My wife, our children and I lived in Yemen from 1981 to 1985. Ten months ago, our State Department approved the sale of $1.29 billion in munitions to the Saudis, part of a $60 billion sale. In December, Saudi bombs destroyed Sanaa International School where our children went to school. The Saudis are bombing their neighbors in Yemen using our weapons, training and intelligence.
The current war began when the Shiite rebels known as Houthis based in the north seized the capital, Sanaa, according to The Associated Press. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies launched a campaign of airstrikes against the rebels. More than 4,000 civilians have been killed in airstrikes or in ground fighting between the rebels and fighters backing the internationally recognized president.
F. Gregory Gause III summarized the chaos in his article, “The Future of U.S.-Saudi Relations,” in the July/August issue of Foreign Affairs: “The Saudi’s fixation on Iran also explains their intervention in Yemen.” The Saudis see the Houthi rebels in Yemen as part of an Iranian effort to dominate the Arab world and surround their kingdom.
Yemen was part of the Ottoman Empire until its 1918 independence. In 1967, the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Yemen separated from the Yemen Arab Republic and veered radically left, hosting terrorists into the 1980s. The countries were a Cold War front line. The war between PDRY and YAR was hot until it ended in 1985. The presidents made peace; reunification followed.
Yemen’s history is ancient. According to local legend, Sanaa was founded by Shem, the oldest son of Noah. The Marib region, scene of some of today’s fiercest fighting, was once ruled by the Queen of Sheba, who visited King Solomon.
Yemen is defined by geography, kinship and sect. Villages remain isolated, underserved by roads, electricity and schools. Clan is the infrastructure, with changing loyalties. Insults are unresolved for generations, with outbreaks of violence.
Attending a wedding, I joined men at the groom’s home, my wife the women at the bride’s home. We men, carrying torches and singing, walked to the bride’s home. The women responded with song. The gate opened. The groom took his bride.
A year ago, the Saudis sent one of our 500 pound laser-guided bombs into such a wedding party, killing more than 130 innocents. At least 140 people were killed and more than 500 wounded in several air strikes on a funeral reception in Sanaa this month.
Yemen’s population is 24.5 million, with 8 million in famine. A student from the city of Taiz came to Wartburg College in 2012. I remembered the city. We had driven on a breath-taking mountain road to quaint Taiz, which features vestiges of Ottoman rule. Today, Taiz is a frontline city in the civil war, ruined by Saudi bombing.
Saudi Arabia bombs hospitals, factories, schools and homes, most recently in the Marib region. In August, 10 school children died in a bombing. Saudis bombed a hospital operated by Doctors Without Borders. Finally, the U.S. condemned such attacks. But in recent days the U.S. has launched missile attack of its own on rebel installations.
Late Wednesday night, a 72-hour cease-fire went into effect, a welcome first step, although it was quickly breached by the Houthis, according to the AP. The truce was desperately needed to allow urgent humanitarian assistance to reach large parts of the population that have been suffering drastic shortages.
A long-term solution is needed.
The U.S., our allies and the Gulf Cooperation Council must enforce a truce. Yemen has no capability to attack other nations. It needs help to manage water resources and improve education and food production. We can be part of the solution. On Aug. 9, the Pentagon advised Congress of the sale to the Saudis of $1.8 billion more in armaments. Is that all we can deliver to these desperate people?