Yemen, graveyard of US-Saudi bloody alliance
Amid several human rights violations and calls from US senators to stop the war on Yemen, why hasn't the US done anything to this end?
After countless painful and devastating years, war-torn Yemen witnessed the extent of atrociousness Saudi Arabia is willing to unleash as well as the fractured US policy that blindly followed in the Saudi's footsteps. Three US administrations later, the war on Yemen is still ongoing, civilian deaths are increasing, and the population is dangerously suffering from famine.
Reader, as you read these very words, the Saudi-led coalition is aggressively launching raids on the crumbling war-torn country, killing innocent civilians, and proceeding in an inhumane blockade that evidently blocks all health and nutritious supplies from entering the country.
As a member of the World Peace Council, and an active actor in support of human rights, why is the United States of America still not ending the war on Yemen, a war it had a major role in igniting?
Joe Biden: The yes-man
US President Joe Biden was sworn in last year, vowing to end the US support for the Saudi-led aggression on Yemen, as part of his new policy. He outlined changes to his administration's Yemen policy, which include the suspension of all aggressive actions, including arms sales, as well as supporting the UN-led peace plan. In effect, the United States shifted from backing one side of the war to acting as a peace mediator as a result of these moves.
However, Biden's policies on Yemen are not a break from previous administrations; rather, they are part of the US' seemingly gradual shift away from direct assistance to one of the warring sides and toward the apparent position of a mediator in the war's resolution. Nevertheless, the current President administration's new policies are but a continuation of his predecessors', which involves the genocidal war on Yemen, both expanded by Trump and Obama.
How did Biden break his promise?
Biden's approach had several flaws. The first fatal flaw is that the US President decided to "end US support for offensive operations in Yemen," but isn't the entire war on Yemen guided by offensive operations? With more than 25,200 raids on Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition, the Yemeni Armed Forces only retaliated in response to the ongoing aggression on their land. The second flaw is his rather small steps toward ending the war on Yemen, instead of calling for an immediate end to the Saudi blockade of the country.
The question here is - How can Biden end the war by further selling arms to Saudi Arabia?
Biden made a commitment to suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia during a February address, but he promised to help "defend" Saudi Arabia from missile attacks and “threats from Iranian-supplied forces,” an apparent reference to assaults by Yemeni Armed Forces fighting the Saudi-backed authorities in Yemen.
Those opposed to the war were understandably elated when National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan announced Biden's intent to end US support for "offensive operations" in Yemen, but maybe it was too soon to celebrate. Unfortunately, criteria like "offensive" do not indicate a commitment to an actual ending of US support for the Yemen war, including targeting assistance, weapons sales, logistics, training, and intelligence sharing with the Saudi-led coalition.
Biden has his hands sullied
A few months later, on November 4, 2021, the US State Department approved its first major arms sale to Saudi Arabia under the Biden administration with the sale of 280 air-to-air missiles valued at up to $650 million.
A state department spokesperson said the department has approved the sale, adding that it comes after "an increase in cross-border attacks against Saudi Arabia over the past year," which the Yemeni Armed Forces carried out in retaliation to Saudi-led coalition attacks. In response, Republican representatives Rand Paul and Mike Lee, as well as Democratic caucus member Bernie Sanders, submitted a joint resolution of disapproval to oppose the arms sale.
It seems that Biden was attempting to rebalance the US-Saudi relationship in a way that appeases the Kingdom's critics in Congress while maintaining the long-standing alliance.
Moreover, from the beginning of the war on Yemen until today, there was a continuous flow of US weapons to Saudi Arabia. Saudi military purchases from US sources and firms are estimated at $63 billion since its aggression on Yemen, adding the collective contracts stipulated with US firms in which Saudi Arabia "was clearly the primary buyer."
US vs. US policy
In its latest attack on Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition committed a massacre killing more than 60 civilians. Despite the huge death toll, the coalition of aggression pursues its airstrikes on a number of Yemeni governorates, causing civilian casualties, as more than 70 strikes were counted within the past few hours. The coalition also continues to violate the ceasefire in Al-Hudaydah.
