US president Joe Biden’s foreign policy advisors applauded themselves for devising a ‘sensitive’ itinerary for his mid-July trip to the Middle East.
In a Washington Post op-ed before he left, Biden defended his controversial planned meeting with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman al Saud (known as ‘MBS’), saying it is meant not only to bolster US interests but also to bring peace to the region.
Biden’s trip did not include Yemen, though if this had truly been a ‘sensitive’ visit, he would have stopped at one of Yemen’s many beleaguered refugee camps. There he could have listened to people displaced by war, some of whom are shell-shocked from years of bombardment. He could have heard the stories of bereaved parents and orphaned children – and then expressed true remorse for the complicity of the United States in the brutal aerial attacks and starvation blockade imposed on Yemen for the past eight years.
From the vantage point of a Yemeni refugee camp, Biden could have insisted that no country, including his own, has a right to invade another land and attempt to bomb its people into submission. He could have upheld the value of the newly- extended truce between the region’s warring parties, allowing Yemenis a breather from the tortuous years of war, and then urged ceasefires and settlements to resolve all militarised disputes, including Russia’s war in Ukraine. He could have begged for a new way forward, seeking political will, universally, for disarmament and a peaceful, multipolar world.
More than 150,000 people have been killed in the war in Yemen, 14,500 of them civilians. But the death toll from militarily-imposed poverty has been immeasurably higher. The war has caused one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, creating an unprecedented level of hunger in Yemen, where millions of people face severe hardship.
Some 17.4 million Yemenis are food-insecure. By December 2022, the projected number of hungry people in the country will likely rise to 19 million. The rate of child malnutrition is one of the highest in the world, and nutrition continues to deteriorate.
I grew to understand the slogan ‘No Blood for Oil’ while living in Iraq during the 1991 Operation Desert Storm war, the 1998 Desert Fox war, and the 2003 Shock and Awe war. To control the pricing and the flow of oil, the United States and its allies slaughtered and maimed thousands of Iraqi people. Visits to Iraqi paediatric wards from 1996 to 2003 taught me a tragic expansion of that slogan. We must certainly insist: ‘No Starvation for Oil’.
During 27 trips to Iraq, all in defiance of the US economic sanctions against Iraq, I was part of delegations delivering medicines directly to Iraqi hospitals in cities throughout the country. We witnessed the ghastly crime of punishing children to death for the sake of an utterly misguided US foreign policy. The agony endured by Iraqi families who watched their children starve has now become the nightmare experience of Yemeni families.
It’s unlikely that a US president or any leader of a US-allied country will ever visit a Yemeni refugee camp, but we who live in these countries can take refuge in the hard work of becoming independent of fossil fuels, shedding the pretence that we have a right to consume other people’s precious and irreplaceable resources at cut-rate prices or that war against children is an acceptable price to pay so that we can maintain this right.
We must urgently simplify our over-consumptive lifestyles, share resources radically, prefer service to dominance, and insist on zero tolerance for starvation.