America Is Complicit in the Carnage in Yemen
AUG. 17, 2016
Credit Abduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters
A hospital associated with Doctors Without Borders. A school. A potato chip factory. Under international law, those facilities in Yemen are not legitimate military targets. Yet all were bombed in recent days by warplanes belonging to a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, killing more than 40 civilians.
The United States is complicit in this carnage. It has enabled the coalition in many ways, including selling arms to the Saudis to mollify them after the nuclear deal with Iran. Congress should put the arms sales on hold and President Obama should quietly inform Riyadh that the United States will withdraw crucial assistance if the Saudis do not stop targeting civilians and agree to negotiate peace.
The airstrikes are further evidence that the Saudis have escalated their bombing campaign against Houthi militias, which control the capital, Sana, since peace talks were suspended on Aug. 6, ending a cease-fire that was declared more than four months ago. They also suggest one of two unpleasant possibilities. One is that the Saudis and their coalition of mostly Sunni Arab partners have yet to learn how to identify permissible military targets. The other is that they simply do not care about killing innocent civilians. The bombing of the hospital, which alone killed 15 people, was the fourth attack on a facility supported by Doctors Without Borders in the past year even though all parties to the conflict were told exactly where the hospitals were located.
In all, the war has killed more than 6,500 people, displaced more than 2.5 million others and pushed one of the world’s poorest countries from deprivation to devastation. A recent United Nations report blamed the coalition for 60 percent of the deaths and injuries to children last year. Human rights groups and the United Nations have suggested that war crimes may have been committed.
Saudi Arabia, which began the air war in March 2015, bears the heaviest responsibility for inflaming the conflict with the Houthis, an indigenous Shiite group with loose connections to Iran. The Saudis intervened in Yemen with the aim of defeating the Houthis and reinstalling President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, whom the rebels ousted from power. They consider Iran their main enemy and feared Tehran was gaining too much influence in the region.
Although many experts believe the threat to be overstated, Mr. Obama agreed to support the Yemen intervention — without formal authorization from Congress — and sell the Saudis even more weapons in part to appease Riyadh’s anger over the Iran nuclear deal. All told, since taking office, Mr. Obama has sold the Saudis $110 billion in arms, including Apache helicopters and missiles.
Mr. Obama has also supplied the coalition such indispensable assistance as intelligence, in-flight refueling of aircraft and help in identifying appropriate targets. Experts say the coalition would be grounded if Washington withheld its support. Instead, the State Department last week approved the potential sale of $1.15 billion more in tanks and other equipment to Saudi Arabia to replace items destroyed in the war. Congress has the power to block this sale; Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, says he is discussing that possibility with other lawmakers. But the chances are slim, in part because of the politics.
Given the civilian casualties, further American support for this war is indefensible. As Mr. Murphy told CNN on Tuesday: “There’s an American imprint on every civilian life lost in Yemen.”