Biden Must End the War He Helped Start

Yemenis call on the president-elect to stop the onslaught.

Shireen Al-Adeimi

New Yorkers protest U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war on Yemen on March 20, 2018. Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

The end of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s tenure may mark the rever­sal of some bru­tal domes­tic U.S. poli­cies. The Mus­lim ban, for exam­ple, could be reversed by an exec­u­tive order from Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden. When it comes to for­eign pol­i­cy, how­ev­er, sup­port for U.S. wars has long been a bipar­ti­san achieve­ment, evi­denced by decades of inva­sions, occu­pa­tions and coups. 

In Yemen, Trump esca­lat­ed the war” he inher­it­ed from the Oba­ma-Biden admin­is­tra­tion, com­pound­ing the extra­or­di­nary suf­fer­ing Yeme­nis face today. (Though called a war, the sit­u­a­tion in Yemen is, more accu­rate­ly, a uni­lat­er­al attack by pow­er­ful Arab and West­ern coun­tries.) Since 2015, Yeme­nis have been vic­tim­ized by a bom­bard­ment, block­ade and occu­pa­tion led by Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, which rely heav­i­ly on U.S. mil­i­tary support. 

In late 2014, after the Yemeni rebel group the Houthis took Yemen’s cap­i­tal, Sana’a, Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE led a bom­bard­ment cam­paign with the stat­ed goal of restor­ing Yemeni Pres­i­dent Abed Rab­bo Man­sour Hadi. While the Saudi‑U.S.-UAE coali­tion man­aged to cap­ture regions in for­mer South Yemen (South and North uni­fied in 1990), Houthis remain in con­trol of much of for­mer North Yemen, where approx­i­mate­ly 70% of Yeme­nis live.

With vital logis­tics, intel­li­gence, arms and oth­er assis­tance from the Unit­ed States, the coali­tion has sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly tar­get­ed Yemeni civil­ians, infra­struc­ture and food sup­plies. An aer­i­al, naval and land block­ade has halt­ed trade (upon which the coun­try relied almost exclu­sive­ly pri­or to 2015) and severe­ly restricts food, med­i­cine and fuel. Though almost cer­tain­ly an under­es­ti­mate, at least 100,000 peo­ple have been killed in the vio­lence. Tens of thou­sands have per­ished from star­va­tion and pre­ventable ill­ness. Trump esca­lat­ed the sit­u­a­tion by green­light­ing a UAE-led inva­sion of Hodei­da in the sum­mer of 2018, a par­tic­u­lar­ly cru­el turn in the war giv­en the impor­tance of the port city as a life­line to mil­lions.

Biden’s elec­tion is a para­dox for Yeme­nis: As Obama’s vice pres­i­dent, Biden is com­plic­it in the hav­oc. Yet, after years of orga­niz­ing by anti-war groups and indi­vid­u­als, Biden said on the cam­paign trail he is against con­tin­u­ing U.S. sup­port for the war. Because their lives are so tremen­dous­ly impact­ed by the U.S. pres­i­dent, Yeme­nis deserve a voice in the polit­i­cal dis­course about the incom­ing admin­is­tra­tion. In These Times asked three Yeme­nis what they think a Biden pres­i­den­cy could mean.

Mohammed Mohsen Bahjooj is a teacher and edu­ca­tion­al super­vi­sor from Al-Jawf, a north­ern Yemeni province con­sid­ered a high-inten­si­ty bat­tle­front” on the bor­der with Sau­di Ara­bia. Though Bahjooj notes the war is being waged by the U.S. and in accor­dance with U.S. pol­i­cy and inter­ests,” he under­scores the cur­rent human­i­tar­i­an sit­u­a­tion [in Yemen] is com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent com­pared to the begin­ning of the war” and notes famine, dis­eases and the block­ade have exhaust­ed Yemenis.” 

Bahjooj urges Biden to look with human­i­ty toward Yemen” and end the war as soon as pos­si­ble.” As he watched Biden give his vic­to­ry speech, Bahjooj not­ed, Biden is now embrac­ing his grand­chil­dren. … We hope that he will remem­ber the poor chil­dren of Yemen who are dying every day because of U.S. weapons and the oppres­sive block­ade.” Bahjooj believes Biden’s poli­cies will con­trast with Trump’s pol­i­cy of hatred and racism,” evi­denced by Biden’s pledge to lift the Mus­lim ban (which includes Yemen). Bahjooj also wor­ries a poten­tial Repub­li­can-con­trolled Sen­ate would present obsta­cles to end­ing the war. 

