With a cruise missile being shot down, and the Saudi ruling family rounding up its opponents and stuffing them into the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, it’s been a busy time in the Middle East. Amidst all the hustle and bustle, however, a humanitarian crisis in Yemen was exacerbated even further, and the American government is deeply implicated.
First, some background. At the moment, Yemen’s capital is controlled by Houthi rebels, a group aligned with and backed by Iran. A U.S.-backed coalition led by Saudi Arabia has been waging a war in Yemen, attempting to dislodge the Houthis. On Nov. 5, rebels in Yemen launched a ballistic missile at a large commercial airport in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh, but Saudi air defenses intercepted and destroyed it.
This missile attack prompted Saudi Arabia to close all land, sea and air routes into Yemen. This response is not at all proportional and puts the lives of millions of innocent Yemeni civilians at risk.
Since the Yemeni Civil War began two years ago, the UN says more than 7,600 civilians have been killed in the fighting, more than 40,000 have been injured, and at least 3 million people have been displaced by Saudi airstrikes and fighting on the ground.
This is all to say nothing of the health and food security issues plaguing the country. More than two-thirds of Yemenis, more than 18 million people, are in need of humanitarian assistance, with about half of those being defined by the UN as in acute need. Nearly a million cases of cholera have been reported, causing more than 2,000 deaths, all while 3.3 million children and pregnant women are acutely malnourished.
None of this is to absolve the Houthi rebels of responsibility, but the United States also has a hand in this conflict. We are not mere bystanders, watching a crisis unfold in a faraway land. We cannot wash our hands of our responsibility.
In our fervor to isolate Iran in the region, much of our support to Saudi Arabia, particularly in the Trump administration, has been blind. Previous administrations have also backed the Saudi government with weapon sales and political support.
When Saudi Arabia first intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, the Obama administration provided Riyadh with weaponry, refueled Saudi warplanes and granted access to American intelligence.
Going along with Trump’s seemingly pathological obsession with and admiration for dictators, the current administration has taken a rigid position on Saudi Arabia, basically granting American blessings for whatever Riyadh chooses to do, sealed with a massive $110 billion arms deal.
The fact of the matter is that as more and more civilians die in Yemen, we bear responsibility. We might not like it, but it’s pretty hard to wash our hands of this mess when bombs falling from Saudi warplanes onto Yemeni civilian centers are stamped “Made in America,” and the forces blockading international humanitarian aid from Yemen are kitted out in the latest U.S.-made gear.
Ultimately, we have power in Riyadh. If Trump was interested in the plight of these suffering innocents, he has the influence to improve their situation.
If he were a true moral leader, he would speak out and use the bully pulpit to persuade Riyadh to allow humanitarian aid into Yemen.
But if anything is clear a year into this administration, it is that there are few moral leaders to be found, and there certainly isn’t one sitting behind the resolute desk.
Ian Hutchinson is a Greenfield native pursuing his master’s degree in international affairs in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at email@example.com. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.