The US Senate sent a strong message to the Trump administration on Wednesday by supporting a bill that would force Washington to cut its support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. Even though Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary James Mattis put forward a vigorous defence of Saudi Arabia and the White House, unsurprisingly, threatened to use a presidential veto, the Senate defied them and had the last word.
The vote on the bill (63 for, with 37 against) demonstrates that Riyadh’s closest Western ally is not willing to ignore the situation in Yemen any longer. It was a rebuke for Trump’s incomprehensible behaviour towards the Kingdom’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Even though CIA director Gina Haspel travelled to Istanbul, listened to the audio of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and briefed President Donald Trump about it, she only briefed the Senate on Tuesday following the US lawmakers’ angry response to her absence from the previous briefing last week. Statements from Senators such as Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker after Haspel’s briefing suggest that Trump has shifted from “America first” to “Bin Salman first” and has caused a split between his administration and Republican Senators and other institutions.
Yemen now faces the world’s worst humanitarian crisis almost four years after the Saudi-led coalition intervened in the country. According to the UN, 14 million Yemenis could soon be at risk of starvation, yet Trump remains a deal maker rather than a president, putting commercial considerations above morals, principles and the rule of law.
The massacres committed by the Saudi-led coalition are not something that the Yemenis will let go easily. “I think the Yemenis will not forgive Saudi Arabia for what they have done to their people,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch — Middle East and North Africa Division, told me. “And I think generations of Yemeni children will remember what has been done to their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and their entire country.”
Whitson pointed out that the people of Yemen will “also recognise the responsibility of the United States because it has been a party to this war, not just by providing weapons, but also by providing intelligence and refuelling support.”
She explained that the war has also been a disaster for Saudi Arabia, noting that recent estimates that she has seen show that the Kingdom has spent over $100 billion on it to-date. “Despite such expenditure and a nine-nation coalition, they have made little progress in their military goals,” the lawyer added.
The Saudi-led coalition’s indiscriminate bombing of Yemen has resulted in thousands of civilians being killed and wounded. The image created is that of a coalition led by monsters, not human beings. They have committed atrocities such as an attack on a school bus with 40 children on board back in August. Initially, the Riyadh military operations centre said that the strike was a “legitimate military operation carried out in accordance with humanitarian law,” illustrating how brutal regimes try to use the law to cover up their crimes. In reality, they do not care much about the law, or even respect it; if they did, they would not take such action in the first place.
Munitions experts told CNN that the bomb used by the Saudi-led coalition in the attack on the bus was sold as part of a US State Department-sanctioned arms deal with Saudi Arabia, which highlights how America’s unethical leadership pushed the country into being complicit in this crime. After global pressure, the coalition admitted that what happened to the school bus was a mistake and took full responsibility.
Entering this proxy war was a colossal mistake from the beginning. However, the coalition members’ power-blindness prevented them from seeing that their involvement would make the situation worse. A recent analysis by Save the Children said that an estimated 85,000 children under five may have died from extreme hunger or disease since the war escalated. That’s what the coalition intervention has led Yemen to.
Nevertheless, it looks as if the Saudi-led alliance is insisting on prolonging the war in Yemen. Now it is the responsibility of the international community to make the effort to bring it to an end. The US administration has called for this even though it still supports the coalition; that’s just one of the many contradictions of Trump foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.
If the US does not end its support for Saudi Arabia and its coalition, then it is difficult to see the war ending soon. UN aid Chief Mark Lowcock warned on Saturday that Yemen is “on the brink of a major catastrophe” as the world body continues to push for peace talks in the impoverished and war-torn country. If no one stands up to the Middle East’s wealthiest country, then a major catastrophe will get worse. This is why it is important that the US Congress finally seems to be doing its job regarding Yemen.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.