News outlets in the United States give prime coverage to the war in Ukraine but mostly ignore the devastating war that the U.S. has supported since March 2015 between a Saudi-led coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the Houthis in Yemen. As a result, most of the U.S. public is unaware of the war’s catastrophic impact on the Yemeni population: according to the United Nations, around 400,000 people have died and 16.2 million are at the brink of starvation.
The causes of this devastation include a Saudi-led bombing campaign that targets infrastructure, food sources and health services, as well as coercive measures, including a blockade, directed at destroying Yemen’s economy. The UN has called the situation in Yemen the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.
Recently, the Houthis have retaliated against the Saudi-led coalition by launching transborder attacks into Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Most of those attacks have been deflected with the help of U.S. weapons. The Saudi/UAE airstrikes, missile attacks and strangling blockades regularly overwhelm the relatively ineffective weapons and military power of the Houthis. Yet, the U.S. media confer a disproportionate amount of media coverage and sympathy to Saudi/UAE aggression.
What’s important to realize — and what the news media fail to discuss — is that the U.S. is complicit in causing this crisis. The U.S. is the main supplier of weapons to Saudi Arabia. According to the Brookings Institute, 73 percent of Saudi arms imports come from the U.S. In fact, 24 percent of U.S. weapons exports go to Saudi Arabia.
Former President Donald Trump was eager to brag about the high sales of U.S. arms to the Saudis. Although President Joe Biden indicated that he would sell only defensive weapons to Saudi Arabia, the U.S. continues to provide the Saudis with missiles, parts, maintenance, logistical support and intelligence. Without U.S. support, the Saudi war effort would be greatly hampered.
In view of the devastation to Yemen, it’s no surprise that several efforts were made by Congress to end U.S. support for the war. In 2019, Congress passed a War Powers Resolution calling for an end to U.S. support for the Saudis, partly in response to the brutal assassination of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi. However, President Trump at the time vetoed the resolution. Likewise, the House of Representatives passed several versions of the National Defense Authorization Act that included language calling for a complete halt to U.S. support for the war. But during final negotiations, those provisions were dropped.
Recently, lawmakers in Congress, including Representatives Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) and Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), indicated that they will introduce a Yemen War Powers Resolution to end all U.S. support for the war. We call on our federal lawmakers — especially our own Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee — to cosponsor the resolution.
Still, some policy makers want the U.S. to continue support for the Saudi war on Yemen. Their motivations include a desire for continued oil supplies, as well as strategic issues related to China — Saudi Arabia has supposedly considered accepting yuan as payment for oil — and Iran. Another factor is the money earned from arms sales.
But others point to the high costs of the U.S.-Saudi relationship, including security concerns. In April of this year, 30 members of Congress wrote a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for a recalibration of the U.S.-Saudi partnership. The letter mentions the brutal war on Yemen, Saudi oppression at home, and Saudi Arabia’s flirtations with China.
Furthermore, the Saudis have been unwilling to raise oil production to aid the international coalition that is confronting Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Others have published on the ways in which the Saudi-U.S. relationship is damaging to U.S. interests, including dispelling the myth of U.S. dependency on Saudi oil and threats to our national security.
A discouraging development is that on May 17, Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Khaled bin Salman met with U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, and the U.S confirmed its commitment to the U.S.-Saudi military collaboration.
Moreover, recent reports indicate that President Biden is planning to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman early next month. This planned meeting is distressing to many antiwar activists because President Biden had earlier promised to make bin Salman a “pariah” for his role in the killing of Khashoggi and the war in Yemen.
On April 2, a truce between the warring parties went into effect, the first in six years. The agreed upon truce included an end to attacks and provisions for better movement of goods and people into Yemen. The truce will expire on June 2, 2022, and it is unclear if it will be renewed. It is crucial that we prevent a lapse in the truce and the resumption of fighting.
The threat of the U.S. ending its support for the Saudi-led coalition, especially the War Powers Resolution, has made the April 2 truce possible. Although the truce is fragile, and although not all the conditions were met, it is a first step to ending the devastating war and bringing peace to Yemen. The UN is discussing an extension to the truce, which the Houthi are considering.
Without U.S. support, the Saudis would struggle to continue the war. So, it is crucial now that Congress supports the War Powers Resolution to send a signal to both the Biden administration and to Saudi Arabia that it will no longer support their war. It is time for Congress to exercise its constitutional right to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led War in Yemen.