Funding an Apocalypse: American Involvement in the Yemen Crisis

Nicholas Saint-Jerome

 Sam Hill

Sam Hill

The Russo-American Cold War is alive and well in the Middle East.

Since the rise of European imperialism, the West has viewed the land spanning from Morocco to India (“The Orient”) as ample land to exploit, filled with a people destined for subjugation. Orientalism, coined by the late Palestinian theorist Edward Said, is the study of a Western projection of the Middle East, rather than a real representation of the land. Orientalism is a device used to supposedly understand “Orientals” for the sake of proper and profitable capitalization. With this view of the Middle East, the West sees the Orient as a playground for pillaging, exploitation, and war, creating generations of imperialism and market control.

As many in the West have come to understand, the state of the Middle East has not been stable in many years, and it’s uncertain when the region as a whole will come to know peace. The situation in Yemen, known to many as the Yemen Crisis or the Yemeni Civil War has reached a drastic point.

As of April 2018, about three-fourths of Yemen’s population, 22 million people, are in need of humanitarian aid and protection. With both sides of the conflict weaponizing access to food, the UN estimates around 8 million people are on the brink of famine in Yemen. The air, land, and sea blockades imposed by the Saudi-led coalition, including Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, Sudan, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Academia have deteriorated civilian conditions to abysmal levels. Prior to the war, Yemen was considered one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and imported most of its food—a fact that means import blockades on basic necessities carry catastrophic consequences. Due to a lack of clean water access, Yemen is experiencing the worst Cholera outbreak in its history, with the number of those infected reaching a million and those killed climbing above 2,000. In addition, over 5,000 civilians were killed between the beginning of the coalition’s involvement in March of 2015 and August of 2017. UN Humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien described the crisis in Yemen as comparable to “the Apocalypse.”

The Yemeni Crisis is just one of the many conflicts raging in the region. In the past five years, over thirty percent of all weapons imports in the world have been to the Middle East. The Cold War in the former Orient stands between Iran (allied with Russia) and Saudi Arabia (allied with the US). Both powers make up the largest financial contributions to ongoing warfare in the Middle East. Iran’s spending is estimated at $7 billion annually, with Saudi Arabia spending $56 billion. These staggering figures come from the values of major petroleum exports, with Iran sourcing a little more than forty percent of its export earnings on oil and Saudi Arabia sourcing almost seventy-five percent. Each country consumes less than a third of their oil production themselves. In this post-colonial age, these two regional super powers have taken control of the region with their rich oil assets.

The conflict in Yemen has been raging since late 2014 when Houthi Shia rebels took over the Yemeni government with popular support against Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, who failed to maintain a unified government after the autocratic leader Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down during the Arab Spring. Saleh worked alongside the rebels with government forces for a time, until in late 2015 when militias clashed and a civil war raged. In 2017, Sallah was killed—with no clear leader of any future peace talks in sight.

The Western powers behind Saudi Arabia: The United States, The United Kingdom, and France, have condemned Iran for supplying weapons to the Houthi Shia rebels in Yemen, especially following the attacks on Saudi Arabian soil in late 2017, exacerbating the conflict further.

But the hypocrisies in the sentiment are staggering.

Within the first few months of Saudi-coalition involvement in the crisis, the Western powers were revealed to be providing war planes to Saudi Arabia, and have since continued to provide resources. The U.S. provided intelligence as well, and all aforementioned powers have pledged support to the Saudi-coalition efforts to stomp out the Houthis.

We must ask ourselves why the West is involved at all. Saudi Arabia is at risk of being remembered for its actions in history as abhorrent, inhumane, and on the brink of genocidal. What interest does the West have in such a foreign conflict?

Last June, the Trump Administration approved a $1.4 billion sale of military equipment and training to Saudi Arabia, with a continuation plan of $110 billion over the next ten years. To a global financial superpower like The United States, this kind of military support makes sense. It is a major arms deal with a long-term ally and a major crude-oil provider with direct interests in Middle Eastern foreign policy against Iran. Saudi Arabia has played its part in the broader Cold War, acting as the United States’ Uncle Tom in the former imperialized region, driven by the interests of Western powers to kill its neighbors in Yemen for the sake of combatting Iran.

Many of these current conflicts stem from Cold War practices and the American war in Iraq, and while the regional superpowers have seemingly taken over as strategists within regional conflicts, the investment cycle still benefits the West. Western nations, as well as superpowers India, China, and Japan pay Iran and Saudi Arabia for oil. Iran and Saudi Arabia use oil money to supply arms, aircrafts, battleships, and tanks from the same powers, and lead the efforts of control which deteriorate the region, essentially taking over for the West in their constriction of the Orient.

Because of the general attitude in the West which tends to homogenize The Orient rather than understand it as a massive region of many different ethnicities and cultural histories, it’s easy to draw wool over the unsuspecting eye and cover up Western actions in the region. While it may seem Saudi Arabia and Iran are responsible for the terrors in the region, it’s clear that the West’s financial support of these conflicts are serving their own interests, which makes areas like Yemen especially tragic. The indirect impact of the United States’ ongoing support of practices led by the Saudi coalition in the region is evident in what the UN declared “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.”

The Cold War in the Middle East is tied directly with broader global power struggles, changing at the whim of the Trump Administration. For now, we must ask ourselves: how much longer must this conflict go on? Do we wait for the Yemenis to starve? or be bombed out of existence? Which will come first? At this moment, with no real leadership, with a conflict spearheaded by a militia Saudi Arabia refuses to make any peace deals with, an end is not in sight.

So, what can the West do? Senators in congress have called our involvement in the conflict into question, and another attempt at peace talks have been planned at the UN. However, none of this information is making the front-page. Really, there has been very little American reporting on the crisis in Yemen. This crisis is not sellable; ISIS is more interesting and relevant to the West in their terror practices. Yemen is just another country in the Middle East; civilian deaths are just numbers. While the United States does not have its foot on Yemen’s neck, it is surely polishing the shoe on a daily basis. The Muslim Ban bars Yemeni refugees, Yemen being one of the six countries on the list with its backer Iran. The United States must hold itself accountable for this horrific crisis. The Oriental world continues to live by the impulse of the West as its sandbox for violence. Americans must stand up to our government and demand action to end this devastating crisis. We must refuse to take part in the Apocalypse of the Yemeni people.