In response, Congress demanded that US President Joe Biden clarify the role of the United States in Yemen, in addition to the forms of support Washington is offering the Saudi-led coalition in its war on the country. While Saudi Arabia continues to seek US arms supplies, members of Congress are attempting to persuade the US administration to prohibit arms sales to the Kingdom.
A few days earlier, Democrat lawmakers have demanded that US President Joe Biden clarify the role of the United States in Yemen, in addition to the forms of support Washington is offering the Saudi-led coalition in its war on the country. The lawmakers have also demanded that Biden avoid taking any steps that would lead to Washington becoming further involved in the devastating seven-year war. "This dangerous escalation in Yemen has to stop. For years the Saudi-led coalition has been pounding civilian areas and infrastructure in Yemen and recently escalate[d] those strikes," Congressman Ro Khanna told a news outlet.
On the other hand, forty-one members of Congress wrote to Biden asking him to clarify what types of support he had ceased and which Trump-era arms sales would be considered "relevant" to offensive operations.
“Congress has repeatedly invoked its constitutional war powers authority by voting to end unconstitutional US participation in this war,” the letter read. “We seek to ensure that the Biden-Harris Administration’s Yemen policy will adhere to the limitations sought by majorities of Congress in the numerous bipartisan votes on this subject.”
"President Biden promised to end US support for so-called 'offensive' operations in this war - but he never defined what this vague declaration actually meant. A year later, the US continues to directly support this war," said Congressman Peter DeFazio.
Biden promised at the start of his term that the US would withdraw from the so-called "offensive" operations in the Saudi-led war in Yemen. A year later, the United States continues to support a number of operations.
Following a joint resolution of disapproval to halt US precision-guided munitions sales to Saudi Arabia, Biden requested US support on February 4, arguing that it is in favor of "defending sovereignty and territorial integrity." However, despite a previous contradictory statement calling for a halt to the arms sale, he failed to justify it. This begs the question of how Biden was able to demonstrate that the sale would benefit rather than harm.
Economic security vs. humanity; a Trump policy
For years, former US President Donald Trump had chastised the gang of corrupt and dissolute royals. He also questioned why Americans were paying to defend the wealthy royal family, which practiced "totalitarianism at home and promoted terrorism abroad, including in the United States." However, until he was worried about the collapse of the domestic shale oil industry, Trump clearly had a different reason for supporting Saudi aggression after abandoning the nuclear deal and spending the majority of his presidency genuflecting to Riyadh.
Trump shamelessly embraced arms sales to Saudi Arabia that in no doubt helped prolong the war that has killed thousands in what is considered the Arab region’s poorest nation, further destabilizing the already volatile region.
To support Trump's decisions, National Security Spokesperson John Ullyot argued that “we remain committed to supporting Saudi Arabia’s right to defend against those threats,” threats that Riyadh should hold full responsibility for.
The economic warlord
After being sworn in and paying Saudi Arabia the first visit as President, Trump sealed a multi-billion dollar deal with the Kingdom. The White House hailed the agreement worth $350 billion over ten years and $110 billion immediately as "a significant expansion of...[the] security relationship" between the two countries.
During Trump's last weeks at the White House, the administration intended to authorize the sale of nearly $500 million in weapons to Saudi Arabia before the US President leaves office, a move that one expert has called a "moral outrage". Additionally, at around the same time, the US State Department approved the sale of $290 million in bombs to Saudi Arabia as part of a flurry of arms deals with Middle Eastern dictatorships.
Unlike the Obama and Biden administrations, Trump was clear about his motives from his commitments to arms sales to the Kingdom. He was very open about the economic and diplomatic benefits that would follow the sale, with no regard to the thousands being killed and maimed as a result of the US-designed and manufactured weapons.
Cold blood in Washington
Soon after taking office, Trump escalated the war on Yemen by reversing Obama's decision to suspend the sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia and dispatching US Special Forces to the Saudi-Yemen border. While signing the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, Trump also overruled restrictions put in place to "reduce civilian casualties in Yemen's war."
