Small but good start on Yemen

The war in Yemen is a horrendous catastrophe causing immense suffering for its people and the US has been complicit in it by providing the Saudi Arabian regime with weaponry to prosecute their attacks on Yemen. Joe Biden has now declared that the US will end its support for the Saudi offensives.

Joe Biden has announced an end to US support for Saudi-led offensive operations in Yemen, as part of a broad reshaping of American foreign policy.

In his first foreign policy speech as president, Biden signaled that the US would no longer be an unquestioning ally to the Gulf monarchies, announced a more than eightfold increase in the number of refugees the country would accept, and declared that the days of a US president “rolling over” for Vladimir Putin were over.

Biden said the conflict in Yemen, which has killed more than 100,000 Yemenis and displaced 8 million, had “created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe”.

“This war has to end,” Biden. “And to underscore our commitment, we’re ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arm sales.

The distancing of Washington from Riyadh is one of the most conspicuous reversals of Donald Trump’s agenda, but it also marks a break with the policies pursued by Barack Obama, who had backed the Saudi offensive in Yemen, although he later sought to impose constraints on its air war.

A bipartisan majority in Congress had previously voted to cut off support to the Saudi campaign, citing the civilian death toll and the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. But Trump used his veto to block the move.

The US will also freeze arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and name a special envoy to Yemen, to put more pressure on the Saudis and Emiratis and the Houthi forces they are fighting, to make a lasting peace agreement.

“We have spoken with both senior officials in the UAE and senior officials in Saudi Arabia,” said the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, before the speech. “We are pursuing a policy of no surprises when it comes to these types of actions.”

Although this is a good start, I am a little wary that this might be a case of window dressing because the US will continue to provide “defensive support” to Saudi Arabia and I can see the Saudis trying to leverage that loophole to continue to prosecute the war.

William Hartung, the director of the arms and security programme at the Centre for International Policy, welcomed Biden’s move, but he added: “The devil will be in the details.

“To be effective, the new policy should stop all arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both proposed and in the pipeline, including maintenance and logistical support; increase humanitarian aid to Yemen and reverse the designation of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization, which severely undermines the ability of aid groups; and press Saudi Arabia and the UAE to commence a ceasefire and negotiate in good faith for an inclusive peace agreement,” Hartung said.

Ryan Grim has more on this latest move.

The move signaled a dramatic shift in U.S. support for Saudi Arabia, a move that has long been urged by progressive activists. Under President Donald Trump, Congress passed resolutions blocking certain arms sales and directing the U.S. to end its role in the hostilities, but Trump vetoed them.

One of the primary backers of the vetoed resolutions, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told The Intercept by phone that Biden’s announcement was a victory. “This is now a decisive step and really what the war powers resolution was calling for, so I’m very pleased,” Khanna said.

The Biden administration has not yet announced operational details of the move or clarified what they meant by “offensive operations.” In his address, Biden said that the U.S. would continue to help defend Saudi Arabia from drone and missile attacks, some of which have come from Yemen and have led the Saudis to claim that they are pursuing the war in self-defense.

It would be too much to hope for the US to criticize the appalling Saadi regime the way that it feels free to criticize other nations with atrocious human rights records. The US has always kowtowed to Riyadh as we saw during the Obama presidency. With Trump we saw an obscene level of closeness, with Jared Kushner being best buddies with the murderous Mohammed bin Salman, the prime mover of the Yemen attacks and the likely author of the incredibly brutal murder and dismemberment of reporter Jamal Khashoggi. So at least some distancing is to be welcomed.

Let’s see what the follow through is before celebrating because Yemen will continue to suffer for some time.


  1. jrkrideau says

    @ 1 Marcus Ranum
    Nothing about the US withdrawing from Syria, tho?

    Of course not. Vital Israeli US interests are at stake, and don’t forget the oil.

    Of course we are still selling armored vehicles to the Saudis.

  2. mnb0 says

    And most American pseudoprogressives remain silent, because America First.
    My compliment to MS.

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