Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Sat, Feb 13th, 2016

Congressional White Washing the Yemen War

The war that nobody in Washington wants to know about actually made it into a recent (February 5) Congressional Research Service report entitled “Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations.”

The author, a “Specialist in Middle East Affairs” begins by saying: “Current U.S. policy seeks to coordinate with Saudi leaders on regional issues and help them respond to domestic economic and security challenges.” “Coordinate” here means, of course, selling them billions (42 billion are proposed) of dollars of weapons and pretending that all their human rights abuses are not significant, nor their support for extremist groups over the years.

The author would benefit from reading a commentary in the New York Times on the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. There are tens of thousands of Saudi students, funded by the Saudi government in most cases, studying in the U.S.; even Donald Trump seems to be unaware of this. We are also told that “the history of U.S.-Saudi relations suggests that any more strident U.S. criticisms of the kingdom’s policies may remain subjects of private U.S. diplomatic engagement rather than public official discussion.” God forbid the public have a role in considering our cosy relationship with Saudi Arabia. We all know how successful such “private U.S. diplomatic engagement” can be; Saddam’s Iraq for instance.

The section on the Yemen crisis makes it seem as though the Huthis are the only aggressors and not the ones being attacked in an eleven month air campaign. Consider the following:

In the months since, Houthi fighters have launched attacks on Saudi border areas that have killed Saudi civilians and security personnel, and Saudi military operations have continued to strike Houthi and pro-Saleh positions across Yemen. Saudi forces report that they have intercepted Scud missile attacks from Yemen on several occasions. In August 2015, Saudi ground forces participated in military operations that resulted in the seizure of the southern port city of Aden, alongside forces from the United Arab Emirates. Saudi, Emirati, and other coalition forces have suffered dozens of casualties during ground operations in the area.

As the military campaign has continued, reports of civilian casualties and displacement, food, medicine and water shortages, advances by AQAP forces, Islamic State attacks, and persistence by the Houthis and their pro-Saleh allies has fueled some international criticism of Saudi policy.

This is a rather fanciful reconstruction of the capture of Aden. Without the local militia, including Ansar Shariah, the Huthis would probably still be in Aden. The vaunted Saudi-led ground force has seen very little action and has performed rather poorly when the troops do venture out. The army loyal to former President Salih is quite capable of defending itself on the ground, even with the devastating air attacks. It seems clear to just about everyone except the Saudi command that an air campaign alone can not win the war. Thus, there have been a number of mercenaries imported. Indeed there has been “some international criticism of Saudi policy”, but not by the U.S. government.

Rather than lay any blame on the Saudis, the author focuses on the anti-American rhetoric of the Ansar Allah leader Abd al Malik Al Houthi, who “has lashed out at the Saudi-led operation as ‘aggression’ against Yemenis and has sought to shift blame to the United States, alleging: ‘The Americans determine targeting of every child, residential compound, house, home, shop, market, or mosque targeted in this country. They determined for the Saudi regime the targets to hit. Then, they supervised and ran the striking operation. Therefore, the Saudi regime is a soldier and servant of the Americans.’“ Abd al Malik is an unabashed propagandist, but he does have a point; without American support there would be no air campaign. And he is hardly alone in his anger, since so many Yemenis are suffering from both the fighting and an almost total blockade of food and medical supplies, all with American assistance and acquiescence.

Then we are told: “Saudi officials have blamed their adversaries for reported civilian deaths and for deteriorating humanitarian conditions” as though the thousands of Yemeni civilians killed by the daily bombing are the fault of the Huthis and Salih. By the way, “reported” civilian deaths are still deaths and the number of deaths is way under reported. I am not defending the Huthis or Salih, who are just as blameworthy, but this one-sided report white washes the war in Yemen, just as the current occupant of the White House has further damaged the image of the United States in the Middle East by flooding the area with weapons, many of which eventually get turned back on our friends, whoever they happen to be at a given moment.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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