In 2011, a nationwide uprising akin to those in Tunisia and Egypt deposed the country’s autocratic leader, ‘Ali ‘Abdallah Salih. There was no democratic election before his successor, the Saudi- and US-backed ‘Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, took over—he ran unopposed. And there was no relief from the terrible poverty, unemploymentand government corruption that brought about the popular revolt. A reformist movement and militia called the Houthis—which had launched a handful of rebellions against Salih in the past—took advantage of widespread discontent to conquer the capital, Sanaa. Hadi fled into exile, and the Saudis started bombing shortly thereafter. Local militias in central and southern Yemen have resisted the Houthis and army units still loyal to Salih, who is now allied with his former foes. Meanwhile, a local franchise of al-Qaeda is fighting everybody.
The Yemenis caught in this crossfire were already thirsty and hungry before the war—unlike their Saudi neighbors, they don’t have a lucrative oil supply. Now, with Yemen’s borders closed, its airports shut down and Arab navies enforcing an embargo at sea, the situation is breathtaking in its desperation. Saudi Arabia and its friends, including the United States, support Hadi. Yet they have no discernible plan for winning beyond reducing Yemen to rubble and besieging civilians in the hope of securing the Houthis’ surrender.
The United States has announced a full suspension of aid to Yemen for a year, undercutting its occasional murmurs of humanitarian concern.