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Joe Biden in the White House

Joe Biden in the White House. Photo: Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz / Public Domain

The US ending its support for Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen is a win for the anti-war movement, but we mustn’t be complacent, argues Lucy Nichols

President Biden has announced that he will end the USA’s support of Saudi Arabia’s war on Yemen, six years after the war began.

The USA, Britain, and various other Western countries have been providing Saudi Arabia and its allies with arms since long before 2015, when the Saudi-led coalition began the aerial bombing campaign on the Yemeni city of Sana’a. Despite the carnage created, UK and US sales to Saudi Arabia have risen sharply since. The two governments have effectively enabled the devastation of what was already the Middle East’s poorest country.

The conflict in Yemen has caused the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, with famine, drought, cholera, and the Covid pandemic killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions. Western support of the war has led directly to many thousands of deaths, with British-made bombs used on weddings, funerals and school buses.

Under Trump, the US licensed over $100 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia, with another $530bn promised over a period of ten years. In 2020, Trump’s administration also named the rebel Houthis a terrorist group, though this has since been repealed under the new administration, allowing aid groups to restart the delivery of vital supplies to civilians on the ground in Yemen.

The new President’s decision to halt arms sales to Saudi Arabia comes as part of a much-heralded ‘foreign policy reset’, in which the President claims he will prioritise ‘moral leadership’ and commit to take in more refugees from around the world.

Citing the horrors of the war in Yemen, in a speech earlier in the week, Biden claimed that diplomacy will be at the centre of US foreign policy throughout his Presidency.

The reality is however that Biden has a long-standing commitment to US imperialism. He voted in favour of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and oversaw the USA drop over 26,000 bombs on the Middle East and North Africa in the year 2016 alone.

Biden was Obama’s Vice President with a heavy foreign policy responsibility when the President backed the Saudi-led war on Yemen in 2015. Biden also loudly supports Israel and continues to condemn BDS actions in the US. The speech in which he announced the change of policy on Yemen was dominated by aggressive rhetoric towards Russia and China.

This U-turn on the horrific war in Yemen is partly the result of a recalibration of foreign policy priorities. Biden appears to want to dial down the tension with Iran at least in the short term. Partly too it no doubt marks a recognition that the Saudi coalition has made no progress in the war. But it is also a response to popular pressure. Polls show massive opposition to the war in the US and there has even been a vote in Congress against it. Last week’s global day of action was the first sign of effective international pressure on the issue.

While this is a win for the anti-war movement it is not the end of the war and we mustn’t be complacent. Biden’s statement that he supports the Saudis’ right to militarily defend their sovereignty allows the US wriggle room on the issue.

The movement will have to follow up strongly to ensure implementation. And the British government has not responded. It is now the main western supporter of the war. Forcing a retreat in Britain now looks much more possible. Genuine withdrawal by both the US and the UK would be a body blow to the Saudi war effort.

The movement here is now stepping up pressure on the Tories to end support for the war and to stop all arms sales to Saudi Arabia immediately. Biden’s action has created a chance for change. The movement needs to make it happen.  

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