The U.S. is complicit in the worst humanitarian crisis in decades. Yemen is currently in the grips of a famine the scale of which the world has not seen in many years, while simultaneously grappling with a cholera epidemic that has already infected roughly a million people. The famine has a range of complex and interrelated causes going back decades, but the most immediate, and most easily addressed is the Saudi Arabian blockade of Yemen’s ports and borders. While the U.S. administration has spoken out against the blockade the military is still providing Saudi Arabia with logistical support, supplies, and weapons that the Saudi forces are using.
Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim majority country decided to get involved with Yemen’s civil war based on the assumption that their long time enemy Iran, a Shia Muslim country was directing Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are also Shia, though they have support of some Sunnis in parts of Yemen. While it’s true that Iran has contributed funds to the rebels, the idea that they are in anyway leading or controlling them is at best a mistake by Saudi intelligence, and at worst a deliberate attempt to miscategorize Yemen’s civil war as a regional sectarian conflict in order to justify getting involved and to gain international backing. Unfortunately for Yemen the very idea that Iran might be involved has indeed been enough for Saudi Arabia to form an international coalition that included other Sunni Middle Eastern nations such as Jordan and Egypt, as well as some E.U. countries, and the U.S.
The ongoing targeting of not just military, but also civilian targets in rebel held territories by Saudi forces has been carried out using U.S. weapons and by Saudi planes that have been refueled by U.S. forces. In November Congress passed House Resolution 599 formally confirming that the U.S. involvement in the conflict and expressing the “urgent need for a political solution in Yemen”. The resolution was introduced by California Democrat Ro Khana and passed the republican controlled house with 366 to 30. In spite of this U.S. did not make any functional changes in regards to the conflict.
Also in November, the Saudi Arabian navy put in place a full military blockade of Yemen. Up to 90% of the food that people in Yemen live on is imported and the blockade stopped shipments of both food, and of fuel needed to distribute any supplies that were in the country or run vital infrastructure like water treatment facilities. The blockade has been a major contributing factor in pushing thousands of Yemeni people into food insecurity and malnutrition, worsening the cholera epidemic, and likely contributing to thousands of preventable deaths. The international community and aid groups have condemned the blockade repeatedly and the UN in particular has been struggling to draw attention to the massive scale of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Yemen right now.
In early December Donald Trump called for Yemen to end the blockade, but again the U.S.’s actual practices in Yemen did not seem to change. In late January Germany and Norway, both NATO members, announced that they would no longer be selling weapons to the Saudi led coalition. But this has also prompted no change in U.S. policy.
Recently, after over two months of the blockade in place, Saudi Arabia announced that they are going to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen. Unfortunately, this is only a stopgap and will not truly solve the famine or the cholera epidemic, let alone do anything to stop the civil war. What Yemen needs is a coalition of countries that are invested in helping Yemen to find a diplomatic solution and rebuilding their country. The U.S. could be a leader in that effort. But instead, the United States has decided to be a follower, and help Saudi Arabia turn an already deadly civil war into a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.