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Restore Aid to Yemen and End U.S. Support for the Saudis’ War

Democratic members of Congress are pressing the Trump administration to restore humanitarian aid funding for Yemen after it was cut off earlier this year:

U.S. Congress is urging the State Department to reconsider U.S. assistance to Yemen suspended by President Donald Trump’s administration earlier this year after a plea from humanitarian groups last month appeared to fall on deaf ears, redoubling attention on years of U.S. policy missteps in the war-torn country.

Humanitarian relief organizations appealed to the U.S. to resume humanitarian aid for Yemen a few weeks ago because the aid suspension was causing tremendous harm to the civilian population. They noted that the U.S. is the only government using humanitarian aid funding as leverage. The official reason for the aid suspension was Houthi interference and diversion of aid. Interfering with the delivery of aid is wrong and harmful, but halting aid entirely makes the problem far worse. It is unacceptable to hold humanitarian aid funding hostage to the administration’s misguided attempt to apply pressure on the Houthis. Notably, no Republicans will be signing the House and Senate letters on this issue:

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York is working on a companion letter to Pompeo in the upper chamber, a former U.S. official familiar with the effort said. But Republicans have refused to sign onto either effort, seeing the push to restore U.S. aid in Houthi-controlled areas as a red line, according to a House aide, though Democrats remain hopeful that Pompeo will consider restoring assistance if it is tied to diplomatic progress.

It is unfortunate that no Republicans will join this appeal, since it should be very easy to support providing humanitarian aid to people in a conflict that our government has made so much worse. It may seem like a waste of time to appeal to Pompeo to do the right thing, but it is important for members of Congress to call attention to this latest shameful chapter of our government’s worst, most inexcusable policy.

In one sense, U.S. humanitarian aid has been a band-aid that our government has applied to a problem that it is actively making worse by backing the Saudi coalition. While U.S. aid funding is critically important and needs to be restored, there would not be such a great need for humanitarian aid if our government weren’t enabling the war that has caused and deepened the humanitarian crisis to begin with. The U.S. ought to restore the aid, but an even better thing that our government could do is to pull the plug on all U.S. military assistance to the Saudis and their allies. The Trump administration has made clear many times that it has no intention of doing the latter, but that is what needs to be done to help alleviate the humanitarian crisis over the longer term.

There was another quote in the Foreign Policy report that demands a response:

Some experts say the United States has backed itself into an impossible corner. “[The United States] ended up in this dilemma where if they don’t help the coalition, the attacks will be worse in terms of the humanitarian impact. But if you do help, you may be accused of culpability in indiscriminate attacks,” said Elana DeLozier, a research fellow and expert on Yemen at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Here we are in this dilemma, and the answer is there’s no good way out except to prevent this dilemma in the future.”

This statement assumes that U.S. involvement in the conflict has lessened its humanitarian impact, but there is no reason to believe this is true. The U.S. has been complicit in Saudi coalition crimes from the start. That is why State Department officials have been worried for years about U.S. officials’ liability for war crimes committed in Yemen, and that is why Trump administration officials at the State Department have tried to cover up the extent of that complicity:

The civilian death toll from Saudi Arabia’s disastrous air war over Yemen was steadily rising in 2016 when the State Department’s legal office in the Obama administration reached a startling conclusion: Top American officials could be charged with war crimes for approving bomb sales to the Saudis and their partners.

Four years later, more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials say the legal risks have only grown as President Trump has made selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Middle East nations a cornerstone of his foreign policy.

Yet rather than taking steps to address the legal issues, State Department leaders have gone to great lengths to conceal them. Even after a State Department inspector general investigation this year revealed that the department had failed to address the legal risks of selling bombs to the Saudis, agency officials ensured that details of the finding were put in a classified part of the public report released in August, and then so heavily redacted that lawmakers with security clearances could not see them.

Our government’s assistance seems to have done nothing to mitigate the harm that the bombing campaign has done. That has always been the convenient lie that top officials have used to defend an indefensible policy of supporting this war. Saudi coalition airstrikes have consistently been hitting civilian targets at least one-third of the time throughout the war, and the Saudis and their allies have repeatedly ignored U.S. recommendations on what they shouldn’t attack. Yemen’s infrastructure has been devastated by the bombing, and there has been a deliberate campaign to target the country’s food production and distribution. By continuing to back the war and provide the coalition governments with weapons, the U.S. has ensured that the coalition will keep the war going, and it is the continuation of the conflict that is driving the humanitarian crisis.

There is no dilemma for the U.S. here. Our government can continue to aid and abet war crimes, or it can withdraw its support from the coalition and make it much more difficult for them to commit those crimes. Pretending that the U.S. is somehow stuck with the Saudi coalition and can’t cut them off is just another weak excuse to maintain a monstrous policy.

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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