Yemen is a country of 29 million people located at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula and bordered on the north by Saudi Arabia. It is also the site of what the United Nations describes as the “worst humanitarian crisis in nearly a century.”
About 10 million people are on the brink of famine, and nearly 250,000 currently suffer from “catastrophic levels of food insecurity.” Due to destroyed sewage facilities, the people of Yemen are currently victims of the most harmful cholera outbreak in decades, with 1.2 million suspected cases. The U.N. estimates that one Yemeni child dies every 10 minutes from preventable causes.
The immediate source of Yemen’s tragedy is a ruinous war with complex domestic causes. The war in Yemen, although internally generated, is made incomparably worse by the intervention of foreign countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran and the United States. The war derives from a 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising aimed at abolishing the autocratic and corrupt regime that governed Yemen. The revolt ultimately succeeded in driving out that government but not in establishing its larger democratizing objectives. The ensuing turmoil led to several regional rebellions for greater cultural autonomy, including a rebellion by a Shia Islam sect in northern Yemen called the Houthis. The Houthi militia eventually captured Yemen’s largest city, Sanaa, and seemed on the verge of gaining control over the whole of Yemen.
The dictatorial regimes in Saudi Arabia and UAE are deeply threatened by any democratizing movement and also by any growth of Iranian power. Although the Houthis are not under Iranian control, they apparently do receive arms from Iran. Houthi control over Yemen would probably increase Iranian power in the Middle East. Moreover, the disastrous 2003 U.S. attack upon Iraq and its bloody aftermath have already amplified Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria and southern Lebanon. For all these reasons, in 2015, Saudi Arabia and UAE launched an intense combination of air attacks (frequently victimizing civilians) plus naval and land blockades (curtailing essential food and medical imports) against Yemen. These attacks were intended to defeat the Houthis and to install in Yemen a government favorable to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Although the United States is not a direct participant in the Yemen war, it bears a heavy responsibility for this sanguinary catastrophe. Obama’s drone warfare, much of which was inflicted on Yemen, legitimized both foreign intervention and the (supposedly accidental but surely inevitable) killing of civilians. In order to placate Saudi Arabia for the Iran nuclear deal (which the Riyadh regime strongly opposed), the Obama government turned a blind eye to Saudi and UAE aggression in Yemen.
Most importantly, U.S. weapons-producing corporations have made out like bandits from the war in Yemen. The top three war profiteers — Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon — have sold at least $30 billion in military paraphernalia to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. And without technical support from these U.S. corporations, the Saudi military machine would almost certainly grind to a rapid halt. It is estimated that, over the last decade, U.S. corporations have sold more than $109 billion in offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia alone.
Recently, the Senate and the House both passed a bill requiring that the U.S. stop providing military intelligence to Saudi forces in Yemen and stop air-refueling of Saudi planes. President Donald Trump quickly vetoed this exceedingly moderate bill. He did not deny that Saudi aggression was causing civilian casualties, but he claimed the bill would help Iran and might trigger a loss of U.S. jobs. Trump’s cruel disregard of civilian life and his bland arguments for doing so are truly worthy of the Nazis.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.