Two hurricanes hit the American island of Puerto Rico in less than a month. Damage is severe, and many places remain without power. Clean drinking water is tough to come by, and supplies are being shipped in, though there is much justifiable anger at the slow rate of arrival.
Yemen should be so lucky. In early 2015, Saudi Arabia attacked Yemen, vowing to oust the Shi’ite Houthis from the capital city and reinstall the Hadi government, which had fled into exile. The US backed this invasion, and the ensuing naval blockade of Yemen, and has participated both as an element of the blockade, and as a mid-air refueler of the Saudi planes that continue to bomb Yemen to this day.
Puerto Rico has a long road to recovery. Two storms raged through, wreaked their havoc, and left the scene. Now charities, aid groups, and government agencies try to ease the situation for islanders as they begin to reconstruct their lives.
By contrast, the “storm” in Yemen has parked itself over the country’s northern half, content to rain bombs down on the same buildings for years on end, killing thousands of people, many of them civilians. At the same time, a naval blockade has ensured that almost no aid reaches northern Yemen, facilitating one of the worst cholera epidemics in history.
While natural disasters routinely visit misery on those unlucky enough to live in their lines of fire, the damage, suffering, and sheer cost of lives from such incidents simply pale in comparison to the “fire and fury” wrought by American-made hurricanes of foreign policy.
Whether bombing a nation like Yemen, or systematically starving a populace through heavy sanctions, as America did to the Iraqis in the 1990s and early 2000s, the tolls are graver. Innocents are targeted every bit as much, while the poorest and weakest in society are the most vulnerable.
Compounding matters, humanitarian aid is heavily restricted in such cases, often as part of official policy. Getting medicine into 1990s Iraq, or today to cholera sufferers in Yemen, remains a monumental challenge.
Puerto Rico is facing critical near-term shortages, as well as years of rebuilding. Yemen is facing genocide, and the recovery of the Shi’ite tribal areas most often targeted is likely to take generations, if it’s ever allowed to happen at all.
The US budget is always strained, but finding a way to cope with natural disasters is non-optional; these things happen, and we deal with them up front, as best we can.
The same cannot be said of American-made disasters, the resulting reconstruction of which the US taxpayer will be expected to finance. The United States is not only wasting billions of dollars destroying nations like Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan, but will also be on the hook for untold billions in the years and decades to come fixing things we shouldn’t have destroyed in the first place. Wars of choice are, in the end, disasters of choice.
The “worth it” line
In 1996, presented with reports that half of a million Iraqi children had died because of US-led sanctions on the nation, then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright told 60 Minutes “we think the price is worth it.”
She was rightly demonized at the time for putting a price on the lives of 500,000 children. With the benefit of over two decades more of hindsight, we can take an even broader look at what happened, and how not worth it the whole thing was.
The disaster of Iraq sanctions, and the invasion and occupation that inevitably followed, killed an enormous number of Iraqis. Studies have attempted to quantify the overall cost of America’s disaster just for Americans: it’s in the trillions of dollars, and continues to rise. The disaster that is Madeline – and all the Madelines that came before and after – destroyed a major country, and will be costing America for decades to come.
President Trump has warned that “big decisions” will have to be made on rebuilding Puerto Rico. There were big decisions ahead of the multiple decades of effort to destroy Iraq, which has left America with a many-fold greater cost.
At some point, we must recognize that these wars are not only disasters of our own making, but the result of calamitous decision-making. Instead of lamenting the costs after the fact, wouldn’t it be better to commit now to stop causing disasters in the first place?
The Yemen problem
It took decades to destroy oil-rich, reasonably well-developed Iraq. Yemen began as the region’s poorest nation, dependent upon imports for roughly 90% of its food sources. Simply cutting off the food supply and bombing the cities for a couple of years did monstrous damage. Yemen is now in rapid decline.
While this may, officially, be a “Saudi” war, it’s got America’s fingerprints all over it. US ships participate in the blockade, and US planes refuel the Saudi bombers, themselves of American manufacture, as are the bombs within their bellies. This is America’s war, and America’s disaster, two facts wholly evident to Yemenis. We, too, should be fully cognizant.
Food scarcity has placed Yemen on the brink of famine. A cholera epidemic continues to mount, and largely goes untreated because the blockade is keeping much of the aid out of effected areas. The cholera epidemic is approaching half a million and could soon reach one million. This is a disaster that is getting worse all the time, and we can’t even start reckoning how much it’ll cost to fix until we decide to stop making it worse.
With respect to Yemen, these decisions are being made behind closed doors; the American people’s Congress never authorized any of this. By neglecting to weigh in on the destruction of Yemen, Congress gives the false impression that this isn’t an American-made disaster.
To be clear, the Saudi war against the Houthis is not a fight against al-Qaeda. Indeed, the war has enabled the nation’s al-Qaeda affiliate to grow and expand. The focus of the Saudis is narrow and total self-interest: destroying Shi’ites. The attendant boost to Sunni Islamist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS has been largely ignored.
The 2001 US Authorization for the Use of Military Force has been used by US officials as justification for myriad American military actions: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, and so on. An authorization to fight al-Qaeda plainly does not apply to the Yemen war, where al-Qaeda is plainly not being fought. That means there is no authorization being offered as even a flimsy pretext for war. Congress should invoke the War Powers Act to put a stop to this.
Yemen is definitely a man-made disaster, and a mounting one. As badly as Iraq has swollen the US deficit, the costs associated with destroying Yemen will do that, and then some. All of this destruction is driving the US toward outright bankruptcy. Congress needs to reassert itself as the decision-maker on wars, instead of allowing presidents to simply impose massive man-made disasters upon the world, to the detriment of everyone, especially the American taxpayer.
Jason Ditz is news editor at Antiwar.com, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the cause of non-interventionism. His work has appeared in Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Daily Caller, the American Conservative, Washington Times and Detroit Free Press.
Perspectives expressed in op-eds are not those of The Daily Caller.