The Trump administration has once again shown its unwillingness to fully address the Yemen crisis, by making half-hearted calls to end the conflict, whilst simultaneously giving Saudi Arabia the means to continue its war on the country.
During the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s (MbS) visit to the United States, US Defence Secretary James Mattis told MbS that there is urgent need to end the war and that a political solution should be sought.
“We must also reinvigorate urgent efforts to seek a peaceful resolution to the civil war in Yemen and we support you in this regard,” Mattis said.
“We are going to end this war, that is the bottom line. And we are going to end it on positive terms for the people of Yemen but also security for the nations in the peninsula,” he added.
Three years ago, Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen with a coalition of Arab and African states to support the internationally-recognised President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi and to remove the Houthis’ influence, which Riyadh and the Trump administration call an Iran-proxy.
This last point about Iran is used to justify Riyadh’s military endeavours, such as bombing missions which often hit civilian areas – killing thousands, and has destroyed Yemen’s healthcare infrastructure, allowing diseases like cholera to rapidly spread.
It was also the justification behind the devastating blockade imposed on November last year – which, while reportedly to stop Iranian weapons reaching the Houthis, restricted the flow of humanitarian supplies to critical levels. Most Yemenis already depend on humanitarian aid to survive.
MbS is often considered the architect of the Yemen war, yet continues to be courted by world leaders in his “charm offensive” this month. He previously visited the United Kingdom, after having travelled to Egypt to meet President Sisi.
At the same time Mattis made his statement, a $1 billion weapons deal to Saudi Arabia was announced on the same day. Along with the $100 billion weapons deal signed between Washington and Riyadh last year, this will obviously further empower Saudi’s military campaign on Yemen, which Mattis supposedly wants to end.
Not only does the US give Saudi Arabia the weapons it needs to carry out attacks; it directly helps them by refueling its warplanes and sharing intelligence, among other things. Such strong support has led analysts to assert that Saudi Arabia could not carry out its bombing campaign without US and UK support.
Adding to this, the US senate also killed a vote to end support to Saudi Arabia’s military campaign. While unlikely to go through, it raised hope that change could finally be made. Yet the vote was defeated by 55-44. Matthis himself criticized the vote, whilst promoting the continued military support.
Not only has Mattis, like others in the Trump administration, failed to address Saudi Arabia’s leading role in worsening the conflict, he was full of praise for their supposed humanitarian efforts. He lauded the “significant amount of humanitarian aid” given to Yemen earlier this year, even though NGOs on the ground claim this aid would not alleviate Yemenis’ suffering while the blockade and war continues.
This shows the US government is still completely on Saudi Arabia’s side, despite it also deliberately targetting civilians areas. Arguably, this impunity has allowed Saudi Arabia to prolong the war and continue its actions, aided by the huge military support given to it.
In December, the US, UK and France, urged Saudi Arabia to lift the devastating blockade on Yemen for humanitarian concerns, whilst failing to address a fundamental cause of Yemen’s suffering, which is Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign.
Understandably, organisations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have slammed Western governments for their impunity towards Saudi Arabia’s actions. Even Yemenis feel that the US and the UK are still supportive of the regime’s actions.
““I don’t feel that the US or UK governments is serious about ending the war on Yemen,” said Ahmed, 29, from Taiz. “If they did, they would not carry on giving Saudi Arabia weapons, which itself is a sign that they support them.”
Indeed, these weapons sales are a sign of political consent for the war. As the United States and the United Kingdom know exactly what is going on in Yemen, and have always stopped short of criticizing such a significant cause, it shows they are not interested in ending the war as long as they profit from it. Mattis’ comments are clearly the latest in this series of whitewashing the Yemen war.
As Yemen’s suffering is gaining increased international attention, it is conceivable that such comments made towards it are merely attempts to appease the condemnation from NGOs and others as a result of this heightened awareness.
Some Western governments have already shown signs of moving away from Saudi Arabia however. For example, Germany this year had already suspended arms sales to the Saudi Kingdom, joining Belgium and Norway. Some have suggested this could have a domino effect in encouraging other nations to end such military support too.
While Matthis and others may comment on how bad the Yemen war is, only decisive action from Western governments towards Riyadh, such as holding it account for war crimes and halting weapons sales, can truly make a difference. For now, it is clear the United States and the other Saudi backers are not serious about peace in Yemen.