Last Sunday, the U.S.-backed Saudi Arabian-led coalition killed more than 100 people with airstrikes on a detention center in Yemen. It was described as the deadliest attack on Yemen this year. The Red Cross suggested this was likely a war crime, and the U.S. special envoy to Yemen said, “To hit such a building is shocking and saddening … . [W]itnessing this massive damage, seeing the bodies lying among the rubble was a real shock.” This is just the latest on the war in Yemen, adding to the tens of thousands of civilians already dead.
Many readers may have little knowledge of Yemen, a small, poor country along the southwest border of Saudi Arabia. Yemen’s unemployment rate is 27% and its poverty rate is 54%. It is also experiencing the largest cholera outbreak in history, with some 10,000 new cases of suspected cholera reported each week. At the same time, mothers huddle with their children in basements to escape the bombing. They and their children die anyway.
What began as a civil war between factions arising from the failed 2014 Arab Spring movement has now become a proxy war among the world’s superpowers. It is largely Saudi Arabia and the U.S. against Iran and Russia. Aside from weapons sales, the U.S. provides intelligence, logistics and midair refueling of Saudi bombers that are destroying the country and the people of Yemen.
There is no effort to avoid civilian casualties; bombs fall on hospitals and schools. Even more deaths are due to war-induced closings of ports providing food and medicine. The United Nations refers to Yemen as the world’s greatest human catastrophe and warns that “Yemen is sliding fast toward what could become one of the worst famines in living history.” The people of Yemen are not interested in the objectives of Iran or the coalition; they merely want to live and feed their children.
Our president has history with Saudi Arabia. In 2016 he said, “I get along with all of them … . They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million.” Saudi investments in Trump properties are well-documented. In Chicago alone, one analysis revealed a 169% increase in Saudi Arabia-based patrons since 2016.
Trump gave Saudi Arabia the honor of his first trip after entering office. He was given a regal welcome, with a medal and participation in a traditional sword dance. Trump was vocally impressed by the regal gold and jeweled palace in which they met.
Later, many readers will recall that Trump defended the crown prince in the torture and assignation of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S.-based journalist. American and international intelligence sources universally implicated the Saudi crown prince in Khashoggi’s killing. Trump unilaterally rejected this intelligence without evidence, stating that “maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
Khashoggi’s murder was tragic, especially as a journalist, but even broader is the reality of human-rights violations in Saudi Arabia. Amnesty International places Saudi Arabia among the worst 10 human-rights abusers. The U.N. puts the Saudi-led coalition on its “list of shame.” Amid this, Trump states, “I have great confidence in … the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.”
Back to Yemen: The Saudi-led coalition’s latest air raid came just months after Trump vetoed three resolutions backed by Senate and House Republicans to end weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. Trump stated this was to save American jobs, and he came up with an entire string of numbers of U.S. jobs created (first 40,000, then 500,000, then 600,000). In fact, we know that the total number of U.S. jobs created by arms sales is 7,666, and this includes all arms sales to all countries, including our own military. Many of the jobs created by our Saudi weapon sales go to workers in rich neighboring countries and to Saudi workers.
As a development economist, I can tell you that conditions of poverty and hunger have been improving in recent years. Life expectancies are rising and child deaths are falling. People are accessing food, education and health care. The glaring exceptions, though, stem from the many violent conflicts in our world today. Experts believe that this is the main challenge to fighting global hunger and poverty. Yemen is the epitome of this.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders says that “U.S. [support] for the Saudi dictatorship’s airstrikes make us complicit in this nightmare.” He is correct. Unless we speak up, we are all complicit. We can contact our legislators to override the president’s veto (www.senate.gov and www.house.gov). We can continually educate ourselves about those suffering from poverty and violence in our world. We can try to make it a better world.
Dr. Jacqueline Brux is emeritus professor of economics and founder/director of the Center for International Development at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. She is at firstname.lastname@example.org.