The United States response to the civil war in Yemen should be the opposite of what it’s doing.
Since late January, Yemen—the poorest Arab country—has been embroiled in a bloody civil war that is escalating in brutality. A Saudi-led air campaign against the rebel movement has repeatedly hit factories, schools, water systems and residential neighborhoods, degrading the civilian infrastructure and killing hundreds of civilians. At least 150,000 people have fled their homes due to the fighting.
Despite reports indicating that Washington has been attempting to quietly persuade the Saudis to curb their bombing, actions speak louder than words. The Obama administration has been supplying intelligence for the campaign, has moved eleven warships to the waters off of Yemen in a show of support for the Saudi-led effort, and has expedited arms shipments to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen. Seemingly without irony, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest then charged that Iran was continuing “to supply arms to one party to that dispute so that the violence can continue.”
In Washington, the civil war in Yemen is being framed as a proxy war between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, with the Houthi rebels supposedly beholden to Iran and the ousted government evidently loyal to the Saudis. This is utterly simplistic. The origins and grievances of the war are many, but Yemen has long been plagued by its own fissures, endemic corruption and abysmal governance. Iran’s influence in Yemen is limited. “It remains our assessment that Iran does not exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen,” a spokeswoman for the National Security Council recently admitted to The Huffington Post.
The only sensible action for the United States is to change its course entirely. Washington’s assistance to Saudi Arabia will escalate this conflict and further inflame a volatile region. The Obama administration must choose diplomatic over military solutions for Yemen. It should demand an immediate and unconditional cease-fire from all parties involved, which would let the dire humanitarian needs be addressed and allow the people of Yemen the opportunity to find a path to reconciliation.
The last thing anyone—Yemeni or otherwise—needs is another war persisting in the Middle East.
Moustafa Bayoumi, a professor of English at Brooklyn College, is author of This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror, forthcoming from NYU Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.