by Brian Garvey
In his first major foreign policy address, President Joe Biden on Feb. 4 declared his commitment to “end the war in Yemen,” which he called a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.” The president announced that the US would stop assisting all “offensive operations” in that impoverished country and halt all “relevant arms sales” to the Saudi Arabia/UAE-led coalition that is waging war there. Biden said he was appointing Timothy Lenderking as his special envoy to Yemen and that his administration would push for a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
The president’s announcement was a huge victory for all Yemeni-American activists, peace advocates, and Congressional progressives who have been pressuring the US government for six years to stop supporting the war. The Saudis’ brutal bombing campaign ostensibly has been aimed solely against rebel Houthi fighters whom the US accuses of being in league with Iran. But in reality, the Saudis have often bombed schools, hospitals, funerals, crops, water facilities, and other civilian targets, maiming and killing countless civilians, and leaving a trail of devastation as others are left to die more slowly from famine and disease.
More than 230,000 people have died from the war in Yemen, including both civilian and military deaths, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED). Millions are on the brink of starvation.
While the new policy represents an important step forward, it is clear that our work is NOT done. Much about Biden’s statement is vague and leaves open the possibility for continued US involvement. For example, what does the president mean by “offensive operations”? The definition is crucial, since the US has previously framed its support for the war as “defending” Saudi Arabia from attacks. And after his initial announcement of withdrawing US aid for the war in Yemen, the president quickly pivoted to declaring the importance of defending Saudi Arabia from “Iranian supplied forces” and committed to “support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty.” That doesn’t sound like someone committed to pulling out of a moral nightmare. Why would we invest resources to defend one of the worst human rights abusers in the world?
Because Raytheon Technologies is headquartered right here in Waltham, the Bay State has a significant connection to the war in Yemen. Not only is Raytheon making offensive weapons for the coalition, both in the US and in Saudi Arabia, but our current secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin, has only recently stepped off the company’s Board of Directors. And Mark Esper, who was Trump’s Pentagon chief, was formerly Raytheon’s top lobbyist. This corporation has enormous political influence.
On January 25th 2021, Massachusetts Peace Action took part in the International Day of Action on Yemen, joining over 385 organizations from 25 countries across the world to demand a complete end to the war in Yemen. Mass. Peace Action is a part of a coalition called the Raytheon Antiwar Campaign, which acts to raise awareness about the war on Yemen and connect the issue to Massachusetts. The work to expose US (and Raytheon’s) connection to the massive crimes being committed by Saudi Arabia in Yemen will continue until the war has been ended decisively.
Click here to send President Biden a message thanking him for his initial commitments and encouraging him to follow through and permanently end all arms sales to a regime which has consistently gotten away with war crimes and violations of human rights. Read here about our webinar featuring Shireen Al-Adeimi and Hassan El-Tayyab, both experts on Yemen and on advocacy to end the war. Click here to watch a video of the event. Click here to read an excellent, related article about Yemen by Yoav Elinevsky and Mary Wentworth.
—Brian Garvey is the Assistant Director of Massachusetts Peace Action.