- In February 2021, President Joe Biden vowed that the war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has led a brutal bombing campaign, “has to end.”
- A year later, Biden has neither ended weapons sales to Saudi Arabia nor held the Saudis accountable for the humanitarian crisis the war has caused.
- Shireen Al-Adeimi is a Yemeni activist and assistant professor at Michigan State University.
One year ago this month, President Joe Biden made Yemen the focus of his first foreign-policy speech, in which he declared, “this war has to end.”
Naturally, headlines declared the end of US military operations in Yemen, but I couldn’t help but be skeptical of Biden’s intentions. I questioned why he followed that declaration with, “we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”
When civilians are being killed in airstrikes during weddings and funerals
Clearly, this seemingly arbitrary distinction between “relevant” vs. “irrelevant” arms sales and “offensive” vs. “defensive” military operations amounts to a rebranding of the war on Yemen.
This year marks the seventh year since Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates formed a coalition that began bombing my country of birth, ostensibly to restore Yemen’s internationally-recognized president to power — with the support of the Obama White House.
The result of this collaboration soon became catastrophic, with the UN describing Yemen as undergoing the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. By the end of 2021, an estimated 377,000 Yemenis have either been starved to death or were killed in the violence. The same cannot be said about either Saudi Arabia or the UAE, who have largely been unscathed by this asymmetrical war.
The impact on Yemeni children is especially difficult to comprehend or justify.
A Yemeni child dies of starvation every 75 seconds. A CNN investigation highlights the devastating effects of the US-supported blockade on the country, while the Oscar-nominated film Hunger Ward poignantly and painfully documents Yemeni healthcare workers’ desperation to save emaciated children without proper facilities or supplies.
I can’t help but think that I could have been one of those children: too weak to move or cry, let alone dream and hope for a brighter future.
To those of us with loved ones in Yemen, the numbers we hear are people we know and love. They are our aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, friends and neighbors.
We’ve been acutely aware of their suffering under near-daily airstrikes that have devastated homes, hospitals,
We know that most Yemenis can’t access any healthcare, and those who can are faced with severe shortages of medicine, medical equipment, and personnel.
With each US-supported airstrike — usually occurring in the middle of the night in Yemen — Yemeni-Americans like myself begin to frantically account for each family member via messaging apps like WhatsApp and breathe a short-lived sigh of relief when we know they all made it through one more night of airstrikes.
But they don’t always make it. Many of our loved ones have either been killed in the violence or displaced by it, their homes either damaged or destroyed entirely by US-made bombs.
Despite promising to end weapon sales to Saudi Arabia, saying they were “murdering children and they’re murdering innocent people,” and saying they would be “held accountable,” Biden has neither ended weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, nor has he held them accountable or made them a “pariah.”
And when Congress questioned Biden to clarify which “military, intelligence, logistical, or other” support the US would continue to provide to the Saudi-led coalition, and how his administration was defining “offensive operations,” they were met with what Rep. Peter DeFazio called a “disappointing non-answer from the Biden administration” two months later.
The same Biden administration that quickly moved to de-list Trump’s designation of the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization because the designation “could have a devastating impact on Yemenis’ access to basic commodities like food and fuel” is now considering reversing their one positive decision when it as come to this conflict.
Biden’s dangerous threat would starve millions of people, most of whom now rely on aid that will no longer be accessible to a terrorist-designated part of Yemen, where 70% to 80% of the population resides.
It’s not enough for Congress to ask Biden clarifying questions. It’s time to hold him accountable, just as they did Trump, by introducing and passing a War Powers Resolution directing Biden to end all forms of US military support for the war in Yemen. Congress must reassert its constitutional authority over war, one which they have all but abandoned in the year since Biden’s announcement.
While writing this piece, I responded to a tweet from someone in Yemen with a message to “stay safe.” He responded with, “Our days are numbered, our lives are limited, and God is the protector and keeper.”
I’ve heard this sentiment before. Yemenis have felt largely ignored by the international community, whose bombs they continue to find in the rubble (including a Raytheon fragment in a prison bombing that killed over 80 people this January), and whose diplomatic pressure provides cover from any accountability.
Last October, Saudi Arabia used “threats and incentives” to shut down yet another attempt by the UN to investigate human-right violations committed by all parties in Yemen, including the Houthis. Since then, a “surge in air raids and civilian casualties” were reported by the Yemen Data Project.
Yemenis know the international community, which has largely ignored their plight or benefited from arms sales to their tormentors, will not come to their aid or rescue them from a genocidal war from which they can’t escape. Congress and the Americans they represent must not accept Biden’s rebranded, yet unchanged, war on Yemen.
Shireen Al-Adeimi is a Yemeni activist and assistant professor at Michigan State University. You can find her on Twitter @shireen818.