The Russian invasion of Ukraine, under the command of President Vladimir Putin, has caused a groundswell of support for the Ukrainian people and condemnation of the Russian government.
While we must continue to voice our support for the Ukrainian people—as well as the Russian people who are in opposition to the war—we should also scrutinize the hypocrisy and posturing of world leaders. Many of them are responsible for actions and policies that directly contributed to the death and suffering of people the world over—strikingly, the ongoing war in Yemen.
The United Kingdom and the United States governments possess immense hypocrisy for rightfully condemning Russia for its invasion while also providing massive military support for Saudi Arabia in its ongoing war in Yemen.
This is not an attempt to compare nuanced and different conflicts, but rather to inspire us all to challenge the moral superiority of those who are hypocritical and morally bankrupt.
With so much going on in the world, I encourage people to pay attention to both local and global news. If you haven’t been paying attention, Yemen has been in a civil war for the last eight years.
In 2014, Houthi forces took the Yemeni capital city of Sana’a, forcing President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee to Saudi Arabia. Because of Saudi Arabia’s worries about the Houthis receiving support from Iran, the Saudis and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) began to launch attacks in Yemen with the support of nine other countries in the region.
The United Nations estimated that the war in Yemen has killed over 377,000 people since 2014, both directly from fighting and indirectly from the resulting hunger and disease. 70% of those deaths are children, with nearly half of the children under age five in Yemen facing chronic malnutrition. 14 million Yemenis—nearly half of the population—are currently on the brink of famine due to the blockades imposed on them by Saudi Arabia. The conflict has also displaced at least 4 million people from the country of 31 million.
Saudi-led air strikes and blockades caused this humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and it should anger people that the U.S. has supported Saudi Arabia—in the form of billions of dollars in arms sales, training, mechanical and other logistical support—and, until 2018, aided with aerial refueling for the Saudi coalition bombing runs.
These same bombing runs and other Saudi-led attacks have been carried out using U.S.-manufactured weapons. When looking at data from March 2015 to Nov. 2016, the Human Rights Watch documented that 21 of the 58 apparently unlawful airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition used U.S.-made weapons, which included an attack on a market that killed at least 97 civilians, and an attack on a funeral service which killed at least 100 and wounded another 500.
Though U.S. President Joe Biden announced early last year that he planned to end support of Saudi Arabian offensive operations in Yemen, the administration just approved a $650 million sale of 280 air-to-air missiles made by Raytheon—with the caveat that these are supposedly defensive weapons.
It is also important to note that the U.S. has supported Saudi Arabia and the UAE in their intervention in Yemen over the course of the last three administrations. In fact, from 2015-2019, 73% of arms that Saudi Arabia imported came from the U.S. and 13% came from the UK. The UAE also received two-thirds of its arms from the U.S. during the same period.
While it’s important to criticize U.S. imperialism and its double standard with Yemen, it is just as important to criticize the U.S. media’s racist coverage in contrast to the war in Ukraine.
At the end of February, Charlie D’Agata of CBS said that the people of Ukraine were civilized, unlike the people of Iraq or Afghanistan. NBC news correspondent Kelly Cobiella said that, unlike refugees coming from Syria, Ukrainian refugees are Christian and white. Comments like that are as morally bankrupt as those who defend them.
The data on the number of Yemeni refugees that the U.S. has taken in is hard to find. Lauren Aratani of The Guardian wrote that, since the war in Yemen started in 2015, the U.S. had only taken in 50 Yemeni refugees. Five-zero. Are you kidding me? Furthermore, in the fiscal year of 2021, the International Rescue Committee stated that not a single Yemeni refugee was admitted in the US. Your first thought may be to blame the pandemic, but in that same fiscal year the U.S. took in 11,411 refugees.
It’s hard to understand why the United States hasn’t taken in more Yemeni refugees, but with the media coverage mentioned above, maybe it’s not so hard to fathom afterall.
In contrast to the war in Yemen, the U.S. government said in late March that it would take in 100,000 Ukrainian refugees. According to CBS, about 150 Ukrainians a day have been allowed to enter the U.S. at the San Ysidro port of entry.
We shouldn’t be critical of the number of Ukrainians seeking refuge, we should be critical—and outraged—of the decision on who gets sympathy and who doesn’t.
Waving Ukrainian flags and calling for sanctions against Russia ignores the fact that, like the sanctions the U.S. put on Venezuela, or the blockade that Saudi Arabia puts on Yemen, these measures often lead to humanitarian disasters—and hurt everyone except the wealthy, while oftentimes pushing these countries even further into authoritarianism.
This isn’t about what-aboutism or an either-or situation. Two or more things can be true at once—unless nuance is dead. This is about scrutinizing the U.S. government’s hypocrisy, and the responsibility it has for the death and suffering of so many around the world.
We need to pressure those in power and hold them responsible for trying to stand on the podium of self-righteousness while soaking their hands in blood. We need to ask why the U.S. government gave Israel $3.8 billion in military aid in 2020, when Amnesty International declared Israel had committed the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people. The U.S. is hardly the bastion of morality with our own numerous war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Wars continue to be waged by the rich who send the young and poor off to die, while people from halfway around the world fetishize the bloodshed by posting pictures of the dead for likes on social media.
The general U.S. populace is just as hypocritical and morally bankrupt as well. I remember during the early years of the Iraq War when people in the U.S. publicly said we should carpet bomb all of the Middle East, and when the Dixie Chicks—now called The Chicks—were canceled for voicing opposition to the Iraq War.
Everyone likes to claim they would take the moral high ground in reference to past atrocities and movements, yet when these atrocities are committed in the present time, many look the other way.
We should continue to open our arms to fleeing Ukrainians as well as Russians who are also seeking escape from their own government. But when people fleeing conflict to the south of us are called caravan invaders and bans are being put on travel from Muslim-majority countries, criticism and outrage needs to be directed towards our government and those who support such fucked-up, exclusionary policies.
So much hate and vitriol in the world is directed towards others based on illegitimate social constructs and invisible lines—imaginary borders on stolen lands, built off genocide.