possible. Hugh Hewitt claimed that Iran was “winning” there, which showed how little he knows about the place. Instead of being completely ignored as it usually is, Yemen was simply used as a prop to make whatever point the speaker wanted to make.
The frustrating thing here is that there were many other issues being debated last night that are related to the ongoing war on Yemen. Several candidates talked about getting Arab states to contribute more to the war on ISIS, but none was asked about the effect the war on Yemen was having on their support for the other campaign. Almost all of the candidates were eager to show off their hostility to Iran, so one might think that they would want to express their appalling support for the Saudi-led coalition’s war. Everyone wanted to talk about the threat from ISIS and other jihadists, which the war on Yemen is making worse. Yemen would seem to be a perfect issue for Paul to use against the Obama administration and Rubio, but there is apparently no interest in doing so. Perhaps the Iran hawks in the field agree with U.S. policy, but don’t want to associate themselves with something that Obama is doing, and so they say nothing about it. Whatever the reason for this neglect, it means that a major conflict in the region to which the U.S. is a party continues to be overlooked and neglected in our debates.
This is all the more unfortunate when the start of U.N.-sponsored peace talks this week provided a good opportunity to talk about the country and the effect of the almost nine-month war that the U.S. has backed there. The New York Times published a relevant editorial today:
Human rights groups say all the warring parties share blame for the catastrophe and have displayed a careless disregard for human life. But the Saudi-led coalition, crucially supported by American intelligence, has been responsible for most of the deaths. Coalition airstrikes have hit residential neighborhoods, schools and hospitals, and about 70 people died when a bomb hit a wedding party in September.
Given this irresponsible record, it is baffling and disgraceful that the Obama administration is proceeding with the sale of $1.29 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia, mostly smart bombs that can be used to continue the killing spree. Congress could have blocked the sale but instead merely extended its review of the matter and delayed the transfer of weapons for 30 days.
Although America and Saudi Arabia have long been security partners, Washington should not provide weapons and intelligence if the Saudis use them in a way that increases conflict in the region.
The administration’s decision on the latest arms deal is disgraceful, as is its ongoing support for the Saudi-led campaign, but it has become predictable by now. The U.S. is backing the Saudis and their allies in the demolition and starving of Yemen knowing full well that it has been a disaster for the people of Yemen and for the wider region, but it values “reassuring” the Gulf despots more. The Obama administration has done this over the persistent objections of human rights groups, and it has helped to shield the Saudis from international scrutiny of their crimes in Yemen. There is no excuse for the U.S. role in this indefensible war, and for the most part the administration doesn’t even try to offer one. We may hope that the peace talks in Switzerland lead to a longer pause in the fighting than previous cease-fires have allowed, but as long as the Saudis and their allies can rely on U.S. support and commit war crimes with impunity it is doubtful that there can be a lasting end to the conflict.