By Nicholas Kristof
Sept. 26, 2018
The news about Brett Kavanaugh and Rod
Rosenstein is addictive, but spare just a moment for crimes against humanity
that the United States is supporting in far-off Yemen.
President Trump didn’t mention it at the
United Nations, but America is helping to kill, maim and starve Yemeni
children. At least eight million Yemenis are at risk of starvation from an
approaching famine caused not by crop failures but by our actions and those of
our allies. The United Nations has called it the world’s worst humanitarian
crisis, and we own it.
An American bomb made by Lockheed Martin
struck a Yemen school bus last month, killing 51 people. Earlier, American
bombs killed 155 mourners at a funeral and 97 people at a market.
Starving Yemeni children are reduced to
eating a sour paste made of leaves. Even those who survive will often be
stunted for the rest of their lives, physically and mentally.
Many global security issues involve complex
trade-offs, but this is different: Our behavior is just unconscionable.
“Yemen’s current crisis is man-made,” said
David Miliband, the former British foreign secretary and current president of
the International Rescue Committee, who recently returned from Yemen. “This is
not a case where humanitarian suffering is the price of winning a war. No one
is winning, except the extremist groups who thrive on chaos.”
The United States is not directly bombing
civilians in Yemen, but it is providing arms, intelligence and aerial
refuelling to assist Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as they hammer
Yemen with airstrikes, destroy its economy and starve its people. The Saudi aim
is to crush Houthi rebels who have seized Yemen’s capital and are allied with
That’s sophisticated realpolitik for you: Because we dislike Iran’s ayatollahs, we are willing to starve
“The Trump administration has made itself
complicit in systematic war crimes,” said Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.
Let’s be clear, too: This is a bipartisan moral catastrophe. The policy started under
President Barack Obama, with safeguards, and then Trump doubled down and
removed the safeguards.
“The war in Yemen has prompted today’s
worst humanitarian catastrophe worldwide,” said Robert Malley, a former Obama
aide who acknowledges missteps by the administration in Yemen — which Trump has
aggravated. Now president of the International Crisis Group, a non-profit
working to prevent conflict, Malley added, “By our actions and inaction, we
inevitably are complicit in it.”
I know, I know. All eyes are focused on the
reality television show that is the Trump White House. But we can’t let Trump
suck all the oxygen away from life-or-death issues. Trump drama cannot be
allowed to nullify global tragedy.
The carnage in Yemen hasn’t stirred more
outrage because the Saudis use their blockade to keep out journalists. I’ve
been trying for two years to go, but the Saudis bar aid groups from taking me
on relief flights.
Both sides in this civil war have at times
behaved brutally, and the only way out is diplomacy. But Saudi Arabia’s crown
prince seems to prefer famine and a failed state in Yemen to compromise, and
the more we provide him weapons the longer we extend the suffering. We should be
using our influence to rein the Saudis in, not cheer them on.
To their credit, some members of Congress
are trying to stop these atrocities. A bipartisan Senate effort this year, led
by Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Mike Lee of Utah, tried to limit arms sales
to Saudi Arabia because of the Yemen war, and it did surprisingly well, winning
44 votes. New efforts are underway as well.
World leaders are gathered for the United
Nations General Assembly, making pious statements about global goals for a
better world, but the Assembly is infused with hypocrisy. Russia is up to its
elbows in crimes against humanity in Syria, China is detaining perhaps one
million Uighurs while also shielding Myanmar from accountability for probable
genocide, and the United States and Britain are helping Saudi Arabia commit war
crimes in Yemen.
That’s pathetic: Four of the five permanent
members of the U.N. Security Council are complicit in crimes against humanity.
Many Americans erupt in fury every time
Trump lies, or tweets some inexcusable comment. Please do, but also save
outrage for something even more monstrous — the way we are contributing to
starvation of children and exacerbating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Nicholas Kristof has been a columnist for The Times since 2001, and was a
longtime foreign correspondent before that. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes, for
his coverage of China and of the genocide in Darfur.