The scenes of carnage in Ukraine have sparked anger and concerted action against the Russian invasion of that country, now in its eighth week. But there is another conflict, now in its eighth year, that has resulted in the deaths of nearly half a million people and driven millions more to the brink of starvation – the war in Yemen. And unlike the war in Ukraine, where Washington faces daunting obstacles in attempting to end Russian atrocities, the United States has considerable leverage in bringing the Yemen conflict to an end, and soon.
The current war in Yemen began with the March 2015 Saudi/UAE
The United States is far from an innocent bystander in the Yemen war. It has supplied tens of billions of dollars-worth of bombs, missiles, combat aircraft, and attack helicopters to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), weapons that have been the backbone of the Saudi/UAE war effort. A cutoff of arms, spare parts, and maintenance would ground the Royal Saudi Air Force in short order and send a powerful message to the Saudi leadership that they must end their attacks on Yemen and negotiate in good faith to end the war. Unfortunately, the Biden administration has so far failed to do so.
The administration’s record on Yemen has been disappointing, to put it mildly. When he was on the campaign trail, President Biden called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” and pledged to stop the flow of U.S. arms to the regime. And in his first foreign policy speech, the president said that he would “end support for offensive operations in Yemen” along with “relevant arms sales.” Instead, his administration sold over $1 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia in its first year in office, and it has refused to use all of the leverage at its disposal to end Saudi attacks on Yemen. In fact, Saudi air strikes have increased during Biden’s tenure, including a an attack on a migrant detention center earlier this year that killed 90 people and wounded over 200.
Despite the Biden administration’s failure to do everything in its power to end the conflict, a two-month truce has been reached that calls for an end to military attacks and the Saudi-led blockade. And while the truce has been imperfectly carried out, it still offers the best hope in years for an end to the war. Now is the time for the United States to make clear that if Saudi Arabia doesn’t adhere to the truce and negotiate for peace, U.S. military support will come to an end. As President Obama’s deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said soon after the truce announcement, “I’d like the U.S. to put on the table that we won’t support in any way a resumption of hostilities from the Saudi side… We have some leverage here… That might be one way to make this stick.”
Given its record thus far, the Biden administration may not be inclined to threaten to end U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia to “make this stick.” Congress needs to take the lead in forging a more effective U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia and the Yemen war. That’s why Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) are going to introduce a War Powers Resolution (WPR) to end all U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia as a way to help end the conflict. The resolution has garnered the support of 70 organizations who have sent a letter to Congress urging members to support the Yemen WPR, including Indivisible, MoveOn, Demand Progress, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, and the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. In the letter, the groups urge “all members of Congress to say ‘no’ to Saudi Arabia’s war of aggression by fully ending all U.S. support for a conflict that has caused such immense bloodshed and human suffering.”
As Aisha Jumaan, President of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, has noted, “The fragile truce between the Saudi led coalition and Ansar Allah [the Houthis] is a golden opportunity for the Biden administration to push for an end to Saudi Arabia’s brutal war and war crimes against the Yemeni people.”
The time to act is now.