America’s Undeclared War on Yemen

For most of the Second World War, the public knew very little about the scope of Nazi atrocities committed against European Jews. American media had printed a few articles about mistreatment of Jews in Germany as the War went on, but it wasn’t a front-page issue. The U.S. government frequently denied such reports and even actively suppressed corroborating information. [1] As the war came to a close and greater evidence came to light, Americans were astonished at the scale and cruelty of the Holocaust. Suddenly the harsh restrictions placed on Jewish and other immigrants in years leading up to the war looked much more inhumane. [2] Today it seems unbelievable that something so awful could happen and so few people know about it. Unfortunately, in the past few years in Yemen, millions have died, millions more are starving, and few in the world seem to know or care. Yemen is now the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and one of its least known. [3] But, while the Greatest Generation fought to end the atrocities of World War II, the U.S. has been enabling them in Yemen.

Yemen’s history since the latter half of the twentieth century has been marked by civil war and sectarian conflict. In the 1960s, North and South Yemen fought a civil war, ending with two independent states. But the discovery of oil on the borders of the two states prompted a reunification in 1990. [4] Since then, Yemen has experienced several civil wars and rebellions, the most recent of which began in 2015 and sparked the ongoing conflict between the internationally-recognized Yemeni government and the Houthis. [5] The Houthis are a religious and political group that has frequently clashed with the government over the past fifteen years seeking greater influence. The Houthis practice Zaydi Islam, a branch of Shia Islam; Iran supports the Houthis militarily in their fight against the Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of the internationally recognized government. [6]

The human cost of the conflict in Yemen has been astounding. According to one estimate by the Yemen Data Project, over one in three Saudi airstrikes has hit civilian targets. [7] The U.N. conservatively estimates that the war has killed over 6600 civilians, and another organization has estimated that 50,000 Yemeni children died in 2017. [8] A well-publicized Saudi airstrike in August struck a school bus, killing forty children. [9] As of October, half of Yemen’s population of 28 million sits on the brink of starvation, a figure unmatched since World War II. [10] In March, UNICEF reported than two-thirds of schools have been damaged, and 27 percent have closed, leaving 2 million children out of school, putting them at higher risk of being conscripted into the ongoing conflict. [11] The New York Times captured the hopelessness of the current situation in Yemen in an article detailing the effects of the famine on children. [12] The article’s cover photo of a starving seven-year-old girl became its own news item less than a week later when the Times reported the girl’s death. [13]

While the Saudi coalition and the Houthis are undoubtedly the parties most directly responsible for the violence, the United States has contributed to the catastrophe in uncomfortable ways. The U.S. provides in-air refueling support for Saudi jets and intelligence support. [14] There are boots on the ground, too—about fifty U.S. military personnel, including a dozen Green Berets, are stationed in Saudi Arabia helping target ballistic missile launch sites and caches. [15] Furthermore, strong evidence suggests that private military contractors made up of U.S. Special Forces reservists and former Special Forces soldiers carried out what appear to be political assassinations under the direction of the UAE military, a member of the Saudi coalition. [16] In a serious abdication of leadership, the U.S. has remained largely silent on the Yemen conflict despite its deep involvement and in the face of increasingly public human rights violations. Only recently have a number of senators, led by Bernie Sanders and Mike Lee, attempted to draw attention to U.S. support of the Saudi coalition. [17] At the end of October, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis called for a ceasefire. [18] But President Trump’s rhetorical support for Saudi Arabia seriously undermines America’s negotiating position. [19]

None of this is to say that other countries are without blame. The U.K. and Germany have both sold arms to Saudi Arabia, and Iran has prolonged the conflict through its ongoing support of the Houthi rebellion. Maintaining the U.S.-Saudi alliance remains important to U.S. national security. But the U.S. has leadership potential beyond any other nation. The Trump administration recently decided to halt in-air refueling of Saudi jets, an important first step. [20] But America must do more if we want to avoid looking back years from now and saying, “How did this happen?” as we did with the Holocaust.

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[1] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/world-response-to-the-holocaust

[2] https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/united-states-immigration-and-refugee-law-1921-1980

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/31/magazine/yemen-war-saudi-arabia.html

[4] https://www.britannica.com/place/Yemen/The-age-of-imperialism#ref273073

[5] https://www.britannica.com/place/Yemen/Civil-war-and-political-unrest

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/19/understanding-houthi-motives-complicated-essential-yemen-future

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/16/third-of-saudi-airstrikes-on-yemen-have-hit-civilian-sites-data-shows

[8] https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23479&LangID=E,  https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/06/key-facts-war-yemen-160607112342462.html

[9] https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/09/un-aid-warn-famine-yemen-war-talks-grande.html

[10] https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20181024-un-humanitarian-chief-famine-threatens-14m-in-yemen/, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/09/un-aid-warn-famine-yemen-war-talks-grande.html

[11] https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/09/yemen-war-children-schools-education.html

[12]

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/26/world/middleeast/saudi-arabia-war-yemen.html

[13] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/01/world/middleeast/yemen-starvation-amal-hussain.html

[14] htt://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/09/un-aid-warn-famine-yemen-war-talks-grande.html, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/08/un-war-crimes-report-threatens-us-support-yemen-war.html

[15] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/us/politics/green-berets-saudi-yemen-border-houthi.html

[16] https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/aramroston/mercenaries-assassination-us-yemen-uae-spear-golan-dahlan

[17] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/05/us-troops-yemen-border-ruffle-feathers-congress.html#ixzz5UsjXCxPb

[18] https://www.axios.com/jim-mattis-mike-pompeo-yemen-ceasefire-d5b3c58d-d2d8-4435-a77c-6724bee5f999.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=politics-daily-newsletter&utm_content=20181031&silverid=Mzg0MDM0NjAyODYwS0

[19] https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/world/national-security/trump-administration-appears-in-no-hurry-to-judge-saudi-arabia-for-khashoggi-killing/2018/11/02/86f79544-ddfd-11e8-85df-7a6b4d25cfbb_story.html?noredirect=on

[20] https://www.politico.com/amp/story/2018/11/09/saudi-arabia-yemen-bombing-pentagon-refueling-982924

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Nick Hafen

Nick is a third-year law student from Detroit, Michigan. He served an LDS mission in Indonesia and studied Middle East Studies and Arabic as an undergraduate at BYU. He will be doing corporate restructuring work at a law firm in Chicago after graduation. Nick enjoys reading, listening to podcasts, being outdoors, and making things.

Latest posts by Nick Hafen (see all)

Nick Hafen

Nick is a third-year law student from Detroit, Michigan. He served an LDS mission in Indonesia and studied Middle East Studies and Arabic as an undergraduate at BYU. He will be doing corporate restructuring work at a law firm in Chicago after graduation. Nick enjoys reading, listening to podcasts, being outdoors, and making things.

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