One of the biggest blotches on Obama’s legacy is one barely mentioned in the media, or in political attacks. The Middle East has a massive humanitarian crisis on its hands, and it’s not just Syria. Yemen’s civil war has been incredibly devastating and bloody even compared to Syria, the conflict is only two years old- and it’s only getting worse.
Many Americans are barely aware of the war or that the US has been involved in Yemen for several years through the use of drones. Initially, the US was interested in denying a safe haven for Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Though the use of drones limited the ability of AQAP to move in the regions they controlled, it made them more appealing and helped their numbers grow.
To understand the gist and background of the conflict, there is a great three-minute video about the origins and the possibility that the US is complicit in war crimes in Yemen.
Once the situation in Yemen devolved into a full-blown civil war between the Houthi rebels and government forces, the US essentially exported the war to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia spearheaded a coalition of ten regional governments in 2015.
On Thursday, the UN blacklisted the Saudi-led coalition for violating the rights of children. This can be more broadly stated as violating the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC). The UN charged Saudi Arabia with killing and injuring over 683 children during 2016 with dozens of attacks on schools and hospitals.
The report also accused the Houthis and their allies of killing and injuring over 414 children in 2016.
The civil war has left 20.7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance and led to one of the largest food security crises in modern history. There has also been a major outbreak of cholera, which is estimated to have affected over 775,000 people and caused more than 2,130 deaths.
To make matters worse winter is coming, and the coalition has blocked fuel shipments. Moreover, 1.8 million children are estimated to be acutely malnourished.
Saudi Arabia is largest single buying of US-made military hardware in the region, with a steadily growing appetite. In a report issued by Amnesty International last month, one recent purchase struck a cluster of homes injuring three men and killing seven children with eight more children injured in the process. Amnesty was able to analyze the remains of the bomb and linked it to markings matching US-made components.
Lynn Maalouf, the Research director for the Middle East at Amnesty, pointedly stated that there is no excuse for the US and other countries like the UK and France to continue to sell weapons to the Saudi-led coalition. Especially in light of the fact the Saudi coalition has proven time and time again they have no regard for LOAC.
In the US, a bipartisan group of four members put forward a resolution calling for Congress to evoke the War Powers Resolution of 1973. Two members of each party sponsored the resolution, and it requires Congress to either remove US involvement from the Yemeni civil war or authorize it.
The resolution is unlikely to gain any steam for two reasons: One, Trump would have to sign it into law; two, Trump recently signed a deal with the Saudis for $110 billion for US arms sales.
Overriding a presidential veto has been historically difficult to accomplish, but it has been done before. That being said, there’s no way to actually compel the executive branch to follow the order.
In light of the catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it’s also important to note that Yemen is one of the countries listed under Trump’s Muslim ban. The ban itself is indefinite. This will serve to make an already hopeless situation even more hopeless.
Even more perverse, Trump might actually cite Iran’s support for the Houthi rebels as a means to decertify the Iran deal. Trump has consistently used Iran's activities in the region as a “violation” of the “spirit” of the deal.
Both Obama and Trump will eventually need to answer for Yemen. To recap: this conflict is one of the largest humanitarian crises around the world; receives very little attention from the world at large; the country is being bombed with US made hardware; vulnerable women and children are indefinitely denied entry into the US, AND Yemen could serve as a “sticking” point to back out of the Iran deal. That’s not even mentioning the fact, it’s the site of some of the most feckless and egregious violations of LOAC and the US is complicit, nor mentioning the fact that US inaction is more than likely linked to the industrial military complex’s need to sell weapons. If you are American, this should not sit easy with you.