Buildings collapse. Bodies lie still in piles of rubble. Children scrounge for food. Smoke and flames paint the skies of cities. Bombs rain down, soldiers shoot and tanks pass through. But the way we talk about policy in Yemen is in relation to Iran and our foothold in the Middle East.
In March 2015, rebels took over Sana’a, the capital of Yemen. Concerned about the rebels’ ties to Iran, a coalition (led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and supported by the U.S. and the UK) was formed to reinstate the former Yemeni government, exacerbating tensions and fueling the civil war that emerged as a result of the rebel takeover.
Today, 14 million Yemeni civilians are on the brink of famine, and 30 percent of Yemeni children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition. This comes in the middle of a civil war that has been going on for nearly four years, killing at least 6,800 civilians and injuring at least 10,700 more. Overall, an estimated 22 million Yemeni civilians (75 percent of the population) are in need of humanitarian assistance.
The civil war has contributed significantly to the famine. The Saudi-led coalition has blockaded Houthi-controlled ports, which severely limit the amount of food entering the country. Moreover, Saudi air forces have systematically targeted domestic food production, including agricultural land, fishermen and food markets. Now, people struggle both to access food through foreign aid and to produce their own.
The United States can do something to help — and no, not just through aid. Senate Joint Resolution 54, a bill cosponsored by Senator Cory Booker, would remove U.S. Armed Forces from Yemen under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which ends foreign military action after 60 days if it has not been approved by Congress. Even the most conservative assessment of American military presence, given by the Pentagon, acknowledges its role in logistics, intelligence and fueling aircraft. This military presence perpetuates conflict and at the very least, warrants real deliberation by Congress.
Many would defend American involvement in Yemen as assisting key allies and checking Iran’s power in the region. In reality, Iran has little influence over the rebels, and American involvement serves more to contribute to humanitarian crisis and a facilitator of violence. The United States refuels Saudi aircraft, which have devastated Yemeni farms and slaughtered civilians. Sen. Bob Menendez must vote in favor of S.J.Res. 54 to end this.
Removing U.S. Armed Forces from Yemen is only the first step to saving civilian lives. The U.S. must end its arms sales to Saudi Arabia. It is with American weaponry that Saudi Arabia is able to continue fighting. The U.S. must also work with other countries, namely the United Kingdom, to remove other foreign support for conflict and facilitate a peaceful resolution. Historically, a key problem with peace talks has been an unwillingness from either side to make concessions.
A new round of peace talks, which began on Nov. 23, provides a unique opportunity for the United States to change the course of the conflict by supporting a plan which would be a genuine compromise.
S.J. Res. 54 would not only constrain the conflict but, perhaps more importantly, also constitute a symbolic commitment to peace. Peace talks can never function if one side believes the other is just trying to intimidate and does not have a real desire for conflict to end (see: North Korea).
As civilians get caught in the crossfire and children starve, the United States must do everything in its power to respond to humanitarian crisis and end the conflict. One plan has already been written. All senators have to do now is vote for it.
Mira Mehta is a student at Westfield High School.