BY: KATHERINE GAN, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR
Smoke engulfs the air and debris flies overhead, as citizens scramble to escape, hoping to leave the war behind. Unfortunately, this is the daily reality for thousands of ordinary Yemenis. In the Middle East, much attention has been brought to the Syrian Civil War and its ensuing refugee crisis while the disaster in Yemen has been overlooked. However, it is important to note that the United States has played a regrettable role in perpetuating the violence and bloodshed, as it aids Saudi Arabia in a ruthless proxy war.
Before analyzing the United States’ current role, it is critical to understand the reason why the conflict has escalated to its current state. In 2011, during the Arab Spring revolts, President Ali Saleh, an authoritarian and corrupt leader, handed over power to Mr. Hadi, the current leader. Mr. Hadi maintained a corrupt regime and had issues with preventing al-Qaeda’s growth, unemployment, and food insecurity. As a result, the Houthis, a Shiite group who felt they had no say in a primarily Sunni government, seized Sana’a, the capital and largest city in Yemen in September 2014. After their initial capture of Sana’a, the Houthis expanded to control a solid portion of Yemen. Since then, the sides have been clearly outlined, as military units loyal to former President Saleh aligned themselves with the Houthis. Iran has been the Houthi’s primary international supporter, frequently providing military support such as arms. In contrast, Saudi Arabia launched a military campaign to back Mr. Hadi. In addition, the United States has been backing the Saudi-led coalition with intelligence to bomb rebel positions. The reasons the United States has supported Saudi Arabia are largely geopolitical, as the United States is concerned about Iranian influence in the region. However, the United States is also attempting to appease Saudi Arabia so they will continue to support the US fight against ISIS. These US contributions of coalition strikes and weaponry have also had immense civilian casualties by destroying nearby markets, hospitals, and neighborhoods.
The air campaign has starved Yemen, pushing the country to the verge of famine. In fact, 21.2 million people or four out of every five million citizens are in need of humanitarian assistance, with 7.6 million at the risk of starvation. In addition, the United States has been complicit in the war crimes committed by Saudi Arabia. This past weekend, for instance, Saudi Arabia launched an airstrike on a crowded funeral ceremony, killing at least 100 civilians and wounding more than 500. The main issue is that the current war makes it difficult to provide security and support to humanitarian agencies. As a result, health centres and nutritional treatment supples have been undersupplied and aid groups like Doctors Without Borders are pulling out of northern Yemen after their facilities were attacked by coalition airstrikes. This disaster can be directly attributable to the United States. In fact, experts claim that the coalition would be deemed unable to continue without United States intelligence. Just this past weekend, the United States has taken an even more dangerous role in the conflict, by directly attacking the Houthi rebels. A US navy destroyer fired missiles at three radar sites controlled by rebel Houthi groups. This action, in conjunction with the $110 billion worth of arms President Obama has sold to Saudi Arabia since taking office, has directly prolonged the war.
As the body count increases and the bloodshed stains Yemen, it is necessary to look for preventative solutions that put the people first. Progress may be on the horizon, as a cease-fire between the warring parties is scheduled to begin Wednesday. However, this cease-fire is only 72 hours, or three days, meaning that if it is held, peace will only be a temporary bandage to the gaping wound. Therefore, the United States should look for actual solutions such as a ban on all arms to Saudi Arabia, which would set a precedent for what the nation is willing to stand for. Simultaneously, the United States should provide additional humanitarian assistance to the innocents caught up in the crosshairs of the war. While these decisions may damage relations with Saudi Arabia, the lives of those slaughtered is far more important. In addition, as President Obama leaves office, he has nothing to lose, so politics should no longer guide his decisions. After all, the conflict has become far too disastrous to condone.