The war in Yemen is still raging on with no end in sight and the Saudis are beginning to see the war come home to them. The Houthi regime has been increasing drone strikes inside of Saudi Arabia, hitting an oil pipeline and an arms depot in recent weeks. While the Saudis are beginning to see blowback from their brutal military campaign in the country, we must not forget that this war would not be possible without US intelligence and weapons. President Trump recently bypassed congress by declaring a state of emergency to sell more weapons to the Saudis, using the "Iranian threat" as the excuse.
In 2015 Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies launched an attack on Yemen after the Houthis began to take control of some key cities, including the capital Sanaa. On March 25th 2015, the Obama administration released a statement pledging military and logistical support to the coalition. Four years and over 19,000 airstrikes later the UN has estimated if the war ended in 2019 it would account for 233,000 deaths, 140,000 of those deaths being children under the age of five. Eighty percent of the country’s population relies on humanitarian aid for their food, with 13 million at risk of starvation.
The UN report said the conflict is Yemen was turning into a "war on children," they estimated 330,000 could be dead by 2022. The Saudis are known to target vital civilian infrastructure in their airstrikes, such as water treatment plants, hospitals, schools and markets. The Saudis have even targeted fisherman to further squeeze the country’s food supply.
This "war on children" is similar to the US campaign against Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. After Saddam Hussein’s forces invaded Kuwait over a discrepancy of a contested oil field on their vague border, the UN security council, led by the US, imposed economic sanctions on Iraq. The sanctions were intended to make Iraqi forces withdraw from Kuwait, but even after they did, the US refused to allow the sanctions to be lifted.
In 1997 President Bill Clinton said, "the sanctions will be there until the end of time or as long as he (Hussein) lasts." A UN sponsored study released in the medical journal, the Lancet, in 1995, estimated as many as 576,000 Iraqi children had died due to the economic sanctions. A more conservative estimate puts the number of dead children around 350,000, still a horrific number.
Two UN officials resigned over the sanctions, one of them even calling the sanctions genocidal. In an interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman in 2000, Clinton denied the claims of US sanctions being the cause of the suffering of Iraqi children when Goodman pressed him about it, "They (the two UN officials who had resigned) think that we should reward — Saddam Hussein says, ‘I’m going to starve my kids unless you let me buy nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, and biological weapons. If you let me do everything I want to do, so I can get in a position to kill and intimidate people again, then I’ll stop starving my kids.’ And so, we’re supposed to assume responsibility for his misconduct. That’s just not right."
When most Americans think of the war in Iraq, the 2003 invasion comes to mind, known as George W. Bush’s blunder. But the US war that started under the first President Bush continued through the Clinton years. The wars in Iraq have been bipartisan efforts, much like the war in Yemen that started under Obama and has continued under Trump.
In a 1996 interview with Nida’ul Islam magazine, when listing examples of the US killing innocent Muslims, Osama bin Laden said, "the death of more than 600,000 Iraqi children because of the shortage of food and medicine which resulted from the boycotts and sanctions against the Muslim Iraqi people." The presence of US troops in the Arabian Peninsula was a turning point for bin Laden, his 1996 fatwa was titled, "Declaration of Jihad Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holiest Sites."
Bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa, when he called for Muslims to kill Americans, his main reasons were the American occupation of the Arabian Peninsula and the "protracted blockade" against Iraq, which he said was responsible for over a million deaths.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq is what inspired the Houthis to trademark the slogan, "God is great, death to the US, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory for Islam," although Houthi leadership has said this slogan is just against the US involvement in the region.
Although Saddam Hussein has been portrayed as a mad dictator by US presidents and media outlets alike, he had his reasons for invading Kuwait, which had been a district of Iraq under Ottoman rule. Iraq fought Iran in a brutal eight-year war from 1980-1988, the US actually supplied Iraq with weapons early on in the conflict. And after the war Hussein demanded Kuwait to slow down oil production because the Iraqi economy couldn’t handle the drop-in oil prices. Hussein also accused Kuwait of slant drilling on the border. But even if Hussein was a mad dictator who invaded Kuwait for no reason, is that an excuse for our economic strangulation of the country?
Does what the US did to Iraq justify Osama bin Laden’s attack on September 11th that killed almost 3,000 American civilians? Of course not. But these attacks need to be viewed with historical context, Americans need to know what their government did to the people of Iraq in the 1990s and how that motivated al-Qaeda. The dead from that horrible day are not only victims of al-Qaeda but also victims of US foreign policy.
If the war in Yemen continues, the death toll will likely exceed the number of deaths seen in Iraq throughout the 90s. President Trump has the power to stop the war, but in a statement defending his relationship with Saudi Arabia in November 2018, much like Clinton’s response to the sanctions in 2000, he took no responsibility for the war, "The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen." Blaming Iran for the war is a sad excuse, the Houthis have a deep history in the country, starting as a Zaydi Shia movement in the 1990s. Zaydi Shia Imams ruled the north of Yemen for about 1000 years until the mid 20th century.
Trump also admitted the real reason he supports the Saudis, "the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States…of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors." It’s almost refreshing to hear a US president admit they are only carrying out horrible wars in the Middle East for money and the military industrial complex.
The US government, along with the media, did an excellent job convincing the American people that September 11th was an unprovoked attack. According to their narrative, al-Qaeda hated us because of our way of life. But if we continue our war on Yemen, can we be surprised if we start to see blowback from it on US soil? Could we play the innocent victims again? The American people need to wake up and demand an end to this horrible war or we will again become the victims of our government’s recklessness in the Middle East.
Dave DeCamp is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US Foreign policy and wars. He is on Twitter at @decampdave.