As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I have closely followed recent developments in the war between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi Rebels in Yemen.
This is one of the world’s deadliest wars. Airstrikes, and other acts of war, have killed tens of thousands of civilians. Yemen has become a wasteland with widespread disease and famine. An estimated 85,000 children have been killed or died from malnutrition, and the United Nations estimates Yemen is now facing the specter of a famine threatening 14 million people—50% of the population. And three-quarters of Yemen’s population now requires urgent humanitarian assistance.
The time has come for us to reconsider our support for this disastrous war and to consider the moral imperatives that form the foundation of our values, as well as our strategic interests. In this instance, I believe, both our moral values and strategic interests require that we reassess our involvement in this tragic human catastrophe. We must reject war and pursue peace.
The day I was sworn in as a Member of Congress, I joined the House in passing a resolution calling on all parties involved in the conflict to increase efforts to adopt all necessary and appropriate measures to prevent civilian casualties and to increase humanitarian access and calling on all parties to the conflict to allow for unobstructed access for humanitarian organizations, human rights investigators, medical relief personnel, and journalists. In addition, the resolution denounced the conduct of the war in Yemen that is, directly or indirectly, inconsistent with the laws of armed conflict, including the deliberate targeting of civilian populations or the use of civilians as human shields.
It is my fear that our continued support of this war will only increase resentment of the United States in the region. It will diminish U.S. security and undermine America’s moral authority and reputation as a champion of our foundational values such as human rights and civil liberties. In addition to the horrendous humanitarian cost in Yemen itself, it makes the entire region less secure and makes humanitarian disasters in the wider region more likely. But more importantly, what’s happening in Yemen is just simple wrong. It’s not in harmony with our values and ironically, the very reason we want a strong ally in Saudi Arabia is to prevent this type of situation not foster it.
These conditions provide a breeding ground for violent extremism and for terrorist groups to expand. Prolonging the war in Yemen only strengthens the Islamic State in Yemen and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Additionally, the conflict undertaken by the Saudi-led coalition under the objective of “eliminating Iranian influence” has achieved just the opposite. Iran has been able to use the conflict as an opportunity to establish a foothold across the Middle East. It has sent soldiers to prop up the dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Additionally, Iran-supported Hezbollah is now the dominant political force in Lebanon and able to threaten neighboring Israel, our closest ally in the region, with its growing missile and rocket arsenal. This threat to Israel is in addition to the ongoing barrage of missiles fired into Israel by Iran-supported Hamas in Gaza.
I welcomed Secretary of Defense Mattis’s October 30, 2018 statement calling on combatants in Yemen, including the Saudi coalition and the Houthi faction supported by Iran, to negotiate a cease-fire within 30 days. He stated, “It’s time to stop this.” He urged all parties to sit down for peace talks. Secretary of Defense Mattis’s comments were followed up by Secretary of State Pompeo’s statement in which he said, “The time is now for the cessation of hostilities.” I echo Secretary Mattis’s sentiment when he said, “We have got to move toward a peace effort here, and we can’t say we are going to do it sometime in the future.” We should support the UN-led efforts to bring peace to this devastated country and urge the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis to start peace negotiations as soon as possible.
Ending our support for the Saudi-led coalition highlights the gross inhumanity of the war and that the we do not support the way the conflict in Yemen is being conducted. It underlines our growing concerns about the behavior of Saudi Arabia as it effects larger American strategic interests in the region and our interest in preserving global humanitarian norms. Ending our support for the war will force the Saudi-led coalition to reconsider its policies and will signal our support for peace negotiations, as called for by the Administration.
American foreign policy requires a balance between our national security and moral values. In the case of the war in Yemen, these competing imperatives are not in conflict. Ending US support for the war in Yemen supports both American strategic interests and humanitarian values.