Yemen: West complicit in humanitarian catastrophe

October 7, 2017
Aftermath of a Saudi air strike on Yemen.

The world media’s attention has focused on the very real humanitarian crisis gripping hurricane-ravaged nations in the Caribbean and regions of the United States, but the “world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe” (in the words of The New York Times in August) is in Yemen.

The unfolding disaster in Yemen is entirely human-made, is worsening and is the result of policies pursued by the United States and Britain.

The NYT detailed horrendous conditions in Yemen since the March 2015 Saudi-led offensive: “Repeated bombings have crippled bridges, hospitals and factories. Many doctors and civil servants have gone unpaid for more than a year.

“Malnutrition and poor sanitation have made the Middle Eastern country vulnerable to diseases that most of the world has confined to the history books.

“In just three months, cholera has killed nearly 2,000 people and infected more than a half million, one of the world’s largest outbreaks in the past 50 years.”

As heart-wrenching and disturbing as the NYT’s story is, it has some serious omissions. These indicate a political myopia, or unwillingness to confront the political culpability of Western powers enabling the Yemeni crisis.

The corporate media in the West has obscured the responsibility of the US and Britain in facilitating the ongoing Saudi assault on Yemen.

In Common Dreams, Ben Norton wrote that since the Saudi Arabia-led coalition began its relentless bombing of Yemen in March 2015, the fatalities caused are routinely downplayed or distorted. Responsibility for the air strikes that kill Yemenis is constantly obscured as a disembodied tragedy with no single party to blame.

A corollary of this practice is to place the Saudi military and the opposing Houthi militia on an equal footing. This false equivalency obscures the culpability of the US-and- British-supported Saudi offensive for the deaths. It also presents a picture of a conflict between two equals, much like a boxing contest. 

The conflict wracking Yemen, however, is not a war of equals. There is no moral equivalence between invaders and the invaded.

When the Saudi military bombs hospitals, schools, medical clinics, electricity power stations and the civilian infrastructure which sustains Yemeni society, they are guilty creating a humanitarian catastrophe. The Saudi planes that launch these raids rely on direct US and British help. US- and Britain-made ammunition is being used by the Saudis to kill Yemeni civilians.

In August, The Guardian reported on the cholera outbreak in Yemen. Cholera is a bacterial infection, and it can be treated effectively and easily with the proper medication and public hygiene and sanitation measures.

However, when civilian infrastructure is destroyed, and the airports and ports of Yemen are blockaded to prevent supplies reaching the nation, the civilian casualties will inevitably rise. Trapping civilians and starving them into submission is one tactic of the Saudi military in its war on Yemen.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reported there were 750,000 suspected cases of cholera, with 2119 fatalities.

There is no question that the Saudi offensive depends on the unstinting military and political support Saudi Arabia receives from its principal patrons; the US and Britain.

The hypocrisy of the Western powers is astounding, given that the US and Britain have only this year approved further arms sales to the Saudi petro-monarchy.

Supporters of the Saudi war on Yemen portray the Houthi rebel movement as a puppet of Iran. This is quite simply inaccurate. In an article for The Washington Post, Thomas Juneau examines this claim in extensive detail and addresses several concerns.

Firstly, while the Houthis are routinely described as being Shia, and therefore religiously aligned with Iran’s leaders, this is not strictly accurate. The Houthis practice Zaydi Shiism, a distinct branch and theologically different from the Twelver Shiism practised by most of the world’s Shias.

Secondly, and more importantly, it is not religious affiliation that brought Iran and the Houthis together, albeit in a very limited manner. Iran’s influence over the Houthi movement is marginal at best. It is political dissatisfaction with the current regional order that unites these forces.

Iran has long opposed the predominance of the US-backed Saudi monarchy in the region. The Houthis, currently fighting the Saudi-supported Yemeni government, have found that their interests correspond closely with Tehran for the time being.

To reduce the Houthis to Iranian proxies, and therefore interpret the conflict in Yemen to a cartoonishly simple one of “Sunnis versus Shias”, is a huge mistake. It obscures the political and economic grievances that have driven this conflict. 

There are numerous Yemeni army units, loyal to ousted long-term dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, now fighting alongside the Houthis against the Saudi-backed Yemeni government of Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The Houthis are fighting, not as an extension of Iranian influence, but because they oppose the lack of meaningful political change since the 2011 removal of Saleh. They claim that changes since the 2011 uprising have been cosmetic, and did not result in a resolution of any political and economic grievances.

In fact, the removal of Saleh, and installation of his former colleague Hadi, was an initiative undertaken by Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to limit democratic reforms while maintaining the bulk of the Yemeni regime in place.

Ending the cozy military and business relationship between the imperialist states and Saudi Arabia would not only expose those who profiteer from war and armaments trading, but undermine Saudi Arabia’s ability to prosecute the Yemen assault. This would bring much-needed relief to the people there.

We must expose the quiet support of the US and Britain (with Australia in tow) for the Saudi war on Yemen, and highlight the destructive hypocrisies that have produced this catastrophe. The criminal silence surrounding the humanitarian disaster afflicting Yemen must be broken.

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