President Biden’s decision to order the FBI to declassify key documents relating to Saudi Arabia’s connection to the 9/11 attacks is the latest example of his administration’s apparent desire to forge a different relationship with the Saudi regime than that of its predecessors.
The president also used his first foreign policy speech to call for an end to US support for the Saudi-led coalition’s “offensive operations” in its brutal war in Yemen, including “relevant arms sales. “. He also published US intelligence assessments documenting the role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in the murder order for dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It’s better this way.
Unfortunately, the administration did not do enough to follow up on these actions. President Biden has pushed back efforts by Congress to define in detail what he means by “sales of relevant arms” to Saudi Arabia that can be used in offensive operations, and the United States has continued to provide maintenance and spare parts essential to the continuation of the war by Riyadh. , including a $ 500 million offer to support the attack helicopters that were used in the Yemen war, announced last week.
The Saudis are highly unlikely to end the blockade without outside pressure, and the United States is uniquely positioned to enforce it.
The biggest flaw in Biden’s policy towards Saudi Arabia, however, has been his failure to use all the levers at his disposal to get the regime to end its blockade of essential imports into Yemen. The blockade has been a major contributor to the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, which the UN says has killed nearly a quarter of a million people since the war in Yemen began in March 2015.
The blockade continues to cause real damage. In August, fuel imports allowed through the crucial Yemeni port of Hodeidah represented less than 3% of the country’s total needs. This refusal of entry for this vital import dates back to January 2021; in February, no fuel was allowed to enter through Hodeidah. In addition, the Saudi coalition continues to hamper flights to the main airport in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a. As CARE and the Norwegian Refugee Council wrote in a joint statement last month, “The closure of Sana’a airport for the fifth year in a row has left at least 32,000 critically ill Yemeni patients in need of support. life-saving treatment abroad, since the first and last medical flights in February last year. A coalition of more than 50 organizations for peace, human rights and social justice, including the Committee of Friends on National Law, MADRE, MoveOn, Win Without War and the Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation called on Congress to “ban any further US aid or support for the war and the Saudi-UAE coalition’s blockade on Yemen, including intelligence sharing, logistics, spare parts and maintenance activities.”
As the Executive Director of the World Food Program, David Beasley, told the UN Security Council earlier this year: “It’s hell on earth in many places in Yemen right now. . . The blockade must be lifted as a humanitarian act. Otherwise, millions more will degenerate into crisis. “
The Saudis are highly unlikely to end the blockade without outside pressure, and the United States is uniquely positioned to enforce it. As Bruce Reidel of the Brookings Institution noted, US maintenance and spare parts enable Saudi offensive operations in Yemen; as such, these activities should be stopped if the Biden administration is to live up to its own rhetoric. Threatening to cut them off from military support would certainly attract the attention of the Saudi leadership and may well change their blockade policy. In May 2021, a group of 16 Democratic senators led by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) sent a letter to President Biden calling for an end to all arms and US military support for the Saudi regime and claimed that “Immediate and decisive action must be taken to end the current blockade on fuel imports which is exacerbating the growing humanitarian crisis. The Biden administration’s special envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking, has expressed disapproval of any action that would hamper the importation of crucial supplies into Yemen, but the Biden administration has not taken strong action to back it up. his comments.
If the Biden administration is not doing what it should to pressure Riyadh to end the blockade, Congress must act. Representative Ro Khanna (D-CA) proposed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would halt all US military support to Saudi Arabia, including arms sales, parts and maintenance. It is timely and essential if the United States is to make a difference to end the suffering in Yemen and help promote an inclusive peace agreement to end the war.
William D. Hartung is the director of the Weapons and Security program at the Center for International Policy.