Nahla Fuad Tar­moom is from the city of Aden and dis­tin­guish­es between the for­mer South Yemen (which she calls South Ara­bia”) and North Yemen (which she calls Yemen”). Her dis­tinc­tion reflects the posi­tion tak­en by many in the South who hope to secede. The coun­try unit­ed in 1990, though the uni­ty has been ten­u­ous, and test­ed (most recent­ly) by com­pet­ing sep­a­ratist sym­pa­thiz­ers, includ­ing the South­ern Tran­si­tion­al Coun­cil, sup­port­ed by the UAE.

Tar­moom fol­lowed the U.S. elec­tion with eager antic­i­pa­tion, hop­ing for a Biden vic­to­ry. She describes the dire sit­u­a­tion in the South after years of war: Resources have been plun­dered, the infra­struc­ture has been destroyed and the coun­try lacks security. 

Tar­moom believes Biden will work toward stop­ping the Emi­rati and Sau­di oppres­sion that is sup­port­ed by Pres­i­dent Trump,” who enabled cor­rup­tion, war, killing of chil­dren and civil­ians … with­out any account­abil­i­ty” or deter­rence. She char­ac­ter­izes Biden as bal­anced” and says he oper­ates with the spir­it of jus­tice and democ­ra­cy.” These char­ac­ter­is­tics, Tar­moom hopes, will ensure safe­ty and secu­ri­ty not only in the South but in the North and in all Mid­dle East­ern coun­tries under­go­ing wars and con­flict. Tar­moom also hopes Biden will unite the Amer­i­can peo­ple and end par­ti­san strug­gles” in U.S. society. 

Unlike Bahjooj’s cau­tious opti­mism and Tarmoom’s eager antic­i­pa­tion, Ibrahim Abdulka­reem does not expect change. Abdulka­reem intro­duces him­self as the father of the child who was killed by the U.S.-supported Sau­di coali­tion.” His 11-month-old daugh­ter, Zainab, was killed by a coali­tion airstrike at home in her sleep on July 3, 2015. He says all Amer­i­can pres­i­dents serve their inter­ests” and sees no dif­fer­ence between Biden and Trump,” except that Trump is out­spo­ken” and can­did­ly says any­thing pub­licly through social media.” Biden, Abdulka­reem adds, is one of the archi­tects of the war on Yemen dur­ing the time of Oba­ma the Demo­c­rat. There­fore, I do not dif­fer­en­ti­ate between Trump and Biden.” 

Abdulkareem’s sto­ry gained some pub­lic atten­tion after a pho­to of him hold­ing Zainab’s body cir­cu­lat­ed on social media. He con­tin­ues to seek jus­tice for chil­dren killed by the coalition. 

Bahjooj, Tar­moom and Abdulka­reem all want to see their coun­try free from destruc­tion. Biden will be posi­tioned to fol­low through on his stat­ed oppo­si­tion to U.S. sup­port of the coali­tion — not just by stop­ping weapon sales to Sau­di Ara­bia and the UAE but by end­ing all coop­er­a­tion, and sign­ing a new War Pow­ers Res­o­lu­tion to end the war, if the new Con­gress were to pass one. (Trump vetoed the last such effort.)

While the onslaught in Yemen is one of many hor­rors inflict­ed on peo­ple due to U.S. inter­ven­tion, and Biden’s his­to­ry of sup­port­ing inter­ven­tions (such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq) is deeply wor­ry­ing, the con­flict in Yemen is one that Biden can — and should — end as soon as he takes office. The suf­fer­ing of the peo­ple of Yemen must be at the fore­front of the Biden-Har­ris administration. 

As Bahjooj notes, he hopes Biden will end the war on my coun­try and lift the siege” so that we can live in peace and give our chil­dren the sim­plest neces­si­ties of life.”

Shireen Al-Adei­mi is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of edu­ca­tion at Michi­gan State Uni­ver­si­ty. Since 2015, she has played an active role in rais­ing aware­ness about the Sau­di-led war on her coun­try of birth, Yemen, and works to encour­age polit­i­cal action to end U.S. support.

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