Joe Biden Said He’s Against the Yemen War. He Needs To End It on Day One.

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Source: In These Times

Joe Biden, like­ly to secure the elec­toral col­lege votes he needs to win the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, bears direct respon­si­bil­i­ty for a host of griev­ous for­eign pol­i­cy harms, from the 2003 U.S. inva­sion of Iraq to the occu­pa­tion and per­se­cu­tion of Pales­tini­ans to the still-ongo­ing war in Afghanistan. The list of actions he must take to even begin to repair the wreck­age left by this lega­cy is long, and much of what he has done can­not be fixed: Peo­ple, after all, can­not be brought back from the dead.

But due in part to the role of the Oba­ma-Biden admin­is­tra­tion in expand­ing pres­i­den­tial war-mak­ing pow­ers (unfor­tu­nate­ly, toward the end of uni­lat­er­al­ly wag­ing mil­i­tary inter­ven­tions), there is plen­ty Biden can do on his own, no mat­ter who com­pris­es the Sen­ate, to put a stop to the ​for­ev­er wars” that he him­self claimed on the cam­paign trail to oppose — even as he also traf­ficked in mil­i­taris­tic rhetoric, par­tic­u­lar­ly toward Chi­na.

One thing Biden can do, start­ing on day one, is end U.S. involve­ment in the Yemen war — involve­ment that he helped ini­ti­ate. ​By exec­u­tive order, Biden could get the Pen­ta­gon to end intel­li­gence shar­ing for the Sau­di coali­tion airstrikes, end logis­ti­cal sup­port, and end spare parts trans­fers that keep Sau­di war­planes in the air,” Has­san El-Tayyab, lead Mid­dle East pol­i­cy lob­by­ist for the Friends Com­mit­tee on Nation­al Leg­is­la­tion, a pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tion, tells In These Times. ​He could restore human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance to north­ern Yemen. He could use his pow­er as pres­i­dent to put pres­sure on oth­er nations that are sup­port­ing the Sau­di coali­tion — like France, the Unit­ed King­dom and Cana­da — and get them to fol­low suit. He could have the State Depart­ment put a stop on all arms sales to Sau­di Ara­bia unless they meet cer­tain benchmarks.”

The Trump admin­is­tra­tion recent­ly approved near­ly $3 bil­lion in sales of drones to the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates, a coun­try that has played a dev­as­tat­ing role in the mil­i­tary coali­tion, and is plan­ning to sell 50 F‑35 fight­er jets to the coun­try — all deci­sions that El-Tayyab says must imme­di­ate­ly be reversed by Biden.

Accord­ing to El-Tayyab, were Biden to with­draw U.S. sup­port from the war, this would almost cer­tain­ly have the effect of end­ing it. ​U.S. mil­i­tary par­tic­i­pa­tion is keep­ing war­planes in the air,” he says. ​Our spare parts trans­fers are absolute­ly crit­i­cal for the func­tion­ing of these air­craft. If they did­n’t have a steady flow of parts to fly the F‑15s that are reign­ing ter­ror on the peo­ple of Yemen, they don’t have a lot of options to get supplies.”

If Biden were to end U.S. sup­port, this would also have tremen­dous polit­i­cal impli­ca­tions. ​With­out the moral cov­er from the Unit­ed States, they would be dis­in­cen­tivized to con­tin­ue the war,” says El-Tayyab.

Erik Sper­ling, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Just For­eign Pol­i­cy, which oppos­es the Yemen war, says there is plen­ty Biden can do before he even enters office. ​Biden has com­mit­ted to end U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion in the war on Yemen as pres­i­dent. But he must make clear that it will include any kind of assis­tance — as Oba­ma offi­cials Rice, Pow­er, Rhodes and oth­ers have urged — includ­ing intel­li­gence shar­ing, logis­tics sup­port and spare parts for war­planes.” Sper­ling was ref­er­enc­ing last year’s pub­lic call from sev­er­al Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion alum­ni for the Unit­ed States to take sim­i­lar steps (though these offi­cials were notably silent when they were in posi­tions of pow­er in the Oba­ma administration).

He should pub­licly and pri­vate­ly tell the Saud­is that he will do this on day one,” Sper­ling added. ​This will pres­sure them into nego­ti­a­tions and may end the war before he even enters the White House.”

