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Yemen and “Double Standards”

Ibrahem Qasim/Flickr: air strike in Sana'a, May 2015

Aaron David Miller correctly complains about the lack of international criticism directed at the Saudi-led war on Yemen, and then ruins it with this conclusion:

The Saudis escape consequences for their actions in Yemen in part because the Arab coalition is nine countries deep and rich too. The Arab League–of which Yemen is a member–supports the coalition campaign. And a majority of U.N. members appear to be happy to ignore distant, poor Yemen while they support the Palestinian cause and fault Israeli human rights abuses. And unlike the Israelis, the Saudi military doesn’t investigate the accusations against it.

The next time Israel–or the U.S., for that matter–is accused of killing civilians while operating in urban areas against legitimate military targets, it would be nice if critics, the Saudis in particular, held their fire. But I’m not holding my breath.

Miller makes a very fair point that the war crimes of the Saudi-led coalition are largely being ignored. It’s true that some of the people and governments that are ignoring what is being done to Yemen have criticized Israel in the past for similar or lesser abuses. The conclusion to draw from this, however, is not to cut Israel more slack the next time that it bombs and shells a densely-inhabited civilian area, but rather to condemn what the Saudis and their allies are doing to Yemen in the strongest possible terms. The lesson from the world’s general indifference to Yemen’s suffering is not to shrug at other abuses or to find a new whataboutist argument to rationalize them, but to draw attention to the appalling things that have been done to Yemen’s civilian population over the last six months. It wouldn’t be “nice” if Israel’s (or America’s) critics refrained from calling attention to their abuses. That would be a horrible mistake, and it would mean that in place of a double standard there would be no standard at all.

If some people are applying a double standard to Gaza and Yemen, it’s also true that many of the only people and organizations that are paying any attention to the war on Yemen have also criticized Israel for its excessive uses of force in the past. They weren’t applying a double standard when they criticized Israel then, and they aren’t doing it when they criticize Saudi Arabia and its allies now. These are the critics that we should want to be emulating and encouraging instead of shrugging off crimes in unnecessary wars as “unavoidable.”

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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