Four years ago, the U.S. and a handful of other governments launched an air war in Libya that eventually led to the collapse of the old regime and contributed significantly to the ongoing violence and disorder in that country over the last few years. The official justification for the intervention was the “protection of civilians,” which was supposedly going to be secured by escalating a foreign civil war into an international conflict. As far as I’m concerned, “humanitarian” military intervention is a contradiction in terms, as the Libyan war has shown. Nonetheless, “humanitarian” interventionists were insistent that the U.S. and its allies had to attack and help overthrow a foreign government that was being challenged by an armed rebellion. Four years later, the U.S. is helping several of its Gulf clients (some of which participated in the Libyan war) smash an impoverished country at great cost to the civilian population ostensibly to roll back the gains made by rebels and to reimpose an exiled government.
These interventionists are now mostly indifferent to or supportive of the Saudi-led, U.S.-backed war on Yemen. If any are opposed, they are doing a good job of keeping it a secret. The main difference between the two cases seems to be that the rebels in this case are deemed to be on the “wrong” side of the conflict, and for that reason the entire country can be made to suffer and the civilian population can be subjected to the most horrible deprivation without so much as a word from the hawks that so often babble about a “values”-based foreign policy. If a different coalition of states not aligned with the U.S. were doing this to a poor neighboring country, the response from “humanitarian” interventionists would likely be quite different. When the Saudis are strangling Yemen and bombing its cities indiscriminately, it doesn’t seem merit even a shrug.
The point here isn’t just to draw attention to “humanitarian” interventionists’ inconsistent and arbitrary policy preferences, but to emphasize that the interventionists that use humanitarian crises in some conflicts to agitate for U.S. involvement have little or no interest in talking about the humanitarian crises that the U.S. and its clients are creating. The same people that normally can’t shut up about the need to “do something” and to take sides a foreign conflict become strangely quiet when the U.S. is actively taking sides in a war that is inflicting enormous harm on a civilian population.