The Saudi-led coalition intervening in Yemen blew up a school bus this month. The targeted strike killed 51 people, 40 of them children aged six to 11, wounding nearly 80 more. And it used an American bomb.
The war in Yemen has been raging for three and a half years now, usually out of sight and mind for the American public. Though deemed the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the miserable state of this small Mideast nation has largely been ignored by the U.S. media and the political establishment. (In a particularly egregious example, MSNBC made but one tangential reference to the conflict in Yemen for a full year. The network had plenty of time for stories about Stormy Daniels, however.)
But the bus bombing won’t go away so quietly. Americans have learned with horror that the weapon used was a 500-pound laser-guided MK 82 bomb manufactured by Lockheed Martin, a U.S. defense contractor. Its sale to the Saudi coalition was approved by our State Department. In addition to selling the Saudis weapons, our government refuels their planes, helps enforce their naval blockade, and offers intelligence and strategy advice. American boots are on the ground and U.S. drones are in the air over Yemen, facilitating the Saudi-led campaign that bombed the bus.
Washington’s fingerprints are all over this, and Americans are rightfully asking why. There’s no good answer, only a litany of reasons the United States should end our intervention in Yemen forthwith.
On the legal front, U.S. involvement in Yemen was never authorized by Congress as the Constitution demands. In fact, it was never substantively debated in Congress at all. And Congress shows no sign of revisiting this failure: This year’s National Defense Authorization Act, passed overwhelmingly by both House and Senate and signed into law by President Trump last week, will continue to subsidize the Saudi war effort through 2019. The bill’s provisions on Yemen went all but unnoticed on Capitol Hill.
From a strategic viewpoint, facilitating this war contributes nothing to American security. This has been evident from the beginning.
The very day the Obama administration announced in March
of 2015 it would give “logistical and intelligence support” to the coalition fight, Commander Gen. Lloyd Austin of U.S. Central Command testified in a Senate hearing that he did not know why the intervention was happening and what would be considered a win. “I don’t currently know the specific goals and objectives of the Saudi campaign,” Austin said, “and I would have to know that to be able to assess the likelihood of success.”
Austin’s honesty is to be commended, but his ignorance, given his role, should have been a titanic red flag. The reality is this campaign has nothing to do with America, and no plausible route to anything resembling success.
Yemen’s war, a local concern thousands of miles from our shores, cannot harm vital U.S. interests. If anything, Washington’s support for the coalition intervention has made Americans less safe, contributing to a power vacuum where al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, which is focused on 9/11-style attacks in the West, can flourish.
In the years since Austin’s revealing comment, it has become increasingly impossible to deny, in the words of Stephen Seche, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen nominated by President George W. Bush, that foreign interference in Yemen “has made not just the region, but the world, less safe.”
“It is not the responsibility of the United States alone to resolve this crisis,” Seche continued, “but American leadership is needed to bring it to an end. We shouldn’t mistake the absence of headlines for an absence of urgency.”
The tragedy of this school bus bombing has brought the headlines, and it should bring urgency, too. The United States could help resolve this crisis if Washington were willing, but now is the time to act.
The Trump administration should withdraw American support from the Saudi-led coalition. Stop sharing intelligence; stop refueling planes; stop lending credibility to this catastrophe by associating it with the United States; and stop selling the Saudi regime and its partners weapons like the one used in this inexcusable attack.
This shift would not require the Trump administration to do anything politically risky. It would end a foolish and counterproductive Obama-era intervention, one of the “dumb wars” Trump railed against on the campaign trail. It doesn’t put any U.S. troops in danger—on the contrary, it would bring Americans out of an active war zone. It would save taxpayer money rather than spending it. This should be a no-brainer, and the political moment is right.
U.S. support for the Saudi coalition intervention in Yemen was illegitimate from the start and has proved a catastrophic failure from every angle. It’s time to stop contributing to this crisis.