US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was in Bahrain on November 20 speaking at the annual Manama Dialogue security conference. Secretary Austin stressed the US commitment to preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and reiterated the US commitment to Saudi Arabia's defense. The US, Austin said, was "significantly enhancing Saudi Arabia's ability to defend itself. * * * America's commitment to helping our friends defend their sovereign space is unwavering."
Austin's remarks were too much for the Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis to stomach. Houthi spokesman Mohammad Ali al-Houthi, a member of the Houthi Supreme Political Council, tweeted: "We tell the Americans that they have been involved in the aggression from the first day, and this announcement of support is a cover for the fact that they have not stopped their support despite Biden pledging to do so."
Al-Houthi is right on all counts. In 2014, Houthi rebels overthrew Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. The next year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates led a coalition of Arab states in an attack on Yemen with the objective of restoring President Hadi.
President Barack Obama took the US into the war on the coalition's side in order to mollify the Arab states which objected to his prospective nuclear deal with Iran and because of Yemen's strategic position on the Bab el-Mandeb strait which serves as a conduit for shipping Middle Eastern oil to Europe and Asia. The US has supplied the coalition aggressors with intelligence, logistics, target spotting, spare parts for coalition warplanes, and arms sales.
The UN calls Yemen "the world's worst humanitarian crisis." Nearly a quarter of a million people have died during the course of the war, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated in 2020. A coalition land, sea, and air blockade is slowly, deliberately driving Yemen toward famine. Kamel Jendoubi, Chair of the UN Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen, reported to the Security Council in December 2020 that "Civilians in Yemen are not starving; they're being starved by the parties to the conflict."
The Biden Administration seemed to offer a new direction. Candidate Biden promised to end US support for the Saudi-led coalition. Biden called Saudi Arabia a "pariah" on November 20, 2019 during the Democratic presidential debate. Less than a month into his presidency, Biden promised on February 4 during his first major foreign policy address to end US support for "offensive operations in Yemen, including relevant arms sales." Biden had already frozen some Middle Eastern arms sales for "review" in January.
Antiwar groups' hopes soon died. In April, the Biden Administration decided to push ahead with a $23 billion arms sale to the UAE negotiated under President Donald Trump. In September, the Biden Administration announced that the US would provide $500 million of maintenance and support services for Saudi helicopters. On November 4, the Biden Administration notified Congress of an impending $650 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia.
The USA continues to supply spare parts badly needed by coalition warplanes. Bruce Riedel, a former CIA analyst now at the Brookings Institution, points out that coalition warplane parts wear out quickly and must be replaced constantly. Without spare parts from the US, Riedel says, the Royal Saudi Air Force would be "grounded."
Administration actions bear out Al-Houthi's contention that Biden had broken his "pledge" to end US support for the Saudi coalition. Naturally, the Administration does not admit this. The November 17 "Statement of Administration Policy" takes a stand against efforts by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) to insert an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act ("NDAA"), the annual defense budget, which would force the Administration to end assistance to the Saudi coalition. The statement says that the Biden Administration "opposes" the amendment "because it is unnecessary; the Administration already has ceased support for Saudi-led coalition offensive operations in Yemen." This is shamelessness of a high order.
In any event, Congress may not be in a peacemaking mood following the Houthi seizure of the US embassy in Yemen's capital of Sanaa on November 12. The US closed the embassy in 2015, but a few Yemeni employees continued to work there. It is unclear how many Yemenis and their families have been released and how many the Houthis are still holding. Tough guy Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) has raised the inevitable comparison with the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.
Speaking of Iran: the Houthis do receive backing from Iran, which supplies them with missiles and drones. I am no admirer of Iran, which is antidemocratic and a massive human rights violator. But the same can be said of Saudi Arabia. Tehran backs the Houthis because doing so is a relatively low-cost way to harass its Saudi adversary. Saudi Arabia spends billions on the war, where Tehran only spends millions.
On August 9, 2018, the coalition blew up forty schoolchildren with a 500-pound laser-guided MK 82 bomb manufactured by American defense contractor Lockheed-Martin. How does blowing up schoolchildren contribute to defeating Iran?
Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tell your senators and representatives to end US support for the Saudi-UAE-US war in Yemen.