Originally appeared on The American Conservative.
Matt Taibbi comments on the widespread ignorance and lack of coverage of the war on Yemen and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis:
Yemen features the wrong kinds of victims, lacks a useful partisan angle and, frankly, is nobody’s idea of clickbait in the Trump age. Until it becomes a political football for some influential person or party, this disaster will probably stay near the back of the line.
There are many reasons for the international neglect of Yemen’s plight. The Saudi coalition has done its best to make it very difficult to enter Yemen to report on the conflict. The U.S. government has studiously ignored anything that might reflect poorly on the coalition, and it has kept its own role in enabling the role as invisible as possible. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that Yemenis have no one speaking on their behalf and no one in a position to influence the way that the conflict is perceived in Washington and other Western capitals. Yemeni views of the war occasionally come through in a few news reports, but for the most part they aren’t the ones being cited in reports about the war destroying their country. When the war does receive some coverage, it is frequently misrepresented as a regional “proxy” war because that is the only framing that seems to get anyone’s attention in the West.
Two years ago, I commented on Western and specifically American indifference to what was happening in Yemen, and with a few name changes it would be an accurate summary for the way things are today:
The Obama administration pretends that the US isn’t a party to the conflict when it clearly is, and with a few exceptions members of Congress don’t challenge the policy and don’t question the decision to back the Saudi-led coalition. Journalists write wide-ranging essays on Obama’s foreign policy, but US involvement in the war never comes up. Hawks are so dedicated to the fiction that Obama “abandons” allies and clients that they would rather fault Obama for doing too little to help the Saudis than to question the US role in the first place. Many Obama supporters have grown so used to cutting the president slack on bad foreign policy choices because of his unreasonable hawkish critics that they have practically forgotten how to judge his foreign policy decisions on the merits. The result is that the war is rarely talked about and the US role in it is mentioned even less often, and so the administration receives virtually no scrutiny or criticism for one of its most egregious and damaging blunders.
Replace Obama with Trump and switch the party affiliations in this paragraph, and everything I wrote two years ago remains true now. Trump supporters invested in the risible notion that the president is some sort of noninterventionist don’t talk about Yemen because that would make a mockery of their core assumption about administration foreign policy. Many old Obama supporters are reluctant to call attention to a disaster that the former president was responsible for. Republican hawks are still only too happy to recite Saudi talking points about Iranian “expansionism,” and a lot of Democrats in Congress are willing to go along with that. Support for the war on Yemen implicates many members of both parties. It is much easier to ignore the issue instead of calling attention to an indefensible policy, and on the whole that is what Congressional leaders from both parties have opted to do. It is a deeply shameful episode in the history of this country, and many of our politicians and pundits would just as soon sweep it under the rug.
The failure of our news media is just as much to blame. Taibbi cites the remarkable figure that MSNBC hasn’t run a single segment on Yemen since July of last year. This neglect of the world’s most important story is typical for both cable and broadcast news coverage. One would think that “Trump helps despots cause famine in extremely poor country” would be an easy story for determined opponents of the president to tell, but they would prefer to talk about anything but that. It is a deeply shameful episode in the history of this country, and many of our politicians and pundits would just as soon sweep it under the rug.
Yemen’s humanitarian crisis is still the world’s worst, and in terms of the number of lives at risk it exceeds every other disaster in the world. It should be considered the most important story in the world. If it continues to be ignored as it has been, it is almost certainly going to result in a staggering loss of life measured in the millions. More than eight million people are on the verge of starvation, more than a million have contracted cholera, and by the end of the year another ten million will also be at risk of starving to death. That dwarfs every other crisis several times over, and it demands a massive, rapid international response. To that end, the US needs to press the coalition to halt its campaign and lift the blockade, and the best way to bring pressure to bear on these governments is to cut off all military assistance and arms sales at once.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.