Secretary Mattis’ case for supporting the war on Yemen earlier this month was remarkably weak, and his praise for Saudi Arabia this week is obnoxious:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is applauding Saudi Arabia for its humanitarian aid to war-torn Yemen.

Specifically, Mattis said, “Your significant amounts of humanitarian aid is critical to helping the innocent caught up in this conflict (and) we applaud you for that.”

The Saudi “aid” efforts are not what they seem, and Mattis is wrong to applaud them. Even if the Saudi-led coalition were making a sincere effort to mitigate the worst consequences of their war, the aid they have provided is a pittance compared to the enormous humanitarian crisis that their policies have created. The amounts of aid are not all that significant, and they are woefully inadequate when weighed against depriving the civilian population of essential goods by blockading the main ports in the north. The Saudis and their allies have it within their power to ameliorate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis significantly, but they have to give up their blockade to do so. Until they do that, any “aid” is being done for the sake of appearances at best and at worst it is a deliberate distraction from their cruel policy of starving Yemen.

Unfortunately, the coalition has not been making a good faith effort to alleviate the suffering of most Yemen’s people. Instead they have maintained a blockade that has created conditions for famine and cholera, and that blockade is still in place today. Mattis is quoted as saying that the Saudis are “part of the solution,” but the truth is that they are a principal cause of Yemen’s current problems. Praising the Saudis for their “aid” efforts in Yemen is akin to applauding the arsonist because he offers his victims a bucket to put out the fire that he set. It is ridiculous, but worse than that it gives the perpetrator a pass on his much larger crimes.

Mattis went on to say that “we are going to end this war and that “we are going to end it on positive terms for the people of Yemen.” There was an opportunity to move towards ending the war earlier this week by cutting off U.S. military assistance to the coalition, but Mattis opposed the resolution that would do that. The people of Yemen desperately need peace, but unless the war is brought to an immediately it is difficult to see how it could end “on positive terms for the people of Yemen.” The best thing that Mattis and the Trump administration could do is to demand an end to the blockade and insist on a cease-fire by coalition and coalition-backed forces, and that could create an opening for a more permanent negotiated settlement. At the very least, it would offer the civilian population some relief. Until they do that, the war will drag on with U.S. backing and the people of Yemen will continue suffering grievously.