Yemen is the world’s worst ignored disaster. A civil war there has caused widespread famine and a huge epidemic of cholera. I discussed the crisis a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV News Radio in Pittsburgh.
It’s not just a civil war. It’s also a proxy war, with Saudi Arabia backing one side and Iran the other. The US is involved, indirectly but significantly.
As usual in the Mideast, there are no good guys–only bad guys and worse guys. As part of the Arab Spring revolts in 2011, Yemeni President Saleh, a corrupt, hated despot with close ties to the US, was forced to resign. His vice-president, Hadi, took his place. Iran-backed Houthi rebels, representing Yemen’s Shiite minority, ousted Hadi in a coup with considerable popular support. The Houthis controlled the north, so Hadi fled to the south.
Further to the north is Saudi Arabia. Feeling threatened, the Saudis weighed in on the civil war to oppose the Houthis and their Iranian backers. Directing the Saudi effort is the new strongman, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Chances are he figured that what with the billions of dollars worth of weapons Saudi Arabia has bought from the US over the years, he could make quick work of the Houthi rebels. Instead, he entered the proverbial quagmire. He’s stuck in Iran, and the people are suffering.
Waves of Saudi aircraft have been attacking thousands of Houthi targets for two years, accomplishing little besides destruction, death, and chaos. Yemen is one of the Arab world’s poorest countries to begin with, and now the situation is critical. Did I say now? The UN has been terming the humanitarian situation in Yemen “critical” for two full years.
It got even worse this month. The Saudis imposed a blockade on Yemen, ostensibly to keep weapons out–but it also blocked aid shipments. After a world outcry, the Saudis eased the blockade a bit, but aid officials say it’s still hampering their efforts.
The UN says three million people are in danger of starvation, and 17 million others are in urgent need of aid, out of a total population of 27 million. Also, the water table has dropped significantly, leading to pollution, and inevitably, cholera. And nearly a million are affected by the cholera outbreak. Without proper medical treatment–and there is little proper treatment in Yemen–cholera is often fatal.
Where does the US come in here? It’s been selling weapons to Saudi Arabia for decades, but it’s hard to criticize that–the Saudis had billions to throw around, and they would have bought their weapons somewhere. This way, goes the theory, the US maintains some control over their use and maintains Saudi Arabia as a close ally.
Now the equation appears to be changing, and Yemen is paying the price. The young, bash, inexperienced Saudi crown prince appears to believe that Washington backs his moves in the Mideast, opposing Iran–and gives him a free hand to meddle in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and elsewhere. President Trump’s envoy, Jared Kushner, made a semi-secret trip to Riyadh to meet the crown prince, and Trump himself has had extensive business dealings in the kingdom for many years.
If the signal has not been sent from Washington that it’s time for Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to scale back his adventures, this would be a good time to send it.
And Yemen would be a good place to start.