The consequences of the war in Yemen are horrific: 14 million people are on the edge of famine, and as many as 85,000 children have already starved to death. It is time for all Americans to demand an end to our country’s complicity in this atrocity.
All the belligerents play their part in Yemen’s ongoing destruction. U.N. officials accuse the Houthi rebels who seized power in 2015 of disrupting humanitarian aid distribution and mining civilian areas. But the greatest moral responsibility lies on the military coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which has relentlessly bombed schools, homes and hospitals, farms and fishing boats. The Saudis and their allies have severely restricted humanitarian and commercial food shipments into Yemen, which must import 90 percent of its food. This has been a death sentence for Yemen’s poor.
And to our enduring disgrace, the U.S. has backed the Saudis all the way.
[Isolated and unseen, Yemenis eat leaves to stave off famine]
Both parties own this terrible policy. It begun under President Barack Obama, who allowed the crisis to fester long after it became clear that their coalition was engineering a famine. Now President Donald Trump has staked his entire Middle East policy on the Saudis, even after the vicious murder of dissident journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Turkey, most likely at the order of the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Trump’s adoration for the Saudis is purely commercial. He has inflated the economic benefits of U.S. arms sales to the kingdom by 20 times and publicly thanked the Saudis for bringing down oil prices (a highly dubious claim). The president tangles up his own economic benefit with that of the nation’s, telling a campaign rally in 2015: “Saudi Arabia, I get along with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”
Yet from the very beginning opposition to the war has been bipartisan, uniting progressives like Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, with libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky. All previous congressional efforts to cut off U.S. support to the Saudis have gone down by narrow margins. But Trump’s disgusting shilling for the Saudis is bringing some mainstream Republicans in to the opposition, including Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins.
Collins voted twice to continue arms sales to the Saudis, but by 2017 she signed a strong letter to the secretaries of State and Defense urging them to stop the Saudi offensive against Yemen’s largest port. Last week, she stated publicly that “the time has come to confront one of our allies in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia … The war in Yemen has become a humanitarian disaster, and the Saudi murder of Khashoggi is an egregious violation of human rights.”
Collins has cosponsored the Saudi Arabian Accountability and Yemen Act, which would suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia, end all refueling of their jets and sanction those who disrupt humanitarian aid (including funders of the Houthi rebels). The senator deserves Mainers’ praise for this principled step. But we should also tell her to support the even more direct measures proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, in Senate Joint Resolution 54, which “would remove U.S. Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen, except those engaged in operations directed at Al Qaeda.” The boldest measures are needed to end the man-made famine in Yemen.
[Opinion: Containing ‘Iranian mischief’ is no excuse for letting Yemen’s humanitarian crisis fester]
Maine voters should also press Sen. Angus King, who stated in 2017 that “we cannot be complicit” in Saudi war crimes and voted to suspend arms sales.
Rep. Chellie Pingree has been a consistent champion of Yemeni civilians, and her new House colleague, Jared Golden, should join her in supporting the resolution by Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, to trigger the War Powers Act and end all U.S. involvement in the unauthorized Yemen war. House leadership buried the resolution earlier this month, but Khanna has pledged to re-introduce it when the new House adjourns.
It is on every American citizen to demand that Congress reclaim its war-making powers, end this national disgrace and do everything possible to save innocent Yemeni lives. The time is now.
Brian Milakovsky is from Somerville. He works in humanitarian aid in eastern Ukraine.