Yemen’s civil war is an unmitigated humanitarian and national security disaster.
Almost 16 million men, women, and children are now on the verge of starvation. That’s almost two and a half times the population of Indiana.
In addition to this horrible human suffering, Iran and terrorist groups like al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have exploited the war and humanitarian crisis to further expand their influence and threaten the United States, our partners, and our interests.
As retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General John Castellaw testified before my subcommittee in March, “food crises … grow terrorists.”
Some have suggested that we should not criticize Saudi Arabia because Riyadh is standing up to Iran.
Iran is the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism, and I will take a back seat to no one as an Iran hawk.
I have studied the situation in Yemen as closely as anyone on Capitol Hill, and the best way to oppose Iran in Yemen and stop ballistic missile attacks on our partners is to bring all parties to the negotiating table, end the civil war, and address the humanitarian crisis.
Famine and the indiscriminate targeting of civilians will only push more Yemenis toward Iran and its proxies.
Those who question this should ask themselves whether Iran has gained or lost influence in Yemen since the civil war started.
Solely from an anti-Iran perspective, an objective assessment of those questions demonstrates the need to end the civil war and pursue an inclusive political solution that seeks to reduce Tehran’s influence in Yemen.
If you are still not persuaded, consider that the Trump administration’s nominee to serve as ambassador to Yemen testified in December that the civil war has exacerbated the world’s largest food security emergency, created power vacuums that terrorists have exploited, facilitated Iran’s ambitions, and complicated our counterterrorism efforts.
That’s why the agreement reached in Sweden between the warring parties in Yemen’s civil war represents such a significant and positive step.
This agreement almost certainly would not have been reached if it weren’t for the pressure applied by the international community led by the United States. More importantly, compliance with the agreement and additional steps toward durable peace will require continued scrutiny.
Even a cursory review of events over the last year and a half demonstrates why continued U.S. pressure is necessary—including from Congress.
For too long, Saudi Arabia demonstrated that it would not lift humanitarian impediments or come to the negotiating table in good faith absent strong and sustained U.S. diplomatic pressure.
Consider three examples.
When the Saudi-led coalition deliberately bombed cranes at Yemen’s most important humanitarian port, the U.S. government purchased replacement cranes to enable the quicker delivery of food and medicine. When the World Food Programme tried to deliver the four U.S.-funded cranes to offload humanitarian supplies to replace the capacity destroyed by the Saudi-led coalition, the Saudis would not permit the replacement cranes to be delivered—literally forcing the vessel carrying the cranes to turn around. Riyadh stubbornly refused to permit the delivery of the cranes for more than a year and only relented after a comprehensive pressure campaign.
In response to unacceptable ballistic missile attacks, Riyadh closed Yemen’s Red Sea ports and imposed a starvation blockade—depriving millions of civilians of desperately needed food. Saudi Arabia’s actions constituted a clear violation of international humanitarian law and U.S. law. In short, Riyadh was using food as a weapon of war. Riyadh eventually relented and finally opened the Red Sea ports—lifting its full starvation blockade only after intense pressure from Congress and the White House.
More recently, only after heightened Congressional pressure related to Yemen and the horrific murder of Jamal Khashoggi, has Riyadh been willing to engage in the good faith diplomatic negotiations.
These examples demonstrate that U.S. diplomatic pressure is both necessary and effective.
In early February, pursuant to the legislation I drafted and the president signed into law, Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoHaley has 'positive' meeting with Trump No time for the timid: The dual threats of progressives and Trump Psaki: Sexism contributes to some criticism of Harris MORE will have another opportunity to provide Congress a Section 1290 submission related to Saudi Arabia’s efforts to end the civil war, alleviate the humanitarian crisis, and protect civilians. I look forward to reviewing that submission.
I have focused on the Saudis not because Riyadh is solely to blame for the situation in Yemen but because the U.S. has a strategic relationship with Riyadh that we do not have with their adversaries.
In addition, the American people have a right to expect that their tax dollars not be used for munitions, fuel, and information that facilitates the repeated and indiscriminate bombing of civilians. The American people are right to expect their government to speak up when our partners use food as a weapon of war.
While the situation in Yemen is daunting, the good news is that the United States is not helpless in the face of this man-made crisis.
If Congress and the administration will utilize all available leverage, we can effectively encourage Riyadh to eliminate humanitarian obstacles, negotiate in good faith, and support a sustainable political solution.
That is what I have tried to do since March 2017, and that is what I intend to keep doing.
Our national security interests and our humanitarian principles demand nothing less.
Young is the senior senator from Indiana and serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.