Why are we still arming Saudi Arabia?
We are approaching the third year of Yemen's civil war. Cholera is widespread in the country due to lack of clean water or medical supplies. Close to 19 million civilians are dependent on international assistance, assistance that the Saudi-led coalition is preventing from entering the country. Roughly three million Yemenis have been internally displaced. Usually, when we see mass death and tragedy on this scale, we - both as individuals and as a nation - are spurred to help. This time, however, we are still arming a group that continues to cause civilian death and the destruction of infrastructure.
Yemen erupted into civil war in 2015, after President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi was overthrown by a Houthi insurgency. This insurgency was consequently challenged by a coalition of states, led by Saudi Arabia, which operates through aerial campaigns in efforts to restore Hadi to power. Since then, this coalition is responsible for indiscriminate death and destruction, bombing homes, hospitals, schools. This month, there is a new piece of legislation on the table that could directly impact the lives of these civilians. As the Senate debates and considers the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), it is imperative that they vote in favor of Amendments 585 and 661.
War is never one-sided, and it isn't hard to find fault with both sides of this issue. However, the United Nations currently attributes the majority of civilian casualties to Saudi Arabia. One incident, last October, resulted in the deaths of over 140 people. The Saudi-led coalition used bombs produced in the United States to conduct a pair of airstrikes on a funeral procession in the nation's capital, Sana'a. As a result, shortly before leaving office President Barack Obama ended precision-guided munition sales to Saudi Arabia.
Our current Commander-in-Chief, President-elect Donald Trump, abruptly ended that ban in May. Not only did he suspend the sanctions, but he announced a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia under the ruse of helping the nation defend itself against Iranian influence. This works in tandem with the Saudi's claim that the Houthi insurgency is nothing more than an Iranian proxy - although this claim is almost entirely fictitious in that there is no evidence that Iran has any influence over the Houthis, despite providing them with a minute number of weapons and some minor training. As the justification for this arms deal is based on a false premise, the deal itself could prove catastrophic to Yemen's current climate.
This is as bipartisan an issue as it gets. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) wrote an editorial recently condemning the use of American-made vehicles and munitions in the attacks on Yemeni civilians, and Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) wrote an opinionated and passionate piece asserting that "there is a U.S. imprint on every civilian death inside Yemen." This opposition was not quite enough to block President Trump's arms deal with Saudi Arabia, falling to the support 47-52 when it reached the Senate in June.
Now, however, there's another opportunity to do the right thing and prevent the United States from causing any more death or grief in Yemen. The 2018 NDAA has already passed in the House and will be brought before the Senate by the end of September. Amendment 585 would require Saudi Arabia to meet certain conditions before being eligible to sign further arms deals with the U.S., including allowing humanitarian aid to reach Yemeni civilians as well as the cessation of targeting hospitals and infrastructure. Amendment 661 would prevent the sale of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia. These munitions essentially turn into land mines if they fail to explode upon impact, and so far have had a cataclysmic effect on the Yemeni civilian population.
The United States of America is responsible, both directly and indirectly, for war crimes committed and devastation created throughout Yemen's civil war. By continuing arms sales to Saudi Arabia, we are more than complicit in this coalition's actions; we are sending a clear signal to the rest of the world that we will not hold the perpetrators of humanitarian catastrophes responsible for their actions. If the U.S. is ever to have moral credibility or respectable international influence, it is more important now than ever before to create change - and that starts with our domestic legislation. We need to stop unconditionally aiding and trusting Saudi Arabia when it costs innocent civilians their lives, and supporting Amendments 585 and 661 will begin to do that.