US president Joe Biden. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA
US president Joe Biden. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA

For six years the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has played a brutal, bloody role in propping up the besieged government of neighbouring Yemen, where Iran-backed Houthi rebels seized the capital in 2015 and have waged war ever since.

Soon, it will no longer do so with the helping hand of the US, which under presidents Obama and Trump provided precision-guided missiles, other arms, money and even troops in the form of secret deployments of Green Berets operating on the Saudi side to destroy missiles and launch sites.

President Joe Biden announced last week that the US would end its support for Saudi Arabia’s intercession in Yemen’s civil war, a move that includes suspending “relevant arms sales”. It is also moving to rescind the Trump administration’s January 19 designation of the Houthi rebels as a terrorist organisation — a move welcomed by the UN as a step towards alleviating the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis”.

We recognise that some critics have raised legitimate concerns that by cutting support for Saudi Arabia the US risks sending a message to the Houthis and their Iranian sponsors that they’ve been given a free pass to continue brutality of their own in the deadly civil war they instigated. But what’s clear is that policies of the Obama and Trump administrations have dragged the US into a conflict it should have quit years ago, and into partnership with a nation whose own record of human rights abuses deserves censure, not continued co-operation.

Despite American aid, the civil war has persisted with terrible consequences for the civilian population in Yemen and, to a growing degree, Saudi Arabia, too. About 100,000 Yemenis — many of them children — have died and 8-million or more are said to have been uprooted. Disease, hunger and homelessness are daily factors as the war rages on.

Two years ago, in a rare break with Donald Trump, the Republican-led US Senate called for America to end its support of Saudi Arabia’s role in the conflict, voting 63-47. The White House simply ignored the resolution. And when they tried again in 2019, when for the first time in history the House and Senate both approved a resolution under the War Powers Act, he vetoed it. /Houston, February 10

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