The US is promoting war crimes in Yemen

The humanitarian disaster there is, by some measures, greater than that in Syria. Why is Obama continuing to enable the Saudi bombing campaign?

Abs Hospital in Hajjah Province was bombed on Monday, killing 19 people. Doctors Without Borders is evacuating staff from it and five other hospitals in northern Yemen because of the bombings.CreditAbduljabbar Zeyad/Reuters

. Trevor Timm  - The Guardian

Saudi Arabia resumed its appalling war in Yemen last week and has alreadykilled dozens more civilians, destroyed a school full of children and leveleda hospital full of sick and injured people. The campaign of indiscriminate killing – though let’s call it what it is: a war crime – has now been going on for almost a year and a half. And the United States bears a large part of the responsibility.
This US-backed war is not just a case of the Obama administration sitting idly by while its close ally goes on a destructive spree of historic proportions. The government is actively selling the Saudis billions of dollars of weaponry. They’re re-supplying planes engaged in the bombing runs and providing “intelligence” for the targets that Saudi Arabia is hitting.
Put simply, the US is quite literally funding a humanitarian catastrophe that, by some measures, is larger than the crisis in Syria. As the New York Times editorial board wrote this week: “Experts say the coalition would be grounded if Washington withheld its support.” Yet all we’ve heard is crickets.
High-ranking Obama administration officials are hardly ever asked about the crisis. Cable television news has almost universally ignored it. Both the Clinton and Trump presidential campaigns have been totally silent on this issue despite their constant arguing over who would be better at “stopping terrorism”. Beyond the grotesque killing of civilians, it’s clear at this point that the Saudis’ bombing campaign has also boosted al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) to a level which Reuters described as “stronger and richer” than anytime in its 20-year history.
Jake Tapper commendably broke the television news blackout about Yemen on his CNN show on Wednesday. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, one of the very few elected representatives talking about the crisis, told Tapper that “it’s wild to me” that the Congress isn’t debating the “unauthorized” war in Yemen. The Saudis “could not do it without the United States”, he said. “We have made the decision to go to war in Yemen” – against Saudi Arabia’s enemies, not ours – without any debate.
“If you talk to Yemenis, they will tell you that inside Yemen this is not perceived to be a Saudi bombing campaign, this is a US bombing campaign,” Murphy continued. “What’s happening is we are helping to radicalize the the Yemeni population against the United States.” This statement was also backed up by longtime Yemen reporter Iona Craig this week, who emphasized to NPR that Yemenis blame the US for the carnage just as much as the Saudis.
The fact that the Obama administration has allowed the Saudis to continue committing war crimes should be a full-fledged scandal. Officials should be resigning over this and shouting from the rooftops. Instead, for months, we’ve heard almost nothing from the administration beyond a couple boilerplate, lukewarm expressions of “concern” as the death toll has mounted over a year and a half. Finally, after prodding from reporters last week, the US state department condemned the bombing of a Doctors Without Borders (AKA Médecins sans Frontières) hospital that killed at least 15 people. But then, the state department spokesman refused to say whether the US would stop supplying the Saudis with the weapons they are using.
At the same time, the US military can’t even articulate why our government is helping at all. As Micah Zenko pointed out last year, Gen Lloyd Austin, commander of US Central Command, admitted in March 2015: “I don’t currently know the specific goals and objectives of the Saudi campaign, and I would have to know that to be able to assess the likelihood of success.” Yet that hasn’t stopped the military from helping the Saudis kill thousands of civilians since.
In Washington, pundit after pundit has spent years now writing ad nauseam about how the Obama administration should be bombing Syria more to stop the humanitarian crisis there, despite the fact no one can explain exactly how more bombs will curtail, rather than exacerbate, the situation. Unlike in Syria, as the excellent foreign policy analyst Daniel Larison articulated last week, the US has the ability to step in and stop the disaster unfolding Yemen right now. Yet most of those same pundits remain disturbingly silent on the issue.
Will the Obama administration officials ever act at this point? Given US officials think they need to placate Saudi Arabia after the Iran nuclear deal, it seems unlikely they have the spine. But I hope they understand: the White House’s continued facilitation of this awful crime against the people of Yemen will stain Obama’s legacy long after he leaves office.

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