Why Are We Helping the Saudis Bomb Children in Yemen?

America isn’t just failing to protect civilians. We’re on the wrong side of the war.

The horrific deaths of 40 children by American bombs in a Saudi airstrike have managed to awaken a political establishment so distracted by Trump’s transgressions that it has nearly forgotten about the nation’s ongoing wars abroad. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are so old hat by now that most Americans simply shrug them off as old news, pits of treasure and blood that we seem to take for granted now as a permanent condition of our existence.

But the violent humanitarian crisis in Yemen is shocking if only because most have no idea it is happening and no clue about America’s role in the conflict. And they have no idea that America is almost certainly on the wrong side of this war, killing children on the side of the bad guys while politicians from both parties nod in assent.

To make a long story short, the crisis in Yemen began when regional Sunni authorities failed to meet the needs of their citizens. It was so bad that a Shi’ite minority called the Houthis rebelled against the government, and a large number of Sunnis remarkably joined alongside them.

The hardline Sunni Saudis and their regional allies including the United Arab Emirates freaked out about a Shia power on their border and tried to quash the upstart Houthis. They failed, and instead began an entrenched and bloody civil war in one of the world’s poorest countries. The war has since become multi-factional, with the Saudis backing one set of Sunni leaders and the UAE another, while the Houthis themselves also have their own divisions.

There is absolutely no reason for the United States to be involved in this at all except to provide humanitarian aid. If there’s a discernable bad guy in the conflict, it’s the regional Sunni powers who for purely sectarian reasons supported a failed regime against a minority-led Shia coalition with considerable organic support. If the Saudis didn’t want an Iranian-allied state on their border, they could have used their considerable wealth to improve conditions in Yemen. Instead, they are trying to bomb the population into compliance.

And they are doing it with American help, killing nearly 10,000 civilians in the process as of late 2017. The toll of strikes on civilians is gut-wrenching:

Since the beginning of the war, U.S.-backed airstrikes have hit countless civilian targets, including schools, hospitals, and food and water infrastructures. Last week, the U.S.-backed coalition bombed a school bus in North Yemen, reportedly killing dozens of boys between the ages of 6 and 11. UNICEF called the strike the “worst attack on children since Yemen’s brutal war escalated in 2015,” and the U.N. Secretary General called for an “independent and prompt investigation” into the strike.

And the devastation to quality of life is gruesome:

About 75% of the population – 22.2 million people – are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 11.3 million people in acute need who urgently require immediate assistance to survive – an increase of 1 million since June 2017.

Some 17.8 million people do not know where their next meal is coming from and 8.4 million are considered at risk of starvation. Severe acute malnutrition is threatening the lives of almost 400,000 children under the age of five.

Now let’s be very clear: there is no indication that the Houthis are terrorists or even religious extremists. This is not a legitimate part of the war on terror. They are loosely aligned with Iran, yes, but so are all Shi’a groups in the region. The United States has no compelling reason to deny the Houthis their autonomy, except that the United States like to keep the Saudis happy as a matter of realpolitik. And the Saudis are committing unspeakable war crimes–with direct logistical support from U.S. forces, using American munitions.

To her great credit, Elizabeth Warren is demanding answers about how these strikes are supervised, and whether enough is being done to protect against civilian casualties.

But the real question we should be asking is why we’re engaged in this conflict at all, and why we’re aiding and abetting the murder of children by war criminals not because they happen to be proximate to a terrorist hotbed, but simply because they happened to be Shi’a Muslims seeking self-determination on the border of the House of Saud.

 

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.