Home/Daniel Larison/Yemen and the Silence of “Humanitarian” Interventionists

Yemen and the Silence of “Humanitarian” Interventionists

Samantha Power was interviewed yesterday on ABC’s This Week program. Besides giving a laughable answer that Saudi Arabia’s new position as chair of the U.N. Human Rights Council is “not going to have bearing on human rights one way or the other,” Power’s interview was notable for what it didn’t include. While Raddatz asked her about Syria and U.S. dealings with Russia, her questioning about U.S. policy in the region never once touched on Yemen. Since the intervention in Yemen just passed the six-month mark, the lack of any mention of it was hard to miss. It is all the more remarkable when Raddatz made a point of pressing Power on Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, which is directly related to its ongoing campaign in Yemen and to the crimes it has committed against civilians over the last six months. The omission of Yemen from the conversation is even more glaring when one remembers that Power made a name for herself in the last two decades as a vocal critic of U.S. responses to mass killings and genocide and has been a vocal advocate for “humanitarian” intervention. As U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Power now represents an administration that is actively supporting a Saudi-led intervention that has killed over a thousand civilians at least and brought an impoverished country to the brink of famine, and somehow she is never asked to defend the administration’s position or reconcile its appalling role in this war with its past rhetoric or her own previous statements on similar issues.

I point this out for a few reasons. The U.S. role in the war on Yemen is simply a non-issue in Washington. U.S. officials are almost never asked about it, and they certainly don’t volunteer their views about it unless they are asked. The negligible coverage that the war receives in the U.S. media reflects how little concern about it there is here. The administration is helping to carry out an outrageous, unnecessary, and cruel policy that is contrary to American interests without any significant scrutiny or criticism, which makes it that much easier for it to continue backing the Saudis and their allies as they wreck Yemen. The Obama administration’s role in Yemen makes a mockery of its past rhetoric about the “responsibility to protect,” and it utterly discredits the “humanitarian” interventionists both in and out of government that have been as silent as the grave as millions of Yemeni civilians have been made to starve. Nothing could better demonstrate that “humanitarian” interventionists want the government to “do something” about abuses and war crimes only when these are committed by hostile and pariah regimes. When U.S. clients are responsible for indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the starving of an entire country, they have nothing to say about any of it. That’s worth remembering for the next time that they insist that the U.S. has to “act” in response to some foreign crisis.

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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