President Joe Biden has pledged to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, supported by both the Obama and Trump administrations, describing it as a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.” The six-year war in Yemen has devastated the country, killing at least 100,000 people and pushing 80% of the country into instability requiring some form of aid or protection, according to the United Nations. Biden’s remarks on Yemen come amid a freeze of U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia, with similar sales to the United Arab Emirates also up for review. “This is the culmination of six years of activism and advocacy to end the U.S.’s role in the war in Yemen,” says Yemeni scholar and activist Shireen Al-Adeimi, an assistant professor at Michigan State University. “We have a president who finally acknowledged the devastating war that is, frankly, caused by the U.S.’s participation.”
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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman.
In his first major address on foreign policy, President Biden pledged Thursday to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, which began six years ago and was supported by both Presidents Obama and Trump. Biden described the war as a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.”
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We’re also stepping up our diplomacy to end the war in Yemen, a war which has created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe. I have asked my Middle East team to ensure our support for the United Nations-led initiative to impose a ceasefire, open humanitarian channels and restore long-dormant peace talks. … This war has to end. And to underscore our commitment, we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.
AMY GOODMAN: President Biden’s remarks come days after his administration announced it’s freezing U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia and examining sales to the United Arab Emirates, including the sale of Lockheed Martin F-35 jets, which were approved by the Trump administration as part of UAE’s normalization deal with Israel last year.
The six-year war in Yemen has devastated the country. At least 100,000 people have died. According to the U.N., 80% of Yemen’s 30 million people need some form of aid or protection.
We go now to Lansing, Michigan, to speak to Shireen Al-Adeimi, a Yemeni scholar, activist, assistant professor at Michigan State University. Her new piece for In These Times is headlined “Biden Says He’s Ending the Yemen War — But It’s Too Soon to Celebrate.”
Professor Al-Adeimi, welcome back to Democracy Now! That was President Biden’s first day visiting the State Department. Can you talk about the significance of this move?
SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: Well, this is the culmination of six years of activism and advocacy to end the U.S.’s role in the war in Yemen. As far as victories go, they have been far and few between. But this is probably the most significant victory, if you want to call it that, that we’ve had over six years, because, finally, we have a president who finally acknowledged the devastating war that is, frankly, caused by the U.S.’s participation, and is committing to end, at least in some form, the war on Yemen. So, it’s significant. It’s important. But, as we’re going to talk, you know, there are some details that we need to be clear about.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t you talk about those details? What are you most concerned about right now?
SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: So, in his speech, Biden said that he is ending offensive operations in Yemen, but committed — he went on to commit to defending Saudi borders. Now, this is really concerning to me, because I still remember the statement that the White House put out when Obama initially entered the war in March of 2015, and that was the exact same framing, that they were defending Saudi territory from the Houthis. This is what led us here — six years of war, over 100,000 Yemenis killed, 250,000 people starved to death, if not more, the entire country destroyed. And the framing was always to protect Saudi borders. And so —
AMY GOODMAN: Shireen, let’s go to President Biden’s exact words.
PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: At the same time, Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks, UAV strikes and other threats from Iranian-supplied forces in multiple countries. We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Al-Adeimi?
SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: You know, he says he wants to defend Saudi people. You know, the Saudis have enjoyed U.S. support for decades. But certainly in the last several years, they have been the biggest customer of arms sales to the United States — from the United States. If we look at civilian casualties, I can’t find a figure of Saudi civilian casualties over six years. The missiles from the Houthis did not start until Saudi began bombing Yemen in 2015.
And so, to frame it as protecting Saudi borders or Saudi territories is very concerning, because if this is what we started off saying and here’s where we ended six years later, what does it mean then to continue to defend Saudi Arabian borders? At whose expense? Is it again going to be at the expense of Yemeni civilians? Is the U.S. going to stop supporting some form — providing some supports to the Saudi-led coalition but not others, for example, like intelligence sharing, in the name of defending Saudi Arabia? Are they going to continue providing assistance to the Saudis, let’s stay, with the blockade or with spare parts or with some weapon sales? He also used the word “relevant” arms sales. So, what does it mean to suspend relevant arms sales — why not all arms sales? — to Saudi Arabia and the UAE?
So, those are the concerns that I have. And I really want to be optimistic here, because this means so much to us after so many years of working really hard to end this war. But the details matter for the 30 million Yemenis who are living back home. Is this war going to end for them? We can’t really see an end to this war unless the U.S. ends their support, all of it — training, spare parts, weapon sales, logistics, intelligence sharing, their support with the blockade. Until all of this ends, Yemenis are not going to be able to pick up the pieces and to be able to live freely.
AMY GOODMAN: What about, in one of his last acts in office, aside from inciting the insurrection, President Trump named Houthis as a terrorist organization?
SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: So, everybody seems to agree that this was a misuse of the term, misuse of the designation. The Houthis control areas of Yemen where over 70% of the population live. And so, if they are designated as foreign terrorists, then banks are not going to be able to operate in Yemen. So, people like me, living here, who are sending money back home, because 80% of Yemenis need aid to survive, we’re not going to be able to do that anymore. All the aid organizations working in Yemen are not going to be able to reach the 80% of the population that needs aid to survive. And so, that is just calling for an escalation of mass starvation and mass murder.
The Biden administration has said that they are reviewing this policy, which is great news. They have until the end of February to make a decision, but really it needs to be reversed right away, so that more Yemenis don’t die because of this designation.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about still the UAE getting these F-35 fighter planes in exchange for the UAE recognizing Israel, but, again, the Biden administration has put that on hold, is looking at that deal? What does the UAE have to do with Yemen?
SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: The UAE is a major partner in the war in Yemen. They have been working alongside the Saudis since day one. They claim to have left Yemen, but, really, all that meant was that they no longer had UAE soldiers on the ground, but they instead trained mercenaries to continue operating in Yemen. The UAE is all but occupying the island of Socotra in South Yemen. They are supplying the rebel group, the separatist group in the south, the STC, and have been supporting them. And they have control over Yemen’s gas plants and whatnot. So they have major ambitions. And, of course, they run secret prisons in the south, and they’ve been involved in assassinations of religious leaders in the south.
And so, they have been extremely destructive. They are completely part of the coalition. And supplying them with F-35s is not going to do anything except to ensure that they are more capable to continue bombing Yemenis. They also have pilots and have committed planes to the Saudi-led coalition in their efforts to destroy Yemen. And so they’re a major party of the war, and we shouldn’t be supplying them with any weapons whatsoever, let alone these F-35s.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Professor Al-Adeimi, the significance of President Biden ending the Muslim ban?
SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI: I mean, this is a victory, again, for many people. This should have never happened in the first place, much like the war in Yemen. These things are easy to designate and so incredibly difficult to reverse. So I think that’s a major victory, of course. That was expected that he was going to end that. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
And it has affected Yemenis. Yemen was one of the countries that was listed under that ban. And so, Yemenis who are bombed by the Saudi-led coalition, with support from the U.S., were not able to leave the country because of the blockade. And those who were able to leave were not able to join family here or to come to the United States to seek a better life.
And so, I’m hopeful that this is how he started his administration. And I’m really hopeful that he will continue showing us that he’s committed to ending the war in Yemen and to fulfill his campaign promise to end all support for the U.S.-led military, so that we can begin to talk about justice and accountability, because this isn’t going to suffice.
AMY GOODMAN: Shireen Al-Adeimi, I want to thank you for being with us, Yemeni scholar, activist, assistant professor at Michigan State University. We’ll link to your piece in In These Times, “Biden Says He’s Ending the Yemen War — But It’s Too Soon to Celebrate.”