Be Outraged by America’s Role in Yemen’s Misery

Posted September 26, 2018 8:01 p.m. EDT

The news about Brett Kavanaugh and Rod Rosenstein is addictive, but spare just a moment for crimes against humanity that the United States is supporting in far-off Yemen.

President Donald Trump didn’t mention it at the United Nations, but America is helping to kill, maim and starve Yemeni children. At least 8 million Yemenis are at risk of starvation from an approaching famine caused not by crop failures but by our actions and those of our allies. The United Nations has called it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and we own it.

An American bomb made by Lockheed Martin struck a Yemeni school bus last month, killing 51 people. Earlier, American bombs killed 155 mourners at a funeral and 97 people at a market.

Starving Yemeni children are reduced to eating a sour paste made of leaves. Even those who survive will often be stunted for the rest of their lives, physically and mentally.

Many global security issues involve complex trade-offs, but this is different: Our behavior is just unconscionable.

“Yemen’s current crisis is man-made,” said David Miliband, the former British foreign secretary and current president of the International Rescue Committee, who recently returned from Yemen. “This is not a case where humanitarian suffering is the price of winning a war. No one is winning, except the extremist groups who thrive on chaos.”

The United States is not directly bombing civilians in Yemen, but it is providing arms, intelligence and aerial refueling to assist Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as they hammer Yemen with airstrikes, destroy its economy and starve its people. The Saudi aim is to crush Houthi rebels who have seized Yemen’s capital and are allied with Iran.

That’s sophisticated realpolitik for you: Because we dislike Iran’s ayatollahs, we are willing to starve Yemeni schoolchildren.

“The Trump administration has made itself complicit in systematic war crimes,” said Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.

Let’s be clear, too: This is a bipartisan moral catastrophe. The policy started under President Barack Obama, with safeguards, and then Trump doubled down and removed the safeguards.

“The war in Yemen has prompted today’s worst humanitarian catastrophe worldwide,” said Robert Malley, a former Obama aide who acknowledges missteps by the administration in Yemen — which Trump has aggravated. Now president of the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit working to prevent conflict, Malley added, “By our actions and inaction, we inevitably are complicit in it.”

I know, I know. All eyes are focused on the reality television show that is the Trump White House. But we can’t let Trump suck all the oxygen away from life-or-death issues. Trump drama cannot be allowed to nullify global tragedy.

The carnage in Yemen hasn’t stirred more outrage because the Saudis use their blockade to keep out journalists. I’ve been trying for two years to go, but the Saudis bar aid groups from taking me on relief flights.

Both sides in this civil war have at times behaved brutally, and the only way out is diplomacy. But Saudi Arabia’s crown prince seems to prefer famine and a failed state in Yemen to compromise, and the more we provide him weapons the longer we extend the suffering. We should be using our influence to rein the Saudis in, not cheer them on.

To their credit, some members of Congress are trying to stop these atrocities. A bipartisan Senate effort this year, led by Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, tried to limit arms sales to Saudi Arabia because of the Yemen war, and it did surprisingly well, winning 44 votes. New efforts are underway as well.

World leaders are gathered for the U.N. General Assembly, making pious statements about global goals for a better world, but the Assembly is infused with hypocrisy. Russia is up to its elbows in crimes against humanity in Syria, China is detaining perhaps 1 million Uighurs while also shielding Myanmar from accountability for probable genocide, and the United States and Britain are helping Saudi Arabia commit war crimes in Yemen.

That’s pathetic: Four of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are complicit in crimes against humanity.

Many Americans erupt in fury every time Trump lies or tweets some inexcusable comment. Please do, but also save outrage for something even more monstrous — the way we are contributing to the starvation of children and exacerbating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Contact Kristof at Facebook.com/Kristof, Twitter.com/NickKristof or by mail at The New York Times, 620 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10018.

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