On April 16, 2019, in an act to stick to his commitments toward Saudi Arabia, President Donald Trump vetoed a congressional resolution to end US military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war on Yemen. “This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Trump wrote defending his veto.
Critics said Trump's veto was a "green light" for more atrocities in Yemen, where human rights groups said there were already millions on the verge of famine and up to 100 civilian casualties per week.
"The conflict in Yemen is a horrific humanitarian crisis that challenges the conscience of the entire world," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement after Trump's veto. Nonetheless, the President has cynically chosen to "defy a bipartisan, bicameral vote in Congress and continue America's shameful involvement in this heartbreaking crisis."
While Congress spent years edging closer to ending the war by questioning its legality, mounting protests from activists have pushed both chambers to take demonstrable action to end US participation. A bill was finally passed in the House in February 2019, and the following month, Sanders, Murphy, and Lee were successful in passing the War Powers Bill in the Senate.
Obama's hasty decision
America’s participation in the war — providing intelligence, refueling, and logistical assistance to the Saudi-led coalition — was a clear mistake, given the coalition’s failure to suspend its myriad violations and end the war.
Former US President Obama took a hasty decision by participating in the Saudi war against Yemen, but how did it all start? Let's go back to 2015, when within 24 hours, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates launched a surprise military attack on Yemen, destroying its air force and seizing control of its airspace. Western allies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and France backed the Saudi-led coalition. Hours after the intervention, an official statement was released by the President in support of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
But what validates the US intervention if the Saudi-led coalition was first to attack Yemen, given that the first missile launched by the Yemeni Armed Forces was months after the country was attacked? Obama declared his support for the Saudi kingdom on the day the bombing began, nearly three months before the first missile was launched into Saudi Arabia.
It is worth mentioning that Obama launched another unauthorized US military foreign intervention without the approval of Congress, in violation of the War Powers Act of 1973, which authorizes Congress, not the President, to declare war.
The US provided arms to the coalition, assisted in the identification of bomb targets, and provided mid-air refueling for Saudi and UAE warplanes. Needless to mention, the US covered the Saudi war crimes from UN scrutiny and repeatedly proclaimed the strength of the US-Saudi alliance.
Obama continued the Saudi-led coalition despite the numerous humanitarian violations, which were slowly leading millions of Yemenis toward famine. The pictures of emaciated bodies and starving children didn't push the former President to end the US support for the genocide committed by the aggressive coalition. The question here is, how can a country that funded and still funds a state that commits atrocious crimes in a volatile country still have the audacity to speak of human rights?
Who was in favor of the war?
Two members of Congress challenged Obama's intervention and joined forces to limit munitions sales to Saudi Arabia the following year. Both Senator Chris Murphy and Senator Mike Lee's bill was tabled in a 71 – 27 vote in September 2016.
Efforts to end the Yemen war gained traction in the Senate when Bernie Sanders joined Murphy and Lee in questioning the US role in the war by introducing a bill that invoked the War Powers Act. The bill was passed in the Senate in December 2018, with all Senate Democrats and Independents, as well as seven Senate Republicans, voting in favor, making it the first of its kind to pass in the Senate.
Former senior officials in his administration have questioned US support for the war on Yemen, even going so far as to draft a letter calling for the US to withdraw from the war. The statement acknowledged their collective "failure" while misrepresenting the Obama administration's support as being in response to a "legitimate threat posed by missiles on the Saudi border."
A futile war from the start
Since the first Saudi bomb dropped in Yemen, there were indications of a futile war. However, the US support continued for three consecutive administrations. Every administration witnessed the massacres being committed by the Saudi-led coalition but somehow was able to justify the atrocious attacks.
Thousands of Yemenis have died as a result of the onslaught, which has left half of the country on the verge of famine. The war on Yemen has turned into the world's worst humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations. The war-torn country became a global killing ground, with Saudi Arabia conducting a ruthless bombing campaign that the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations aided in launching. The war's early proponents should not be allowed to whitewash their wrongdoings when the political tide in the United States swings against it. Rather, one should highlight the US true intentions to put an end to the war and prevent similar atrocities in the future.