By next week, Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen will have continued for a year and a half. In that time the conflict has generated over 10,000 civilian casualties and precipitated an appalling humanitarian crisis. In the wake of the fighting, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS are able to build strength, resources and credibility. It is unquestionably in the national interest of the United States that the conflict in Yemen end immediately. The Obama administration has stated this publicly.
Yet, on the very day that Saudi Arabia escalated its bombing campaign last month, the Obama administration approved a $1.15 billion sale of weapons and defense articles to Saudi Arabia to replace and augment its forces fighting the Yemen war.
This is just the kind of policy incoherence that demands Congressional oversight. Fortunately, Senators Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (R-KY), Christopher MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyThis week: Democrats hit make-or-break moment for Biden Democrats urge Biden to go all in with agenda in limbo Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B MORE (D-CT), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook MORE (R-UT), and Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenFranken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' Andrew Cuomo and the death of shame MORE (D-MN) have introduced a resolution to block the sale, and under the Arms Export Control Act, the resolution is privileged and will receive a vote on the Senate floor. The Senate should adopt the measure immediately.
Today, 21.2 million people — more than four out of five Yemenis — needs aid to survive, more than in any other country in the world. More than a quarter of the country is on the verge of famine. According to the UN, over 10,000 children have died in the past year of diarrhea, pneumonia, dengue, and other afflictions caused by poor sanitation, unsafe water, and malnutrition.
Much of this suffering is caused by Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen’s ports and its reluctance to push the Government of Yemen, currently in exile, to make painful compromises to achieve peace. And much of it is being caused directly by blatant violations of the law of armed conflict.
Human rights groups have identified over 70 Saudi air attacks that appear to be violations of the laws of war, many of them possible war crimes. Saudi airstrikes have destroyed or damaged critical infrastructure throughout the country and hundreds of schools and hospitals, including four separate facilities run by the humanitarian agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders).
The U.S. government has publicly and privately implored Saudi leaders to improve their targeting practices, but these entreaties have been ignored. Despite calls for an independent fact-finding mission, Saudi Arabia has thus far enjoyed total impunity for its conduct. According to UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon, the Kingdom even blackmailed its way off of the Children and Armed Conflict “List of Shame.”
None of this suffering is advancing US interests. Amidst the chaos, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — the group’s most powerful franchise — has greatly expanded its influence, controlling Mukallah, a major port and Yemen’s fourth largest city, for most of 2015. ISIS, virtually absent from Yemen before the Saudi intervention, now carries out routine terror attacks and is drawing supporters to its cause. The United States, viewed as the power behind the Saudi intervention, is widely despised throughout the country.
There are two principal arguments against the Paul-Murphy resolution, and neither holds water. Some argue that blocking the sale would disadvantage the Saudis against the Houthis — and by extension, the Iranians — who are themselves responsible for their share of the crisis and their disregard for civilian life. While the Houthis are ideologically aligned with and may receive modest support from Iran, they are not Iranian proxies; they are a distinctly Yemeni movement with local and national grievances and goals.
U.S. policy in Yemen should not be aimed at arming Saudi Arabia; rather, it should seek to return peace and security to the country, restore US standing, and reduce the influence and operating space of terrorist groups. Congressional silence now will signal to Saudi Arabia that our support for its intervention in Yemen is nothing less than unconditional. On the other hand, Congressional action will signal to the Yemeni people, terrorist groups, and Saudi Arabia that we have our priorities straight.
Anne Garrels is an author and former NPR Foreign correspondent. Retired Army Colonel Jill Morgenthaler is an international speaker and author.
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