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How the World Failed Yemen

Peter Salisbury explains how Yemen was pushed into the abyss of famine. Here is his sobering conclusion:

The U.N. resolution was an opportunity for the international community to draw a line in the sand on the port. In fact, a cynic might argue that U.S. calls for peace talks in October — which were followed by a renewed UAE offensive and a thunderous declaration of support on all fronts for the Saudis from President Trump — were more about staving off impending congressional action on Yemen, and buying time and plausible deniability when the fight for the port begins [bold mine-DL].

When the famine comes, the United States will not be alone in its culpability. Yemen represents a long-term failure of the international system and the U.N. Security Council in particular. As the country slips into unimaginable, desperate hunger, it’s important to understand that what is happening was utterly, tragically predictable. The people who should have known knew. They just had other priorities.

The international response to Yemen’s catastrophe has been slow and inadequate from the start, and despite the increasing severity and urgency of the crisis that has not changed significantly. There is now more attention being paid to Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, but while this is an improvement it has come several years later than it should have. It seemed as if the Security Council was finally going to act, but the Trump administration stepped in to prevent that at the behest of the Saudi coalition. A cynicmight indeed argue that the Trump administration’s feigned interest in negotiations and a ceasefire was a tactic to weaken support for antiwar resolutions in Congress and buying time for the coalition. Luckily, the administration failed to quash opposition to the war, and its own ham-fisted attempts at justifying continued support for the war have backfired spectacularly. Unfortunately, the administration has managed to buy the coalition more time, and as the Hodeidah offensive continues any Congressional action later this month or in the new year could prove to be too late to help many millions of starving Yemenis.

The U.S. is not alone in its culpability for creating this disaster, but our government’s role has been a particularly shameful one. Our government’s policy during both the Obama and Trump administrations has been to aid and abet some of Yemen’s wealthier, more powerful neighboring states in the destruction of the country and starvation of its people. This was our policy not because it served any discernible American interest (indeed it has been harmful to U.S. interests), but simply because it was what the Saudis and Emiratis wanted. The famine that is already devouring the lives of many innocent Yemenis was foreseen long ago, but except for the heroic work of aid agencies virtually nothing has been done to stop it. It could have been prevented at any point over the last three and a half years. Instead, it has been allowed to happen because the governments that could stop it want to use mass starvation to force Yemen into submission.

The rest of the world has utterly failed Yemen because, as Salisbury says, all of the governments and institutions that could have prevented famine there were more concerned about almost anything else but the welfare of the civilian population. The Saudi coalition has wanted to prevail in its senseless war no matter the cost to the people of Yemen. The “legitimate” government doesn’t represent the people and hasn’t spoken in their defense because it is part of the coalition that has been destroying the country. All of the warring parties have put their short-term gains ahead of the long-term security, health, and well-being of the people under their control. The U.N. has warned about what is happening, but as always it is held hostage to the agendas of its member states. The U.S. has disgracefully fueled the conflict while pretending not to be part of it, and then insisted that our involvement in the war must continue for the sake of peace. The current administration has distinguished itself in the worst way by placing more value on weapons sales than it places on the lives of tens of millions of suffering people. The lives of people in other countries usually count for very little in our foreign policy debates, and the lives of Yemenis seem to count for even less, and with almost no one to speak on their behalf their rights and interests have been trampled on and cast aside. These failures are familiar and can be found in the international response to other conflicts, but in Yemen the cost of these failures is likely to be far higher and more horrifying.

There is still time to prevent Yemen’s famine from claiming many millions of lives, but there won’t be for much longer.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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