Biden promised to end a devastating war. He must act — today. Washington Post

Opinion by Tawakkol Karman

On Jan. 15, 2011, I stood with pride alongside my fellow Yemenis, both men and women, against the dictatorship of Ali Abdullah Saleh. Ten years later, after an Iranian-backed Houthi militia coup and intervention from a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, Yemen’s democratic dreams have been disrupted by a regional proxy war.

It did not have to be this way. It was a mistake for the United States to give a greenlight to Riyadh’s intervention in Yemen, which has killed hundreds of thousands. This initial mistake has been compounded by the decision to provide arms and U.S. military support. This is why I was so glad to hear President Biden signal a major shift during his presidential campaign. He correctly called Saudi Arabia a “pariah” and specifically stated that he would make it “very clear” that his administration would halt weapon sales to Saudi Arabia.

Biden’s first opportunity to make good on his promise could come by the second day of his presidency.

Last month, the Trump administration notified Congress that it planned to sell $500 million worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, mostly consisting of precision-guided bombs that would most likely be used to inflict death and devastation on the people of Yemen in a time when we are struggling the most. Without action from the Biden administration or Congress, the latest weapons sale to Saudi Arabia might be executed on Jan. 21.

There is no problem in Yemen or Saudi Arabia right now that will be solved with more bombs. Saudi Arabia is already the world’s largest importer of weapons, which the regime has used to commit war crimes abroad while its citizens suffer horrific repression at home. More bombs in Yemen won’t help the millions struggling with starvation, poverty and disease. Rather than more bloodshed, Yemen needs sovereignty and independence to resolve these issues of, for and by Yemenis. This is possible for Yemen only if the United States, along with the international community, stops arming this dangerous war.

The Biden administration wants to return the United States to the beacon of democracy it was meant to represent. It wants to be an administration that will condemn autocratic governments and stand up for human rights, instead of flirting with dictators and turning a blind eye to citizens demanding democratic reforms and basic rights, as we witnessed during the past four years under President Donald Trump.

In this important pivot, Yemen deserves to be at the forefront of the conversation. With the support of the United States, the Yemeni people can regain the space they need for a democratic future we initially fought for a decade ago. The sale of precision-guided bombs undermines what my people fought so hard for. But that is not all that should be done to support Yemen’s people.

During Saudi Arabia’s intervention in Yemen, extremism has prevailed. Along with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia has allowed terror groups such as al-Qaeda to entrench themselves in Yemen, creating fissures that will have long-lasting consequences. Meanwhile, Iran used Saudi Arabia’s intervention to gain more influence with the Houthis.

This foreign interference in Yemen has cost our people gravely. After years of war, occupation and proxy battles, 20 million of my countrymen and women are experiencing food insecurity and 10 million are at risk of famine, while 80 percent are below the poverty line.

Instead of selling arms to Saudi Arabia, the Biden administration should instead pressure the Saudis to end the war, keep the ports open to avoid another Hodeida port crisis, and bring the necessary aid, including covid-19 and cholera-related aid, to a starving and suffering population.

The Biden administration should also exert maximum pressure on the Houthis to retreat from their coup and return to what was previously agreed upon by the Yemenis at the National Dialogue Conference, and on Iran to stop its interference in Yemen and stop supplying the Houthis with machines of destruction and death.

Congress — and the American people — have already shown their overwhelming support for ending arms sales to Saudi Arabia and ending the war in Yemen, despite Trump’s vetoes. Biden should build upon congressional momentum to codify these bipartisan resolutions and put a permanent end to the pointless arms sales and endless war in Yemen.

Yemenis have a proud and peaceful history and dream of an even brighter future. Biden must now follow through on his promise to end the war, stop blindly supporting a Saudi regime with blood on its hands and halt this latest arms sale. It is time to turn the page.

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Copyright © Tawakkol Karman Office