Much anguish has been voiced this week over conditions in the Syrian city of Aleppo, where the Assad regime and the Russians have been flinging bombs around indiscriminately, creating a wretched humanitarian crisis. Far fewer have been the lamentations for Yemen, the Middle East’s poorest nation, where civilians have been under attack since last March by a coalition of Sunni Arab nations led by our great and glorious ally Saudi Arabia. A new report by UNICEF finds that 2.2 million children in Yemen are at risk of starvation thanks to a Saudi blockade that’s plugged up Yemeni ports. The commentariat, bound by groupthink, barely noticed.
To cripple Yemen, the Saudis have been using American munitions to destroy civilian targets. A handful of lawmakers have called on President Obama to suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, and earlier this year the indispensable Rand Paul and Chris Murphy sponsored a bill to do just that, only for it to be scrapped 71-27 by the United States Senate. Let that simmer: nearly three quarters of The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body (cue Gregorian chants) were copacetic with leaving America’s fingerprints on the smoldering viscera of Yemeni civilians. For shame.
Fortunately, President Obama doesn’t seem to be fine with it, at least not anymore. Earlier this week, the White House announced it would finally suspend some arms transfers to Riyadh. That’s progress, no question, but it ultimately amounts to little more than a perfunctory measure. The Americans are still going to help the Saudis refuel their jets, which means the bombing runs will continue with our stamp of approval.
Then there’s this bit of daft appeasement, as reported by Reuters: “The United States will also revamp future training of the kingdom’s air force to focus on improving Saudi targeting practices, a persistent source of concern for Washington.” This is apparently in response to reports that Saudi planes have been unleashing their payloads at ridiculously high altitudes, increasing the risk of civilian casualties even when precision weapons are used.
It’s true that Saudi pilots are rookies, relatively untrained to use the equipment that we’ve provided them. But that’s hardly the reason Yemen has turned into a charnel house. This is a systematic campaign of slaughter by the Saudi government intended to cut rebellious areas off from the rest of the world and let them languish and wither until at last they surrender. Hence the malnutrition, the mass thirst, the treatment of civilian gatherings as targets—this is all by design, a methodical wartime strategy.
The Saudis didn’t bomb a funeral in the Yemeni capital two months ago, killing more than 100, because their bombs went astray; they did so because they suspected enemy militants were among the mourners and didn’t mind vaporizing everyone else. Same with the marketplace in Mastaba they exploded in March, death count: 97—a few Houthi rebels were believed to be there so down the bombs whistled.
The people of Yemen don’t need more anonymous susurrations of “frustration” from within the Obama administration; they need an end to this campaign, which will only be achieved when the arms are cut off, the planes aren’t refueled, the mission is vocally condemned, and the United States exerts a little leverage over its erstwhile collaborator.
Until then, Yemen will continue to be another Syria, with Saudi Arabia cast in the airborne role of Bashar al-Assad and the United States lurking nearby as Vladimir Putin. Surely we can’t countenance that.