Monday, February 8, 2021

Note on Yemen: Joe Did What?

Old City of Sanaa, 2019, screenshot by France 24.

I'm enjoying the same sense of relief as everybody else at waking up not asking myself what Trump has done today, but at the same time excitement, anticipating what the new guy may have come up with, and lovely surprises every damn day, like the announcement on Thursday that the US is withdrawing support from the Saudi war of attrition on the civilians of Yemen, not only canceling the $478-million sale of precision-guided munitions to Saudi Arabia that the State Department approved last December over Congressional objections, which was expected, but also halting the US direct assistance to the Saudis with targeting data and logistical support, which goes back to 2015 and the Obama administration (I referred to it in October 2016 as "the worst single failure of Obama foreign policy"). 

Not that this is going to end the war! But it puts the US in a far better position to help with this terrible catastrophe (still the world's worst humanitarian disaster after six years) it we detach ourselves from the party that has the airplanes:

All parties to the armed conflict in Yemen and have committed serious violations of the laws of war, many of which may amount to war crimes by responsible personnel. In 2020, Saudi-led coalition forces conducted airstrikes that indiscriminately killed and injured civilians. As of March, the Saudi-led coalition had conducted between 20,624 and 58,487 airstrikes since March 2015, according to the Yemen Data Project. Almost a third of all airstrikes carried out by the coalition hit civilian objects such as residential homes, hospitals, schools, weddings, farms, food stores, school buses, markets, mosques, bridges, civilian factories, detention centers,  and water wells. The Saudi-led coalition and the Houthis have committed unlawful attacks against detention centers, killing and injuring detainees.

But only the Saudi coalition forces have dropped those attacks out of the sky, with some of the world's most advanced technology, under the eye and, since the Trump presidency began, open encouragement of the country that produces the technology (the Houthis do have some missiles and drones that they buy from local suppliers in exchange for fuel smuggled in by Iran, that's pretty much the entire extent of Iranian aid, but it's trivial in comparison, and much less targeted against Yemeni people). 

That's over now, though cooperation with the kingdom's legitimate defense capacity is continuing. And I think it wasn't an easy decision, given the centrality of the kingdom to the Middle East power balance.

I'm getting an only-Nixon-could-go-to-China vibe, from so many of these early moves on Biden's part, all over the policy map, that he feels empowered to do these "left" things precisely because everybody knows he's a "moderate"—though I still prefer the analogy I've been pushing for the last months, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, as the president who is by no means a "leftist" but understands when a "left" policy is going to do the job because he knows how to listen and weigh the options and isn't paralyzed by journalistic cliché. The journalists, and the Republicans, often seem not even to notice when he leaps outside the box as he's done here in the Yemen case, but we in Blogistan ought to be noticing it, and I'm going to try to make a point of pointing them out on a daily basis.

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