Why Aren't We Talking About the War in Yemen?
By Leo Hochberg (Concerned Liberal)
Like so many American war stories, Yemen has been entirely forgotten by most media outlets, despite the fact that war there is raging as we speak. Some have dubbed it the peninsula’s ‘forgotten war’, pointing to the lack of Western coverage. Other have named it ‘Saudi Arabia’s Vietnam’, referencing the likelihood that this war will continue for another decade or more. Just this past week, Donald Trump sealed the deal on a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, mentioning Yemen only twice in his speech, despite the fact the a vast amount of the American weaponry detailed under this deal are predicted to go there. The main organization on the receiving end of all of this Western and Saudi firepower, the Houthis, were mentioned once, and Mansur Hadi, the current president in Saudi-controlled areas of Yemen, was not mentioned at all.
As much as the United States loves to cover its complicity in Middle Eastern war crimes with a thin veneer of counter-extremism tinged with the restoration of order, the fact that we are entirely responsible for the importation of astronomical amount of weaponry to a foreign conflict already overrun by violence is undeniable. Current estimates note that casualties have mounted past 10,000, 17 million (over half of the population) are at risk of starvation, and 80% of the country is estimated in need of immediate humanitarian aid. Saudi bombings have seen to the destruction of so many medical facilities that Doctors Without Borders was forced to evacuate their staff from many regions, and blockages and explosions in the cities of Hodeida and Sana’a have severely reduced food security to the point that a Yemeni child dies of malnutrition every 10 minutes.
The story of this war in Yemen reaches back to 2011, when the Arab Spring erupted and a variety of conflicting sides consumed the nation in political chaos and mass protests. Of particular note were the Houthi movement, centered around a large coalition of Northern Shi’i tribes long since at odds with the central Yemeni state, the Arab Spring party (now closely allied with the Houthis), and a variety of pro-Saudi political movements. Chaos mounted mounted further in 2012, when long-time dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh agreed to cede leadership of the nation in the wake of so much chaos. His second-in-command-turned-political-rival, Mansur Hadi, took over in a “democratic” (read: unopposed) election, and attempted to instigate some form of peace throughout the country. Despite previous dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh’s historically fraught relationship with the Houthis, he struck a military alliance with them in a bid to regain his presidency and fight a military campaign against Mansur Hadi’s pro-Saudi government. Houthi protests against the sway Saudi Arabia held over Hadi continued to abound, and in 2015, war broke out as Houthis militants took over the capital city of Sana’a. Mansur Hadi was forced to flee to the Southern port city of Aden.
After two years of this war, Yemen is volatile and fractious. Political fault lines have turned into regional fault lines as Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis continue to fight for an independent Yemen free from the control of Saudi Arabia. On the opposite side, Mansur Hadi’s government, now backed by a coalition of nine nations including Saudi Arabia and the United States, fight to retain control. While reports that Iran is providing large-scale support to the Houthis are largely untrue (in fact, Iran has actually recognized the legitimacy of Hadi’s government), Iran is still definitely involved as well. They undeniably shipped a small amount of weaponry to the Houthis towards the beginning of the conflict, which further defines this conflict as an international proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. To make matters worse, Saudi Arabia has established a massive blockade around the nation in an prevent any incoming Iranian arms shipments. This has lead to the cancellation of all incoming food, medical aid, and sanitation supplies. Over half of the country is at risk of starvation as a result. Finally, as if the situation could be any more precarious, this massive political vacuum has lead to an increased presence of al-Qaeda and ISIS. Al-Qaeda in particular has maintained control of an enormous swath of central-Eastern territory for the past several years.
The situation is dire and will almost definitely drag on for at least a decade, and yet the American public knows almost nothing about it. Why? Let’s step back and take a look at the some of the most troubling aspects of our involvement. First and foremost, of course, is this arms deal. In his desperate bid for an economy capable of sustaining the construction of a wall between the US and Mexico, Trump has agreed to sell $110 billion worth of weaponry for use against the Houthis. In allying ourselves with the most oil-rich country in the entire world for the sake of our own economic benefit, we have, to put in bluntly, become complicit in the coming annihilation of thousands of Yemeni civilians caught in the toxic crossfire of national politics. Furthermore, nobody seems willing to note that our ‘plan’ for control in the region has lead to the continued growth of al-Qaeda (and to a lesser extent, ISIS) controlled territory. This provides an unsettling contrast to the claim that our our main stake in the region is advancing the fight against terror; our intentions hardly seem so pure now that the escalation of war has resulted in far more destruction than al-Qaeda ever would have been capable of without the advent of mass political chaos.
Trump now comports this war as a moral fight against terror and against the growing regional influence of Iran (which, to clarify, is far less complicit than the US is), but the truth is, we have sunk our claws into a war that we don’t belong in. Right wing media portrays the Houthis as a vile beacon of terror beholden to the heavy hand Iranian Islamic influence, but that simply isn’t the case. And while the Houthis are far from a peaceful bunch, we must try to view them as people fighting for independence and self-determination in a politically fraught nation rather than as terrorists. Changing this narrative is a critical step to peace, as it shifts the blame for such wide-scale destruction on its true arbiters: Saudi Arabia and its complicit allies.
It is unlikely that the next decade will see peace in Yemen, but when that peace does finally come, it will follow on the heels of truth. Shifting oppressive narratives on Islamophobia, independence, complicity, and blame is the most critical step to achieving a political landscape conducive to an international military withdrawal from the Southern side of the Arabian peninsula, and furthermore, to justice for those whose lives have been defined and destroyed by war.
Today, the best thing we can do is stay educated. I’ve attached below some of the most effective resources I’ve uncovered in most own investigation for this article. Blog online. Share on social media. Spread the word to those you know. Resist alternative truths peddled by those who profit off of militant intervention. Fight the American media blackout which assists false narratives on the war in Yemen.
Yemen’s Civil War, Explained
Hasan Piker, The Young Turks
US Officials Risk Complicity in War Crimes in Yemen
Kristine Beckerle, Human Rights Watch
Yemen’s Forgotten War
Caleb Maupin on Hawks RT
Otherwise, consider donating to Islamic Relief USA, which is currently working to bring food to areas of Yemen with low food security: