Stand-up comic Louis CK recently did this bit where he characterized America as “the world’s worst girlfriend”:
“America is like a terrible girlfriend to the rest of the world. If someone hurts America, she remembers it forever. But if she does anything bad, she’s like: ‘Whaaatt? I didn’t do anything!’ America, why do you keep bombing those people in Yemen? ‘Because nine-eleven, okay. Nine-eleven. So shut up!’”
The bit is really funny and perceptive. But in actuality, the average American would respond with, “We’re bombing Yemen? What’s Yemen?” While the average American foreign policy official wouldn’t cite 9/11, but would feign innocence. “We’re not! That war belongs to Saudi Arabia. Whaaatt? I didn’t do anything!”
These veils of ignorance and deception parted ever so slightly recently, when, after a whole year, the war on Yemen finally received some major coverage in the mainstream media. A March 29 Associated Press “Big Story” exposed mainstream readers to the war’s horrific human toll. The article, titled “An infant’s 5-month life points to hunger’s spread in Yemen,” frames the story by delving into one of the war’s innumerable tragedies.
“The baby was born in war, even as planes blasted his village in Yemen. Five months later, Udai Faisal died from war: His skeletal body broke down under the ravages of malnutrition, his limbs like twigs, his cheeks sunken, his eyes dry.
He vomited yellow fluid from his nose and mouth. Then he stopped breathing.
‘He didn’t cry and there were no tears, just stiff,’ said his mother, Intissar Hezzam. ‘I screamed and fainted.’”
The story also featured a harrowing photo of the emaciated little baby shortly before his death. The picture has not yet gone viral, as the photo of drowned toddler Aylan Kurdi did. If it does, it could cause a breakthrough in public awareness of the Yemen war, just as Aylan’s picture did for the Syrian war and refugee crisis.
The AP also quantified the tragedy (although these figures may drastically underestimate the magnitude of the calamity):
“The impoverished nation of 26 million, which imports 90 percent of its food, already had one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world, but in the past year the statistics have leaped.
The number of people considered “severely food insecure” — unable to put food on the table without outside aid — went from 4.3 million to more than 7 million, according to the World Food Program. Ten of the country’s 22 provinces are classified as one step away from famine.
Where before the war around 690,000 children under five suffered moderate malnutrition, now the number is 1.3 million. Even more alarming are the rates of severe acute malnutrition among children — the worst cases where the body starts to waste away — doubling from around 160,000 a year ago to 320,000 now, according to UNICEF estimates.”
Try to imagine a child you love starved to emaciation. Now realize that your government is complicit in causing 160,000 additional children to suffer that.
On March 13, a New York Times front page article went into some detail about American support for the war. The story, titled “Quiet Support for Saudis Entangles U.S. in Yemen,” stated that the U.S. provided the assailants of Yemen, “with intelligence, airborne fuel tankers and thousands of advanced munitions…” This was already reported elsewhere earlier in the war, and the American role is probably far greater than that. But what was remarkable was the story’s exposure of the rather cynical reasoning for this support. During the high level deliberations over whether to intervene (emphasis added throughout all subsequent quotes):
“…there was little real debate. Among other reasons, the White House needed to placate the Saudis as the administration completed a nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s archenemy. That fact alone eclipsed concerns among many of the president’s advisers that the Saudi-led offensive would be long, bloody and indecisive.
Mr. Obama soon gave his approval for the Pentagon to support the impending military campaign.”
The Times further reported that:
“…Mr. Kerry was the most forceful advocate in arguing that the United States had an obligation to help the Saudis at a time when the Iran talks had left the kingdom questioning America’s priorities in the region.”
“Mr. Obama’s aides believed that the Saudis saw a military campaign in Yemen as a tough message to Iran.
“Their main objective was to give Iran a bloody nose,” said Philip H. Gordon, a top White House official at the time and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.”
So there you have it. The U.S. enabled the Yemen war as a reassuring gesture for the Saudis and a “tough message” for the Iranians. Thousands killed and hundreds of thousands of children being starved, all to send various signals to allies and adversaries: war as a geopolitical messaging app.
President Barack Obama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, couldn’t negotiate a partial detente with Iran without offering up a mass human sacrifice in Yemen to propitiate the Saudis. Such are the dismal prospects for peace through politics.
The war has also enabled Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to thrive and conquer in Yemen. “America, why are you providing the bombs being dropped on mortal enemies of Al Qaeda?” “Because nine-eleven!”
Empire is a harsh mistress. But is America the world’s worst girlfriend? I don’t know about that. But, from starving babies to breeding terrorists, the U.S. government is definitely building a reputation as the world’s worst “security” force.