The United Nations Development Program projects that the war in Yemen will have killed at least 377,000 people by the end of this year. That projection represents an increase of more than 140,000 over the previous year’s report. As in previous years, 60% of the war’s casualties have been caused by indirect causes of disease and starvation. According to the report, a staggering 70% of the total casualties are children under the age of five. The youngest and weakest members of the population are most at risk when a country is wracked by mass starvation and multiple epidemics, and they are the ones dying in huge numbers. These are the victims of an unnecessary military intervention and a man-made famine, and most of these deaths could have been prevented if Yemen’s humanitarian crisis had been dealt with the urgency that its severity required. Despite the much greater loss of life in Yemen in just the last year, the conflict and humanitarian crisis there have received even less attention than before.
Yemen has long been one of the most ignored stories in the world despite being one of the most important. One example of this is the total neglect of the war on Yemen by MSNBC in the last year. According to Adam Johnson, that network has not run a single segment on the war itself since last year’s presidential election. The only thing they covered was Biden’s announcement that he was ending support for Saudi coalition "offensive operations," but we now know that announcement didn’t mean much at all. That neglect is unfortunately not much worse than other outlets, which have returned to their pre-2018 pattern of paying little or no attention to a war that our government has supported for more than six and a half years. The reduced coverage might make some sense if the war had been winding down, but nothing of the sort has happened.
Biden said early this year that the U.S. would halt "relevant arms sales" to the Saudis, but that has proven to be an empty promise. As William Hartung explains, the latest sale of air-to-air missiles will enable the Saudis to enforce their air blockade of Yemen, and that is part of a killing blockade that has done so much to contribute to the indirect causes of starvation and disease that have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. Selling air-to-air missiles to a government that is busy strangling a country by land, air, and sea is aiding and abetting in the strangulation of innocent people. In addition to giving the Saudis the means to deprive Yemenis of access to medical care by keeping the air blockade in place, the sale of these missiles signals to the Saudi government that Biden is going back to business as usual and they have nothing to worry about.
It is encouraging that many members of Congress are standing up in opposition to this sale, and Sens. Lee, Paul, and Sanders have introduced a resolution of disapproval in the Senate. Rep. Ilhan Omar has introduced the joint resolution in the House, and in her announcement she said this: "We should never be selling human rights abusers weapons, but we certainly should not be doing so in the midst of a humanitarian crisis they are responsible for. Congress has the authority to stop these sales, and we must exercise that power."
Congress absolutely should block the latest arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but we also know that it will be difficult to get a veto-proof majority in both houses to make sure the sale is blocked. The current system shows the need for a greater Congressional role in overseeing and approving arms sales. Congress should not have to organize overwhelming opposition to an arms sale to block it at the last moment. Instead, the people’s representatives should be involved in the decision from the beginning. It should be incumbent on the president to persuade Congress to approve arms sales first before they can go forward. That is no guarantee that every bad arms sale would be blocked, but it would make it easier to prevent many of them from being approved in the first place. This is one of the changes that would be made under the National Security Powers Act introduced in the Senate and similar legislation introduced by Reps. Meijer and McGovern in the House.
When Biden made his Yemen announcement at the start of the year, he included several loopholes large enough to drive a tank through. Since then, the Biden administration has exploited those loopholes to keep funneling weapons to the coalition and providing maintenance for the Saudi military. During that time, at least 144,000 more people have died in the war that our government is still enabling. The president shouldn’t be allowed to get away with pretending to end US backing for the war while continuing to provide more weapons to war criminals. Blocking the latest sale to the Saudis would be a first step in holding Biden accountable for breaking his promise.
For the last several years, activists have used the slogan Yemen Can’t Wait to emphasize the urgency of the situation there and the enormous suffering that the people of Yemen have been enduring. Unfortunately, the rest of the world has kept Yemen waiting, and the result has been hundreds of thousands more deaths that could have been prevented. The latest UNDP report reminds us of the terrible toll that the war has had on Yemenis, and it should goad us to redouble our efforts to end the war that our government has fueled for nearly seven years.
Daniel Larison is a contributing editor and weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.