The war on Yemen has claimed dozens more innocent victims in the last week, and once again U.S.-made weapons were used to commit the atrocity. The death toll from a coalition airstrike on a detention facility filled with migrants in northern Yemen has risen to at least 87 people, and hundreds more were injured in the attack. Fragments of the weapon found in the wreckage were identified as coming from a munition manufactured by Raytheon. A separate airstrike in Hodeidah knocked out Yemen’s Internet connectivity, which has cut Yemenis off from remittance payments and compromised the ability of humanitarian aid agencies to provide relief. At the same time, the coalition blockade has tightened and worsened the country’s fuel crisis. As it has done since the war began almost seven years ago, the Saudi coalition punishes the civilian population of Yemen for the actions of the Houthis, and it still enjoys total impunity for its many crimes.
The U.S. did not condemn the atrocity at the detention facility, nor did it criticize the Saudi coalition perpetrators for the massacre. All that the Biden administration could muster in response was to say that they are "deeply concerned" and that the escalation in fighting was of "great concern." Secretary Blinken made a point of calling the earlier Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi "deliberate" without reaching the same conclusion about the much deadlier coalition airstrikes. This is unfortunately consistent with the Biden administration’s overall handling of relations with the Saudi and Emirati governments, which never face any consequences in Washington for crimes they have committed in Yemen or elsewhere.
It is a measure of the absurdity and lopsided nature of the US debate over Yemen that the only party to the conflict that is being considered for any US punitive measures are the Houthis. The United Arab Emirates is demanding that the US re-designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization, and Biden has said he will consider doing so. It was the Biden administration that previously lifted the designation last year because they understood that the sanctions that came with a terrorist designation would be a death sentence for millions of Yemenis living under Houthi control, but now there is pressure on Biden to endorse a policy of collective punishment against a population that is already experiencing mass starvation and famine.
The latest person to advance this ghoulish argument is Dennis Ross. The foreign terrorist organization designation would have little practical effect on the Houthis, but it would be catastrophic for the people living under their rule. As Gregory Johnsen points out, "The Houthi leadership is largely insulated from the shortages that would come from an FTO designation, but Yemeni civilians living in Houthi controlled territory are not." This is not hard to understand for anyone that has been following the economic collapse in Afghanistan or other examples of "maximum pressure" sanctions where targeted governments and their cronies are largely unaffected by the hardships that our sanctions cause. The destructive inflationary effects created by such sanctions policies are major factors in impoverishing and starving ordinary people. Imposing more sanctions on a country that has already endured many years of deprivation and starvation is sheer cruelty. Justifying it as a means of "restoring deterrence" is nothing less than psychopathic.
Ross writes, "It is hard to believe that it is not possible to separate the issues of the Houthis as a terrorist organization and the delivery of humanitarian assistance," but this just shows that Ross has not given the issue any thought. Importers and financial institutions will want nothing to do with a country controlled by a designated group, and we know that over-compliance is a recurring problem in cases like these. Even if one designed an effective mechanism to facilitate humanitarian assistance, that could not meet the needs of tens of millions of people. As we know, however, humanitarian carve-outs rarely work as intended, and the fear of penalties for violating sanctions causes everyone to steer clear of doing any business in the affected country because it is simply not worth it to them to take the risk.
Yemen has already been suffering from the effects of coalition blockade and economic war since 2015, and terrorism-related sanctions would be a new and heavy burden. Posturing about making the Houthis "pay a price" allows ideologues like Ross to ignore the horrifying reality of the humanitarian catastrophe that they are urging our government to cause. The truth is that the price will be paid once again by countless innocent Yemenis, who have been made to bear the costs of the Saudi coalition’s failed war from the start.
It is essential to remember that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have come under attack from Houthi drone and missile strikes because they and their proxies have been waging a brutal war on Yemen. The US has been squarely on the side of the aggressors in this conflict, and it continues to shield them from the retaliation that their intervention has caused. As long as the US supports and protects these governments, the harder it will be to end the war and the devastating humanitarian crisis that have already claimed more than 377,000 lives.
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.