By James Bouffard
Recent events, such as the midterm elections, have shifted our national focus towards domestic affairs. But, in spite of their importance, it is imperative that we never forget the tribulations faced by people throughout the world. This becomes especially important when our national behavior effects them. The civil war in Yemen is especially pertinent in this regard. The United States has continuously supported Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the war and has consequently helped deepen the worst existing humanitarian crisis.
For background, the war began in 2015 after a Shia-group known as the Houthis gradually took control of the Yemeni capital Sana’a over a series of several months. The rival government, led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, fled to Aden. In March of that year, the Houthis began an offensive to take control of the entire country.
The situation has become even more complex due to the presence of other actors. The Houthi and Hadi forces respectively receive material support from Iran and Saudi Arabia, the latter of whom takes a very active role in the war. Large parts of Yemen are also controlled by ISIS and especially al-Qaeda.
No one knows the number of people who have been killed. Estimates range from around 10,000 to 50,000, but these relatively low numbers are tentative and do not account for the obscene amount of Yemenis who have died from famine. The UN reported at the beginning of the year that 400,000 thousand children are undernourished and 5,000 have died. Last week, they estimated that millions may die in an impending famine.
What is the role of the United States in all of this? For one, the United States has participated in the Saudi-led naval blockade that is primarily responsible for the famine in Yemen, as much needed imports and aid cannot enter the country.
Secondly, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the United States has provided intelligence and other support to Saudis. The Trump administration also signed letters with the Saudi government in 2017 expressing intent to sell the latter 350 billion dollars worth of weapons over 10 years. They have only purchased a small fraction of this so far, but last August, a U.S.-made bomb killed 40 children and 11 adults after it hit a school bus.
It could be argued that America’s actions are necessary to prevent Houthi control of Yemen and thus expanded Iranian influence in the region. Some people may object that our national interests are not worth millions of dead children.
Scruples aside, it remains dubious as to whether the United States should deepen ties with a Saudi government that destabilizes an entire region and permits its citizens to support terrorism. It may be more productive to work on establishing conciliatory relations with Iran instead of further supporting our current ally.
People are not entirely powerless in changing this status quo, either. Americans can and should pressure their elected representatives to oppose our support of Saudi Arabia. In 2017, Senator Rand Paul attempted to block part of the deal, and his effort was only narrowly defeated. Such attempts cannot be disregarded.
The future of millions of people will be influenced by the actions of the United States. Protests, public awareness and every other means available can and must be used in order to pressure the American government into ending our support of a prolonged slaughter.