Sper­ling under­scored that it will be impor­tant for Biden to be explic­it about end­ing all forms of U.S. assis­tance, and it won’t be enough for Biden to mere­ly claim he is work­ing to achieve a polit­i­cal solu­tion — a mis­lead­ing rhetor­i­cal line adopt­ed by Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and the Sau­di gov­ern­ment that does not, in fact, amount to imme­di­ate­ly end­ing the war.

On the cam­paign trail, Biden claimed that he is in favor of end­ing U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Yemen war, although he has not made end­ing the war cen­tral to his polit­i­cal mes­sag­ing. ​Vice Pres­i­dent Biden believes it is past time to end U.S. sup­port for the war in Yemen and can­cel the blank check the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has giv­en Sau­di Ara­bia for its con­duct of that war,” Biden cam­paign spokesper­son Andrew Bates told the Wash­ing­ton Post last year. Biden has a remark­able respon­si­bil­i­ty to hold his own admin­is­tra­tion to this stan­dard, par­tic­u­lar­ly in light of his own role in sup­port­ing the war, and only speak­ing out against it when he was no longer in a posi­tion of polit­i­cal power.

The Sau­di-led war on Yemen began in March, 2015, and the Oba­ma-Biden admin­is­tra­tion ini­ti­at­ed U.S. par­tic­i­pa­tion. Under Oba­ma, the Unit­ed States pro­vid­ed direct intel­li­gence sup­port, refu­eled Sau­di war­planes, helped the coali­tion iden­ti­fy bomb tar­gets and expe­dit­ed weapons ship­ments. But beyond this direct mil­i­tary par­tic­i­pa­tion, the Oba­ma-Biden admin­is­tra­tion gave the war polit­i­cal cov­er and shield­ed the coali­tion from the most mod­est scruti­ny at the Unit­ed Nations. Under the Oba­ma-Biden admin­is­tra­tion, it was no mys­tery that this war was unleash­ing hor­rors on the peo­ple of Yemen. The coali­tion bombed a cen­ter for the blind, a funer­al, a wed­ding, a fac­to­ry and count­less homes and res­i­den­tial areas, and block­ad­ed Yemen’s ports, cut­ting off vital food and med­ical ship­ments — all while the Oba­ma-Biden admin­is­tra­tion was in pow­er. Indeed, the Oba­ma White House was so com­plic­it in war crimes in Yemen in that its own State Depart­ment inter­nal­ly warned key U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel could be sub­ject to war crimes pros­e­cu­tion, accord­ing to a Reuters inves­ti­ga­tion pub­lished in Octo­ber 2016. By July 2015, a Unit­ed Nations offi­cial was already warn­ing that Yemen was on the verge of a famine, a pre­mo­ni­tion that hor­rif­i­cal­ly came true.

For his part, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump over­saw an esca­la­tion of the war. While deaths had been ris­ing since the war began, they spiked sig­nif­i­cant­ly in 2018. And while the Oba­ma-Biden admin­is­tra­tion helped hold off the attack on the port city of Hodei­dah, under Trump, the bru­tal assault took place. And, in 2019, Trump vetoed con­gres­sion­al efforts to end the war using the War Pow­ers Resolution.

Many Democ­rats who had been large­ly silent under Oba­ma final­ly found their voic­es to oppose the Yemen war once Trump was in pow­er and it could be framed as a par­ti­san issue. But by then, the sit­u­a­tion was a human­i­tar­i­an cat­a­stro­phe for Yeme­nis, who have seen their med­ical sys­tem bat­tered by U.S.-backed war­planes and now con­tend with a Covid-19 cri­sis whose scope is severe but dif­fi­cult to mea­sure along­side oth­er dis­ease out­breaks, like cholera and dengue. Biden will be inher­it­ing a dis­as­trous war that he helped start, and one that he can take a mean­ing­ful step toward end­ing. A ded­i­cat­ed grass­roots move­ment has been push­ing dili­gent­ly for the Unit­ed States to end the onslaught. ​Biden must cor­rect the mis­take he made back­ing the Saud­is under the Oba­ma Admin­is­tra­tion,” Jehan Hakim of the Yemeni Alliance Com­mit­tee, which oppos­es the war, tells In These Times. Biden has no excuse not to heed this call.


Sarah Lazare is web edi­tor at In These Times. She comes from a back­ground in inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism for pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing The Inter­cept, The Nation, and Tom Dis­patch. She tweets at @sarahlazare.

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