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Smearing the Movement for Peace in Yemen

Photograph Source: Felton Davis – CC BY 2.0

The National Interest, the neoconservative foreign policy journal, has published a vicious smear job on four groups working to end Saudi Arabia’s aggression against Yemen (William R. Hawkins, “In Attacking Yemen War, Some Americans Call for Abandoning Allies,” National Interest, Oct. 12, 2021). The author maligns Code Pink, the Yemen Alliance Committee, the Yemeni Liberation Movement, and Just Foreign Policy, while whitewashing the US, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates which have murdered tens of thousands of innocent Yemenis since 2015, turning Yemen into what the UN calls the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

Defending the Indefensible

The National Interest identifies Hawkins as “a former economics professor who served on the professional staff of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.”  He alleges that Yemen peace activists are biased against the Saudi-led coalition and biased in favor of Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

That’s a serious charge.  The Houthis are murderous thugs whose motto is “Allah is Greater, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam.”  Their human rights violations are many and include torture, killing of noncombatants, shelling of civilian population centers, forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, and rapes.

The Saudi coalition commits all these crimes too.  Why doesn’t Hawkins tell us?  He doesn’t because he has a bias of his own toward the coalition and its accomplice the US.

What else does Hawkins sweep under the rug?  Quite a lot.  Hawkins does not mention that the coalition is much better bankrolled than the Houthis.  Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst now at the Brookings Institution, says that the war costs the Saudis “billions of dollars, if not tens of billions, a year.”  One scholar estimates that Saudi Arabia has spent $100 billion on the war in Yemen.[1]  Imagine if that money had been spent instead on regional development.  Whereas supplying the Houthis, Riedel says, costs Iran “a pittance.  Maybe $20 million at most a year.”[2]  Supporting the Houthis is a relatively low-cost means for Iran to harass and bankrupt its Saudi adversary.

The UN reports that there have been a staggering 23,000 coalition airstrikes since the coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015.  That’s an average of 10 airstrikes each day over six years.  Saudi and UAE airstrikes have produced at least 18,000 casualties.  Coalition warplanes target both civilians and combatants alike.  Coalition airstrikes destroy civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, water treatment plants, food production facilities, and the cranes used to unload food at Yemeni ports.

The coalition’s most infamous air attack came on August 9, 2018 when a bomb manufactured by US defense contractor Lockheed Martin killed 40 Yemeni schoolchildren.  How does blowing up children help Saudi Arabia defeat Iran?

On February 4, President Biden pledged that the US would immediately end US support for “offensive operations” in Yemen.  Biden has not fulfilled this pledge.  Bruce Riedel says that the US “provides Saudi Arabia with considerable military support.”[3]  Without American logistics, spare parts, and maintenance, Riedel says the Saudi Air Force would be grounded.[4]  Saudi warplanes and helicopters wear out parts constantly.  Spare parts can only come from the US.  Replacement parts from other countries, such as China or Russia—or even the UK—are not compatible.

Blockade

In 2015, the Saudi-led coalition imposed a full land, sea, and air blockade on Yemen—not simply on the port of Hodeidah, the only part of the blockade Hawkins mentions.  Hawkins also skips over the fact that the coalition routinely detains ships for periods up to 100 days and that the coalition even detains ships previously cleared by the UN Verification and Inspection Mechanism for Yemen (UNVIM).  Nor does Hawkins mention that, in September, the coalition allowed only 9.5% of the fuel Yemen needs each month into the country.[5]  The blockade has been a catastrophe for a country which historically imports 85% of its food and medicine.

The Houthis steal some humanitarian aid deliveries and delay others.  But the coalition’s airstrikes and blockade are a far greater contributor to Yemen’s developing famine.

Sometimes, Hawkins just points and splutters.  Code Pink has mounted a “We Love Iranians” campaign”!  Code Pink wants to drop sanctions on Iran and revive Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal!  The peace groups want the US to reduce the number of its military bases in the Middle East.  To Hawkins, these are self-evidently bad things.  If you disagree with him, tough.  He makes no attempt to change your mind.

The Houthis are now masters of most of the country.  The Saudis are losing the war, but Hawkins wants the US to stick by them.  Hawkins fumes that groups like the Yemeni Alliance Committee want to “abandon allies” of the US.  Hawkins says nothing about what kind of people those allies are.  Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, reportedly placed his own mother under house arrest.  The CIA found that bin Salman personally ordered the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident, hacked to pieces with a bone saw at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

You can help end US support to the Saudi coalition.  Call the US Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.  Congress is considering amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022 (NDAA), the yearly defense budget, which will cut off US support for the Saudi-led coalition.  Ask to be connected to your senators and representatives.  Tell them that the Khanna amendment (House) and Sanders amendment (Senate) must be included in the final version of the NDAA.  We can end the US-Saudi-UAE war.

Notes.

[1]  Asher Orkaby, Saudi Arabia’s Other War: The Decades-Long Assault on the Yemeni Economy, FOR’N AFF. (Nov. 3, 2021) (last paragraph).

[2]  Demand Progress, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, “Yemen at the Crossroads: Updates On the Humanitarian Crisis and What Congress Can Do About It,” YouTube, October 26, 2021 at 30:39-31:03 (Bruce Riedel).

[3]  Id. at 23:17-23:22 (Bruce Riedel).

[4]  Id. at 23:42-26:43 (Bruce Riedel).

[5]  Demand Progress, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, “Yemen at the Crossroads: Updates On the Humanitarian Crisis and What Congress Can Do About It,” YouTube, October 26, 2021 at 2:20-2:36 (Hassan El-Tayyab, Legislative Director for Middle East Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation).