In late March of 2015, the brash young Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister in Saudi Arabia, Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), launched a war against Saudi Arabia’s impoverished southern neighbor, Yemen. He promised the war would not take long and would restore the authority of Yemen’s president, Abed Rabboo Mansur Hadi, who had been ousted from the capital, San’a, by an alliance between “Houthi” northern tribal militias and forces loyal to his predecessor as president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.
MBS received support for his war plan from a coalition of eight other countries in the region–and from the United States, which under Pres. Barack Obama provided replenishments for the considerable quantities of weapons used in the war, along with help in targeting, intel, and aerial refueling for Saudi warplanes. But even with all this help MBS was quite unable to deliver on his promise of a speedy and decisive victory in Yemen.
Even before the Saudi assault, Yemen was by far the Arab world’s poorest country. (You could call it Saudi Arabia’s very own “Gaza.”) The war, which often saw the Saudi-led forces targeting infrastructure vital to normal civilian life, fairly swiftly plunged Yemen’s 26 million people to the brink of mass famine.
Now, the scourge of a widespread cholera epidemic has been added to their woes.
Today, the health coordinator in Yemen for the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported of the epidemic that,
“More than 5,000 suspected new cases have been reported daily during the past week. The spread of the disease, which started just over a month ago, is accelerating… It’s concerning that severe suspected cholera cases now account for about half of the total, which is more than double what we usually observe during such outbreaks.”
The ICRC also noted that:
According to the health authorities in the capital, Sana’a, the number of suspected cases nationwide exceeded 124,000 two days ago, with more than 900 people dead as a result of infection.
In that same report, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Yemen, Alexandre Faite was unequivocal about the root cause of the epidemic:
“Two years of armed conflict have brought Yemen’s health system to the brink of collapse. This cholera outbreak is only the most recent, and most visible, proof that people and structures have been seriously weakened by the way this conflict is being waged… The attacks on and lack of maintenance of the water and sewage systems in addition to the severe restrictions on the import of critical goods such as spare parts and fuel, have led to a situation where millions of people have no access to clean water.”
On May 20-21, Pres. Donald Trump was in Saudi Arabia, where his main talking point was his success in having secured massive new orders from the kingdom for US weaponry. Among the meetings he held in Riyadh was at least one with MBS (see right.)
Over the three weeks since that visit, one of the main news stories in the Western MSM has been the serious confrontation the Saudis launched last week against Qatar (which is also a US ally.) The Western MSM have paid much less attention to the actual, extremely lethal war the Saudis have sustained for 27 months now against another neighbor in the Arabian Peninsula: Yemen.
On Capitol Hill, however, the movement to try to start to rein in Saudi Arabia’s belligerence against Yemen has been gathering momentum in recent months. On May 25, Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Chris Murphy (D-CN), and Al Franken (D-MN) introduced a resolution that would have prohibited the export to Saudi Arabia of several types of weapons systems that have been associated with their war effort against Yemen. Today, the resolution came to a vote– where it failed to pass, by 47 votes (for) to 53 (against).
This result was undoubtedly disappointing for all the bill’s backers. Nonetheless, these 47 votes (which included the votes of three other Republicans, in addition to Sen. Paul) were certainly the greatest number ever gathered for a vote aiming to curb Saudi belligerence against Yemen.
Kate Kizer of the Washington DC-based Yemen Peace Project (YPP) noted the following in a statement she issued after the vote:
Today 47 Senators sent a clear message to the Trump administration that Congress will not rubber-stamp the administration’s move to pursue a military-only strategy in Yemen, or stand idly by as it floods the region with more weapons with no regard for America’s moral and legal obligations.
To Saudi Arabia and the other members of the Saudi-led coalition, this vote made clear that U.S. support for its devastating air campaign in Yemen is not unconditional and will not go un-debated. The only way forward for the Saudi-led coalition and President Hadi in Yemen is to move toward a political solution through diplomatic engagement and a common goal of ending the unprecedented humanitarian suffering faced by all Yemenis.
So there is some reason to hope that the movement to stop US support for the Saudi war in Yemen can grow.
People wanting to follow the situation in Yemen should check out the resources the YPP has on its website– in particular, its blog or its weekly Press Reviews. Or, for updates on the humanitarian crises in Yemen, check out the Yemen page on the “Reliefweb” portal. (Earlier JWE blog posts on Yemen can be found here.)