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Mid-term triumph for Democrats could ease US-backed slaughter in Yemen

A win in November’s midterm elections would give Democrats an opportunity to check Trump’s previously unrestrained executive power

A wide-ranging investigation into the war in Yemen was recently released by the United Nations, and it reads as an unequivocal condemnation of all belligerents for having likely “perpetrated, and continue to perpetrate, violations and crimes under international law”.

Conducted by the Group of Regional and International Eminent Experts on Yemen, the 41-page report makes a compelling case that US-backed bombings constitute war crimes.

While the Houthis, Iran and a consortium of militia groups also come under fire for their respective roles in what has become the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, the report is especially damning of the Saudi-led coalition’s indiscriminate bombing of civilians and vital infrastructure, and the devastation this has caused the Yemeni population.

“Coalition air strikes have caused most of the documented civilian casualties. In the past three years, such air strikes have hit residential areas, markets, funerals, weddings, detention facilities, civilian boats and even medical facilities,” the report states. 

‘Forgotten conflict’

The report comes just weeks after 40 Yemeni school children, most under 10 years of age, were incinerated along with their chaperones by a US missile fired from a Saudi warplane on 9 August - and just days after another US-assisted Saudi air strike killed at least 30 civilians, including 20 children, near the port city of Hodeidah on 24 August.

“There is little evidence of any attempt by parties to the conflict to minimise civilian casualties. I call on them to prioritise human dignity in this forgotten conflict,” said Kamel Jendoubi, chairperson of the group of experts.

With US President Donald Trump and his Republican Party controlling all three branches of government ... the appetite for bringing an end to the slaughter of Yemeni children remains elusive

Moreover, the authors urged the US and UK governments to “refrain from providing arms that could be used in the conflict”. While US and British leaders have tried to downplay their roles in the Saudi-led war, Human Rights Watch has disparaged these claims, arguing that the US, in particular, provides operational, logistical and intelligence support.

Saudi Arabia is not only dependent on US-manufactured warplanes and missiles, but also on US satellites and guidance systems to carry out bombing raids against Houthi targets.

Most media reports estimate the death toll from the more than three-year conflict to be approximately 10,000, but this number has been circulated for more than a year; not only is it outdated, but it also fails to take into account those killed by starvation and disease. An international aid group said 50,000 Yemeni children may have died in 2017 alone, with an estimated 130 dying each day as a result of the Saudi blockade and bombardment.

Competing narratives

While there are a number of competing narratives on the conflict, it’s a fact that Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are executing this war - but Washington is where responsibility for ending the carnage lies. 

With US President Donald Trump and his Republican Party controlling all three branches of government, however, the appetite for bringing an end to the slaughter of Yemeni children remains elusive. Senate Republicans recently voted against an amendment that would have “cut off United States’ support for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s war in Yemen until the Secretary of Defense certified that the coalition’s air campaign is not violating international law and US policy related to the protection of civilians”, according to a press statement.

A Yemeni child stands in the wreckage of a bus hit by a Saudi-led coalition air strike in Saada on 4 September 2018 (AFP)
Win Without War, a grassroots anti-war activist group, described the amendment as “our big chance to slam on the brakes and stop our role in enabling the suffering in Yemen” - but despite the fact that the proposal did not demand a halt to US military operations in Yemen, only demanding a temporary halt until it could be proven civilians weren’t being targeted, Senate Republicans killed the bill.

“The Republicans objected,” tweeted Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), who sponsored the amendment. “It’s just unthinkable to me that we continue to willingly participate in the slaughter of Yemeni kids when there is zero benefit to US security. Mind blowing really.”

The Republican Party is best known for starting wars, not ending them. Think Iraq 1990 and 2003, Afghanistan, Grenada, and the number of covert military operations that took place illegally in Latin America under former President Ronald Reagan. The adage that it’s much easier to get dragged into a war than dragging yourself out of one comes to mind.

Voicing opposition

To this end, US midterm elections now loom large for Yemen’s besieged and aid-dependent population. A Democrat-controlled House, Senate or both could provide the impetus to at least “slam on the brakes” on US military operations in the Middle East’s most impoverished country.

2016 presidential candidate and spiritual leader of the progressive left, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), recently tweeted: “The truth about Yemen is that US forces have been actively engaged in support of the Saudi coalition in this war, providing intelligence and aerial refueling of planes whose bombs have killed thousands of people and made this humanitarian crisis far worse.”

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Not only is Sanders’ objection to the US military role in Yemen shared by a majority of Democrats in both the House and Senate - with most of the 49 Democrats in the Senate voting to end unconditional US support for Saudi operations in a defeated March 2018 bill - but some Republicans have also openly voiced their opposition to the war.

An electoral win in November would give Democrats an opportunity to check Trump’s previously unrestrained executive power. Limiting his war powers would be a cornerstone of their efforts to stymie his far-right political agenda.

- CJ Werleman is an opinion writer for Salon, Alternet, and the author of  Crucifying America and God Hates You. Hate Him Back. Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Smoke billows above the Yemeni city of Aden on 30 January 2018 (AFP)

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