By Daria Berstell
In the past few months, the United States has become increasingly entangled in Yemen’s conflict. Since March of 2015, the U.S. has been providing a Saudi-led and largely Sunni-supported military coalition with aid through arms sales and American intelligence. This coalition has been fighting Yemen’s Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, who ousted Yemen’s government in January of 2015. The Houthi rebels seized the presidential palace and several important military installations, resulting in the dissolution of parliament and forcing the president, Abed Mansour Hadi, to flee to Saudi Arabia. The war has now killed an estimated 10,000 people, nearly half of them civilians, according to the United Nations.
Last week, the U.S. went from being tangentially involved in the conflict to being directly involved. On October 13th, an American warship stationed off the coast of Yemen fired cruise missiles at radar installations that American intelligence believed were used by Houthi rebels to target another American warship in two missile attacks the previous week. The Pentagon has characterized the strikes as “self-defense strikes” which were conducted to protect American personnel and freedom of navigation for American ships. This situation has the potential to draw the U.S. into another protracted conflict in the Middle East.
Already, the civil war in Yemen has caused a humanitarian catastrophe and fueled extremism among the country’s citizens. With the U.S. being a vital part of the coalition fighting the rebels, the U.S. bears partial responsibility for the terror and death caused by the Saudi-led coalition. Thousands of civilians have died during their involvement in Yemen’s civil war, with a recent incident being the bombing of the funeral of a prominent rebel leader that killed almost 150 civilians. Human Rights Watch called it an “apparent war crime.” Previously, the coalition also bombed a hospital served by Doctors Without Borders, killing 15 people and destroying the Emergency department of the hospital.
The coalition either does not know how to hit their targets successfully or does not care about killing civilians. Either option is unconscionable. Despite Saudi Arabia’s disregard for human rights, one assumes that they would not intentionally target civilians, meaning that they are killing thousands of civilians accidentally. If the coalition cannot avoid killing thousands of civilians even with the help of American intelligence, the coalition should cease airstrikes immediately. A recent UN report blames 60% of Yemeni children’s death and injuries on bombings and military action taken by the coalition.
In a region so unstable and so prone to fueling extremism, the worst possibility for the U.S. would be to continue to be entangled in a never-ending conflict. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. went into Yemen in hopes of getting the country back after the rebels took over, however, at this point Yemen is near total collapse with 80% of the country in need of some sort of humanitarian aid and extremist groups becoming more radicalized and gaining more followers. This war was started to help the people of Yemen, however, the longer it goes on, the harder it will be to finish it.
The U.S. should not be complicit in these atrocities and should not implicitly condone them by continuing to support Saudi Arabia’s efforts. Arms sales should be stopped until Saudi Arabia is able to wage war without killing civilians and until they commit to negotiating peace in Yemen. Those arms sales make the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen possible, however, they also provide firepower for other military actions Saudi Arabia takes. For a country with such a terrible human rights record, it does not make sense for the U.S. to be supporting them with military power and intelligence. The United States should not support a nation which does not share our values regarding the value of human life and basic rights.
The conflict in Yemen is difficult and becomes more complicated by the day as more bombs are dropped and more citizens become radicalized. This is especially true with the development of US involvement, which began with Houthi rebels firing on American warships and the Americans responding destroying three radar installations. While retaliatory and justifiable, the US Navy’s response was still the first direct action taken by the U.S. military in this conflict. In addition, becoming further entangled in this conflict in the Middle East runs the risk of forcing the U.S. into several more decades of direct military engagement in the Middle East, just as the U.S. military is slowly beginning to be pulled out.
With a rising civilian death toll and deteriorating living conditions in Yemen, some would say it is logical that the United States should intervene more than it has. But it would be foolish for the United States to become involved directly in a war in Yemen and, following a lengthy and unpopular conflict in Iraq, there would not be support for it among the American people. Given rising extremism and unstable conditions created by the humanitarian crisis, it would be risky for the US to get entangled in yet another conflict in the Middle East. If provided U.S. intelligence made it possible for the coalition to successfully combat the rebels, then that support should be continued, however, even with that intelligence, civilian targets continue to be hit. The U.S.’s involvement has not helped the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and it is time the administration ceased its support to Saudi Arabia and considered other options.