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Over 500 Days of the Indefensible, U.S.-Backed War on Yemen

The U.S. continues to enable the Saudis' reckless, atrocious war of choice.
yemen airstrikes sa'ada

The Saudi-led war on Yemen has now lasted over 500 days. These were some of the latest civilian casualties of the bombing campaign:

A pharmacist, Sadam al-Othari, had a firsthand look at the results of the collapse in peace talks in Yemen between the Saudi-led military coalition and Yemeni militias over the weekend when a bomb exploded outside his drugstore, killing a customer and his young son and wounding Mr. Othari.

The customer and his son were among 18 Yemeni civilians killed when coalition warplanes bombed Al Madeed marketplace in the district of Nehm, about 35 miles northeast of Sana, the capital, on Sunday, said Tamim al-Shami, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health.

“They targeted only civilians,” Mr. Othari said. “There wasn’t a single gunman or military vehicle around.”

The coalition bombing of civilian targets has unfortunately been commonplace since the intervention began in March 2015. Human rights organizations have documented numerous instances of coalition attacks on civilian targets throughout the war, and they have found evidence of the repeated use of inherently indiscriminate cluster munitions in civilian areas. All parties to the conflict are responsible for serious war crimes, but the Saudi-led coalition has caused most of the civilian deaths and it is also responsible for the crippling blockade that continues to starve Yemen of basic necessities.

Half of the country’s population–approximately 14 million people–is on the verge of famine or suffering from extreme food insecurity. Three million people are displaced from their homes, thousands have been killed, and tens of thousands injured. The health care system has been wrecked and overwhelmed, and the country’s infrastructure has been devastated. Yemen is listed by the U.N. as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today, and in terms of the sheer number of lives at risk of starvation I think it is fair to say that it is the most severe in the entire world. Even if the fighting stopped immediately (and it obviously won’t), Yemen will be recovering from this war for decades. To make matters worse, the Saudi-led intervention wasn’t necessary for the security of the coalition states, but has been a reckless, irresponsible war of choice from the start. This is what the U.S. has enabled with its military support and diplomatic cover.

The U.S. has not been a bystander in all of this, but has been an active participant by providing weapons, refueling, and intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition from the beginning. U.S. support for the war has not diminished at all in response to evidence of war crimes committed by the Saudis and their allies, but on the contrary has increased in 2016. U.S. support for the war has also extended to aiding the Saudis in their efforts to cover up the coalition’s crimes at the U.N. Last fall, the U.S. sided with the Saudis as they squashed a proposal for an independent investigation into crimes committed by all sides, and instead backed a Saudi proposal to have the Yemeni government they support to conduct the investigation. Samuel Oakford has written an important article on Saudi efforts to stymie international scrutiny of their war with the help of U.S. and other Western governments, and remarks on the U.S. role here:

Using their oil wealth as a weapon—and tacitly encouraged by their most powerful ally, Washington, which has supplied Riyadh with targeting assistance, logistical support and daily aerial refueling of coalition jets in Yemen—the Saudis have refused to moderate their stance. “The U.S. silence has been deafening in the face of aggressive Saudi bullying to prevent the U.N. from condemning a horrendously abusive military campaign that has killed and maimed hundreds of children,” said Philippe Bolopion, deputy director for global advocacy and former U.N. director at Human Rights Watch.

The Obama administration’s backing for this atrocious war has been unstinting, and it has never made any serious public criticism of the coalition’s conduct in Yemen, but I doubt most Americans are even aware of the U.S. role in the conflict. Adam Baron remarked on this earlier today:

Very few would know much about this, and that isn’t all that surprising when we consider how little attention the conflict has received in media coverage. One of the reasons why I keep writing about the war and emphasizing the U.S. role in it is that both have mostly been ignored for the last sixteen months. There is almost no one in Washington talking about U.S. involvement there, and the conflict has never been touched on in any presidential debate throughout our very long election season.

The Democratic ticket is all in favor of U.S. support for the Saudis and their allies, and there is no reason to think that the Republican ticket disagrees. Tim Kaine specifically “urged” the administration to continue providing logistical and intelligence support to the coalition on the day that the bombing began, but you would never know that from any of the stories written about him since he was named as Clinton’s running mate. With the notable and honorable exceptions of Chris Murphy and Rand Paul, almost no one in elected office has objected to what the U.S. is helping the Saudis and their allies to do to Yemen.

All of that neglect and indifference have suited the administration just fine. The only way that administration officials can defend U.S. involvement is to recycle Saudi propaganda or blatantly lie about how the war started, and so they mostly avoid saying anything about it. The Saudi-led war on Yemen is indefensible, and even its enablers in Washington must know that by now.