In defense of his decision to ghost Afghanistan, earlier this week President Joe Biden argued that the U.S. "cannot continue to repeat" the mistake of "doubling down on a civil war in a foreign country."
Despite that strong language, and despite Biden's February 2021 commitment to end "all American support for offensive operations" in Yemen's civil war, the Saudi-led coalition continues to bomb the hell out of the country, and U.S. contractors (and even Department of Defense personnel) continue to maintain those planes. And while we're at it, we're back to selling Blackhawks to Riyadh.
Since the Biden administration appears unwilling to end US support for this years-long civil war, Aisha Jumaan, president of the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation, argues that Congress must act, or else maintain our complicity in the world's worst humanitarian crisis, which will lead to the deaths of 400,000 kids this year.
Toward that end, this week she asked Seattle Congressman Adam Smith to cosponsor an amendment in this year's "must-pass" National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The amendment would prevent the US from providing logistical support, intelligence, weapons, or US personnel/contractors to Saudi Arabia to aid their aerial and naval blockade against the Houthis in Yemen.
"Saudi planes cannot take off without US support. That air force is being used to bomb Yemen but also to enforce the blockade, which is totally devastating Yemen's economy... All US support to the Saudis—including from contractors—needs to stop, and the blockade must be lifted," she said over the phone.
As the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Smith holds major sway over negotiations on the expansive package. If he wanted to, he could indicate his support for the amendment, commit to keeping it in the NDAA, and then we could all move on with our lives. Shouldn't be too hard. After all, he cosponsored a similar amendment in 2019 and fought hard for the one-year ban on arms sales to the Saudis, even when Trump had "made it absolutely clear that he'd throw the bill out the window if it included anything that would piss off Saudi Arabia,'" as The Stranger reported at the time.
But this year, when Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the White House (at least for the next few months), Smith has yet to commit. He also hasn't signed on to any of the many letters from members of Congress trying to push Biden on the issue.
In an email, Democratic HASC spokesperson Monica Matoush said Smith had no comment "on what will, or will not, be included" in his mark-up of the defense spending bill.
Jumaan got a little more out of Smith's office on Tuesday. Though Smith's staff "seemed understanding" of her concerns, the conversation didn't inspire confidence—though it didn't squash her hope for change entirely, either.
Rather than commitments, Smith's office sent her questions that chime with the U.S. State Department's position on the issue, which in turn chime with Saudi talking points.
According to Jumaan, Smith's office mentioned that aid agencies say ships carrying humanitarian supplies manage to make it through the blockade, though Houthis co-opt or divert some of it. They also wonder if lifting the blockade wouldn't simply yield leverage to the Houthis, giving them less of a reason to negotiate peace.
The State Department and allies have also insisted on a ceasefire before any Saudi blockade lifts, and the Saudis continue to point to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2216—a 2015 agreement that forces the Houthis to give up their weapons and territorial wins—as the starting place for any negotiations.
Jumaan batted away these concerns. She argued that humanitarian aid isn't enough to feed and clothe a country of 30 million. In her view, the way to get around Houthi control of the aid is to overwhelm the ports with commerce so that no one group can control it.
She called the UN resolution "outdated," and said the Houthis have little reason to negotiate under its current terms given that experts agree they clearly won the war. Rather than maintain the blockade until the rebels agree to a ceasefire, Jumaan thinks the two should be negotiated separately. "We know these negotiations take years, and some don’t even materialize. Are we willing to wait for these negotiations to succeed? We’ve had four UN envoys and yet no breakthrough—it’s not an acceptable position to have in a country on its fifth year of famine."
She added: "The starvation in Yemen is being forced on Yemeni people. It’s not due to disaster. They hope economic pressure will cause people to revolt against the Houthis, but it’s been seven years, and, on the contrary, this tactic is actually strengthening the Houthis because people realize the Saudi-led coalition is the cause of their problems."
Eliminating Saudi Arabia's ability to enforce their blockades by refusing to maintain their planes and provide logistical support would help bring this man-made disaster to an end. Smith was willing to sign his name to a similar measure when he had less power to push it through. In the coming days, we'll see if he remains committed despite mixed-messages from Biden. Of course, if you want to give him a little encouragement, you know where to find him.