Yemen is collapsing. Wracked by famine, beset by cholera, and torn apart by military conflict—civil war, terrorist infiltration, and Saudi Arabian-led foreign intervention—the tiny Gulf nation’s situation is dire.
The Saudi coalition’s blockade and airstrikes are a chief source of civilian suffering, keeping millions from accessing basics of food, medicine, and clean water they desperately need, while fostering a power vacuum that has allowed al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to flourish. Looking into the faces of Yemen’s famine victims—many too young to talk, let alone fight—it is not hard to understand why the Saudi intervention has been credibly accused of committing war crimes.
Yet, it is an intervention that depends significantly on American support.
Saudi troops are armed with weapons purchased from the United States, flying planes refueled by the U.S., enforcing that blockade with the aid of our ships, and making strategy with the input of U.S. intelligence. It is no exaggeration to say the Saudi intervention could not continue—or, at least, could not continue at its current scale of counterproductive destruction—without American involvement.
Unanswered now by two consecutive presidents is why that involvement continues. What U.S. interests are being served? How does facilitating this brutal Saudi onslaught defend America? In what way does hastening Yemen’s slide into a failed, famine-wracked state prime for further terror expansion keep us safe?
Yemen is collapsing. Why is America helping that happen?
These questions are particularly pressing because so few Americans are even aware of the Washington’s intervention in Yemen. The topic has never been brought before Congress: President Trump, following in President Obama’s footsteps, is entangled in Yemen without anything resembling the congressional authorization the Constitution wisely demands as a preface to all U.S. military action.
Perhaps no debate is forthcoming because there is no plausible case for congressional endorsement of this fight. There are no vital U.S. interests at stake in the Yemeni civil war, and the Saudi-led intervention is mostly effective in adding instability to a situation that is already a powder keg.
AQAP, founded years after 9/11 and often labeled the most dangerous branch of al Qaeda as it exists today, has been the conflict’s biggest beneficiary. Contrary to Saudi claims that intervention has “denied terrorists a safe haven in Yemen,” the coalition’s actions have “made it easier for al Qaeda elements to expand in more than one area,” a senior Yemeni official told Reuters. “And this is why al Qaeda has today become stronger and more dangerous.”
American support for the Saudi intervention is coupled with U.S. drone strikes, which combined with AQAP’s growth make a poisonous mix. “If you think none of this affects you or the United States, think again,” explains Stephen Seche, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen nominated by President George W. Bush. A starving, angry population makes an easy target for AQAP extremists brainwashing new recruits. That means supporting the Saudi-led intervention may well make us less safe.
“We have an unfortunate habit of arming foreign nations, only to discover that these supposed allies may be creating more enemies for America than they are killing,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued in a recent op-ed about this very probability. “[N]one of this,” he easily concluded, “enhances U.S. national security.” It only enhances U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia, an increasingly troublesome “ally” with a laundry list of human rights abuses to its name.
U.S. backing of Saudi intervention in Yemen is dangerous and perplexing at every turn: It is happening without congressional authorization or public approval, doing nothing to defend American security, and facilitating one of the most disgraceful humanitarian crises in the world today.
Why is this still happening, and when will Washington be decent and rational enough to make it stop?