Human Lives Human Rights: The Biden administration asserts that American diplomatic engagement aims to end the war in Yemen, but its statements and actions suggest that the priority is to secure victory for the Saudi-led coalition, or at least to avoid a humiliating defeat.
This pro–Saudi bias is apparent to Yemenis, who refer to the conflict as the “Saudi–American war.” Yet, most Americans remain unaware of their government’s role in destroying this impoverished Arab nation, where the effects of the war have killed almost 400,000 civilians and pushed 16 million to the brink of starvation.
John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesperson, stated last spring, “We have a military-to-military relationship with Saudi Arabia that is important to the region and to our interests, and we have a commitment to help them defend themselves against what are real threats.”
In this statement, Kirby affirmed that the U.S. continues to provide maintenance support to the Saudi air force, which, whatever the stated intention, allows Saudi Arabia to conduct offensive operations in Yemen. This directly contradicts Biden’s commitment to end support for offensive military action.
After initially declaring that he would reverse President Trump’s support for the Saudis and instead hold them accountable, President Biden has returned to the decades-long status quo of almost unconditional American support for the kingdom.
This shift reflects the administration’s apparent calculation that the U.S. must maintain close relations with its Persian Gulf security partners rather than risk these states pivoting toward China or Russia.
Despite the Biden administration’s extensive support, it’s partners are hedging in the Middle East. One of the examples is the UAE, which abstained itself from voting to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While continuing to reap the benefits of Washington’s largesse, America’s Gulf partners hope to strengthen their relationships with Moscow and Beijing.
The US involvement in supporting Saudi-led military action against the Houthis in Yemen, rather than helping to resolve the conflict as the Biden administration claims, is prolonging and escalating the violence.
By continuing to support Saudi and Emirati aggression, the U.S. not only deepens its complicity in the slaughter of Yemen’s civilian population; it also risks getting dragged into more active participation in the war on behalf of these two Arab security partners.
Biden pledged to end the US support for offensive operations in Yemen. His administration alleges that their support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE is merely defensive. Yet by selling weapons it designates as defensive, as well as servicing contracts for spare parts and maintenance for the Saudi air force, the U.S. actively helps the coalition wage its war.
Moreover, this position ignores the billions of dollars in offensive weapons the U.S. previously sold to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which they continue to use on Yemen. The administration asserts that the U.S. must help Saudi Arabia and the UAE defend against trans border attacks; yet the data show that Houthi trans border attacks hardly pose any threat to the Saudis and Emiratis.
By helping the Saudis defend themselves, the Biden administration allows them to attack Yemen with greater impunity. By continuing to sell the Saudis weapons that the administration deems defensive, they signal that the U.S. remains supportive of Saudi aggression.
Instead of escalating U.S. involvement in defending the Saudis and Emiratis from the consequences of their aggression, the Biden administration should suspend all arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE until they end their military intervention in Yemen.
U.S. interests in protecting the American homeland and supporting the free flow of commerce are not served by helping Saudi Arabia and the UAE destroy Yemen. Just as the U.S. condemns Russian aggression against Ukraine, it should apply the same standard to Saudi and Emirati aggression against Yemen.