May 21, 2019
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America must choose humanity over barbarism in Yemen

Hani Mohammed | AP
Hani Mohammed | AP
Yemenis walk past rubble after deadly airstrikes in and near the presidential compound, in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, May. 7, 2018.

Our country’s leaders must end U.S. involvement in the destruction of Yemen.

Many Americans rightly consider the Islamic State group terrorists barbarians for their monstrous cruelty toward the captives of their short-lived “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. Many rightly believe the same thing about Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, for his forces’ relentless bombing and shelling of rebel-held cities.

But too few of us recognize the largest single act of barbarity being committed today in the Middle East: the bombing and deliberate starvation of millions of Yemenis, some of the poorest people in the world. This is being carried out by the fabulously wealthy, high-tech, PR-savvy Gulf states of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

And what should horrify us and spur us to action is the fact that they are doing so with the military and diplomatic assistance of the United States.

[Opinion: America’s complicity in Saudi Arabia’s immoral war in Yemen needs to end]

Saudi Arabia and the UAE organized a military coalition to fight Yemeni’s Houthi rebels when the latter took over Yemen in 2014 and deposed its sitting president. The Houthis receive some military support from Iran, possibly including rockets that they have fired onto Saudi territory. These rebels kidnap, torture and extrajudicially execute their opponents. They shell civilian targets in cities held by their enemies and have mined huge areas under their control.

So the Houthis and their supporters in Tehran have much to answer for. But what they do not have to answer for is the steady death of a child every 10 minutes from human-caused famine or preventable disease. Direct moral responsibility for blockading food and medicine shipments into Yemen and bombing its medical system into ruin lies with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. The U.S. military provides jet fuel and targeting support to the Saudi-led coalition, and our nation’s diplomats regularly back them in the United Nations, shifting all blame for the war to Iran. So the blood coating the hands of Saudi and UAE rulers is all over us as well.

The result is that 8 million Yemenis are on the edge of famine. It may have claimed the lives of 50,000 children already.

By unconditionally supporting the Saudis in their alleged struggle against Iran, America has truly found that “when you stare into the abyss, it stares back.” Our actions have matched and exceeded the evil that Iran could unleash in Yemen.

[Opinion: Containing ‘Iranian mischief’ is no excuse for letting Yemen’s humanitarian crisis fester]

Today, a single port remains as a lifeline for starving Yemenis: Hodeida. The Saudis bombed it in 2015 and then prevented the installation of new cranes donated by the United States for unloading food until 2017. In no uncertain terms the U.N. and the world’s leading humanitarian organizations have warned that an attack on this port must be avoided at all costs.

For the past year the State Department has claimed it would oppose any military campaign around Hodeida, but when the UAE announced its plans to take the port by force last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a pathetically weak message that sounded like, “well, please be careful.” With this yellow light from Washington, the UAE has begun the siege. We can only pray its consequences will not live up to the U.N.’s nightmare predictions.

I have written about this disgusting war in the Bangor Daily News four times over the past year and a half. Since the very beginning, it has been clear that the Saudis will subject Yemen to any amount of suffering to assure that their will is obeyed, and that our leaders will go to any lengths to ignore or justify this crime rather than confront our powerful Middle Eastern allies.

[Opinion: US support for Saudi’s war in Yemen reveals our moral hypocrisy]

The picture is not hopeless. Opposition to U.S. support for the Saudis has grown as more and more Americans call on our leaders to oppose get us out. On June 13, both the House and Senate sent bipartisan letters to the State Department calling on Pompeo to speak out against the Hodeida siege. Our own Sen. Susan Collins added her signature.

Now that the war has entered this horrifying new stage, it rests with all of us to let Collins, Sen. Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Bruce Poliquin know that Mainers oppose U.S. involvement in the bombing of hospitals and the deliberate starvation of innocent people. All American support for the Saudi-led military campaign must cease, beginning with the attack on Yemen’s lifeline at Hodeida port.

Brian Milakovsky is from Somerville. He works in the humanitarian aid sector in eastern Ukraine.

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