What’s Going on in Yemen?

By the Anti-War Working Group OC

The current conflict in Yemen dates back to 2015, when the Obama administration backed a Saudi Arabian-led coalition’s intervention to restore power to President Hadi. Hadi had been forced into exile by  the Houthis, a group that had fought intermittently with the prior Saleh government since Yemen’s unification in 1990. Since the start of Saudi Arabia’s intervention, their bombing campaign and blockade of the port city of Hodeidah has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with an unprecedented cholera outbreak and 14 million people (half the population of Yemen) at risk of starvation. This has all been carried out with the full diplomatic and logistical support of the US government and the complicit silence of American mainstream media.

Now, however, American support has been wavering. On December 13, 2018, the Senate voted 56–41 to pass S.J.Res.54, a bipartisan bill directing the Trump administration to withdraw military and logistical support from the war, although the bill does not address weapons sales to the regime. The passage of this resolution in the Senate marks the first time that the 1973 War Powers Act has been invoked to end an ongoing war. It represents, if not a total renunciation of US imperialist violence, a nascent interest in clawing back some of the war-making authority that Congress has long ceded to the Executive Branch. It also represents the first time that Congress has contested the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which established the foundation for the “war on terror” in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Until a new, Democrat-controlled House can pass a concurrent resolution in January, the victory of S.J.Res.54 is mostly symbolic. Nevertheless, it represents a real break in the imperialist foreign policy consensus that has reigned in Washington since the end of the Second World War. This consensus held even last March, when the same resolution failed to garner enough votes in committee to earn a full floor vote in the Senate. The brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, at the hands of the Saudi regime, is often cited as the cause of the shift in policy.

Cracks in mainstream political support for the Saudi-led coalition were already appearing. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had already refused to approve a $9 billion sale of precision-guided munitions to the Saudi kingdom, citing humanitarian concerns raised during the failed March vote. The UAE-led siege on Hodeidah in June, and the August 9th coalition airstrike on a school bus in Saada, which killed 11 adults and 40 children, both received significant coverage in the mainstream media. The latter marked the first time that MSNBC reported on the US role in the war in over a year. By October, the war in Yemen was struggling to stay under the radar and the imperialist foreign policy consensus had begun to fracture. Khashoggi’s murder accelerated this process and provided an opportunity for Congress to wash their hands of the war’s worst atrocities.

Socialists should deny them this opportunity. The war on Yemen was not an aberration in US foreign policy; it did not arise merely out of the cruel excesses of Donald Trump and Mohammed bin Salman. It is, instead, an egregious consequence of the contradictions underlying US militarism.

The US military functions as the hired gun of global capital. It is the single largest institutional contributor of greenhouse gases in the world, and the main tool for securing cheap access to further oil and natural gas resources. Yemen is critical in this respect. In 2016, about 5% of all the world’s oil production passed through Bab el Mandeb, the Red Sea’s southern strait, which Yemen borders to the east.

We should also oppose US militarism for its role in fueling the present migration crisis. Many refugees are fleeing parts of the world that the US government and military have helped to destabilize, forced now to navigate our increasingly militarized southern border and an near-impossible asylum process. Yemenis cannot apply for asylum under Trump’s travel ban, even as the US-backed coalition allies with the very terrorists it uses to justify Yemen’s place on the ban.

Socialism cannot win, at home or abroad, as long as the US empire exists. For that reason, it is the responsibility of socialists in the United States to widen the crack that the war in Yemen and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi has opened in the bipartisan consensus undergirding continuous military interventions abroad. It means rebuilding a large and vigorous anti-war movement in the United States to challenge imperialism and foreign interventions wherever and whenever they may arise. It also means understanding that socialism must be an internationalist movement.

The critical work of challenging US militarism and imperialism continues in January when the Democrat-controlled House takes office. We can already see the imperialist establishment, divided over Yemen only a few weeks ago, now reuniting  to oppose Trump’s withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan. It is essential that we pressure the House into passing the concurrent resolution to end US military aid for the war in Yemen. Then we must continue to challenge Congress to ensure that the Trump Administration and the Pentagon comply with terms of the resolution. Through that work, we can begin to build the national network of peace activists, socialists, and anti-imperialists that will challenge US militarism worldwide.