Opinion: Americans must demand an end to support for atrocities in Yemen
Momentary shock and condemnation are not enough
In a recent investigation, the New York Times published a photo of an emaciated young girl, Amal Hussain, suffering from starvation in Yemen. Her picture and subsequent death provoked an emotional and empathetic response from readers and became another symbol of civilian suffering in war-torn Yemen. The picture is unfortunately just one of many disturbing images from a war between Saudi Arabia and rebel groups who are fighting for control over land and political power in Yemen.
After three years, the intense fighting in Yemen has produced no clear winner despite extensive and devastating Saudi bombing campaigns across the country. While there has not been a winner, there has been a clear and consistent loser: civilians like Amal. Civilians have borne the brunt of the attacks aimed at rebel groups.
With attacks on marketplaces, hospitals, funerals, weddings and schools, there are few safe places left for civilians. Even worse, bombs have destroyed infrastructure that civilians depend on for necessities like food, water and sanitation. A recent offensive on the port city, through which an estimated 80 percent of food and water are imported, worsened a humanitarian crisis in which the UN estimates nearly fourteen million people live on the brink of famine. The destruction of water sanitation sites has also contributed to a preventable cholera outbreak that has infected an estimated one million people.
Saudi Arabia has been sharply criticized for its indiscriminate attacks and indifference to mass civilian suffering. However, Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaigns have also been enabled and legitimized by a close partnership with our own government. The U.S. has been intimately involved as an advisor, partner and weapons dealer.
We have provided extensive support for the bombing campaigns, including billion-dollar weapons deals that supply bombs like the one that was dropped on a school bus in August. U.S. officials state that they want peace in Yemen, but these statements will ring hollow if the bombs dropped indiscriminately on civilians continue to be #MadeinAmerica.
This kind of partnership forms part of a dark pattern in the history of U.S. foreign policy. Similar weapons deals and partnerships have enabled mass civilian suffering in the past and have even provided the weapons for genocide in countries like Pakistan and Guatemala. In each past case, coalitions of concerned journalists, activists and members of Congress have tried to end U.S. weapons deals before it was too late. Without engaged support and attention from the American public, however, these movements have frequently fallen short.
The recent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the images of starvation in Yemen have led to a similar challenge to our partnership with Saudi Arabia this past month. A bill in Congress to stop the deals fell just short of ending the the weapons deals last year, but a similar bill is scheduled to be voted on in November.
However, history has shown us that momentary shock and condemnation are not enough to end these kinds of military partnerships, and even the best leaders cannot end them without the engaged support of the public. The crisis in Yemen is once again testing American citizens’ ability to hold our government accountable and live up to the best of American values. We must do better this time for the people of Yemen.
It is too late to save Amal Hussain, but there are countless other civilians whose lives hang in the balance. As Americans, we can and must do our part by calling our elected officials and urging them to do everything in their power to end this deadly partnership.
To learn more about how you can send a message about Yemen to your elected officials, read more here from the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
Carly Fabian is a senior in the School of International Service. They are an outside contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.