I guess I should be grateful to Samantha Power! Late last year I set out to read her book “The Problem From Hell” covering genocide in the 20th century. The book, and Power herself, are famous for helping to justify the Obama administration’s continuation of Bush’s war on terror, on a “kinder, gentler” basis. I was prepared to mock, but I found the book to be quite powerful. It helped me deal with a quandary I’ve had for quite some time. For over a year now, I’ve struggled to say something new about the horror in Yemen. I’ve covered it extensively on the channel, but how many different ways can I say it’s a horror show? Ms. Power provided that new avenue. Her description of the horrific genocide in Bosnia in the 1990s, something Power covered personally, is compelling. It’s truly grim stuff, and I now understand why it was so dominant in the mindsets of 1990s policymakers. The Serbian war on Bosnia was a horrific crime. But it pales in comparison to what the United States and Saudi Arabia have been doing to Yemen. As I lay out in today’s video.
Video Transcript after the jump…
There are few episodes in recent history that haunt world politics like the fall of Yugoslavia. Most of the territory of this disintegrating country fell into a nasty war, which was disturbing enough to see in Europe in the 1990s. But in Bosnia, it was something else. It was genocide. Serbia, the most powerful of the former Yugoslav republics, the one that retained the old country’s army, worked through the Bosnian Serbs to attempt to annihilate the Bosnian Muslims, who, unlike the also targeted Bosnian Croats, had no place to go. Throughout the Bush and Clinton administrations, as the horror grew, it became more and more humiliating for the US policy makers who claimed to be leading a new, more humane world order. Bosnia in the 1990s, the horror and humiliation, was a formative experience for the foreign policy professionals who now run the US military industrial complex. They promised themselves that they would never let anything like this happen again. Well they failed. Because what is happening in Yemen today is much worse than what happened in Bosnia, in terms of human lives, and the cost to America’s moral standing.
All of these numbers are suspect of course. 100,000 is the estimate for Bosnia deaths provided by Encyclopedia Britannica. That means that over three times as many people have died in the Yemen war so far, but maybe Encyclopedia Britannica is wrong. Older estimates, such as the numbers provided in Samantha Power’s book, a Problem From Hell, leaned closer to 200,000 dead in Bosnia. But even with those larger numbers, almost twice as many people have been killed in Yemen. And that’s assuming the UN’s Estimate of 377,000 is accurate. Unlike Bosnia in the 1990s, Yemen has a desperately poor, predominantly rural population. Bosnians in the 1990s were much richer and more capable of communicating what was happening to them. And in recent weeks the Saudi terror bombing of civilians in Yemen’s capital has stepped up dramatically, and Hodeidah, the country’s main port for humanitarian aid is being fought over once again. That 377,000 figure from November 2021 is already woefully out of date.
The power relations of what is happening in Yemen are similar to Bosnia as well, though again, what is happening in Yemen is significantly worse. In both countries we are dealing with a foreign invasion that hides behind the legitimacy of local militia forces. When Yugoslavia collapsed Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic made sure that the Bosnian Serbs had privileged access to the weapons of the dissolving military. Throughout the murderous conflict in Bosnia, Milosevic would often pretend that Serbia, a country neighboring Bosnia, had nothing to do with the crimes of the Bosnian Serb militias, despite the fact that he was continuously providing diplomatic and financial support.
The Saudi coalition isn’t polite enough to cover up what they are doing. They heavily bomb Yemen with their own planes, on behalf of a Yemeni government that is nothing more than a collection of militias running around parts of Yemen nobody lives in, in support of an internationally recognized government that has spent almost the entire conflict based in the Saudi capital. On a map of Yemen, it looks like the Saudi coalition controls a lot, but that’s because the country is mostly desert. I do not believe Saudi Arabia’s Yemeni puppets have ever controlled more than 10-15% of Yemen’s population, and they certainly don’t control that much now. Aden, the one big Yemeni city the Saudis briefly held, rebelled against their puppet government. Aden is now controlled by a coalition of militias, that seem to be collaborating with the Saudis at the moment, but that is unlikely to last. Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic was a monster, but he at least had the decency to pretend he wasn’t invading the country next door. Saudi Arabia is doing a straight up Saddam Hussein in Kuwait style invasion, and the United States isn’t doing a damn thing about it. In fact we are supporting the invasion.
The Bosnian Serbs committed horrible crimes, but they had a vastly more legitimate presence in Bosnia than the Saudi Coalition does in Yemen. There actually was a long-standing Serb presence in the country, with real ethnic interests to protect, no matter how evil their genocidal actions were. What Saudi Arabia is doing in Yemen is straight up imperialism, and spectacularly unsuccessful imperialism at that. Their Houthi enemies have controlled 80-85% of the country’s population throughout this horrific war.
The conflict in Bosnia produced some of the most shocking images of the second half of the 20th century. Militia members, casually kicking old women in the street. Concentration camps, traumatized women hanging themselves and mass Graves filled with bound and blindfolded skeletons. These images have mostly made a big impression because they involve white people, but I think a case can be made that the Genocidal Serb militias were more evil on the individual level than the mass murdering Saudi pilots, and the US companies that keep the Saudi planes flying. But this is largely because the Serb militias occasionally won victories, the Saudis don’t. The Saudi coalition has been so spectacularly unsuccessful, that it has never controlled a significant civilian population in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has reacted to their failure to set up individual concentration camps by turning the entire country into a concentration camp.
I don’t believe in forcing my audience to look at images of dead and dying children, but that is the main legacy of Saudi policy in Yemen over the past seven years. If you can stomach it, I urge you to seek those pictures out. Saudi warships have only been able to completely shut down Yemen’s ports on a few occasions. The world is callous but not callous enough to allow that. But since 2015, the Saudis, supported by the US and UK have attempted to block all uninspected and unapproved commerce. The Saudis and their hirelings in Washington DC will tell you that humanitarian assistance still gets through. But any honest commentator will tell you that an outside blockade makes it impossible to serve a country’s need adequately. The UN can usually get food through. A normal businessman who wants to serve Yemen’s needs for food, fertilizer and agricultural equipment can’t. Or just won’t because the Saudis make it unprofitable. The piles of dead children make that abundantly clear. Of the 400,000 dead, most are innocent civilians that have either starved to death or died of preventable diseases because of malnutrition. These people have died at the hands of the US-Saudi blockade, which is less photogenic, but just as monstrous as anything Slobodan Milosevic did to Bosnia. And again, this is an invasion. Saudi Arabia has no right to be controlling the borders of a neighboring country, no matter how many bribes it has paid in Washington DC and at the United Nations.
Standout crimes were important in the publicizing of Bosnia’s anguish. In August 1995 a serbian shell exploded in a Sarajevo market. The Markale massacre killed 68 civilians and created a world-wide outcry that finally led to US bombing of the Bosnian Serb militias. On January 21st 2022, last Friday, 83 civilians were slaughtered by a Saudi airstrike on a prison facility in Yemen. Nobody cares. Saudi crimes of this magnitude are not quite a weekly event in Yemen, but there are at least one or two a year that should become worldwide outrages. They almost never do. On August 9th 2018, the Saudi government blew up a school bus in Yemen, murdering 40 children. That too has been forgotten. Perhaps it’s because the bombs used in both massacres were made in the United States.
The weight of a crime is subjective. It will probably be impossible to persuade many that the horrors of Yemen surpass those of Bosnia. Bosnia’s horrors were perpetrated during the 1990s. It was a more peaceful, happier time for the developed world, and Serbian crimes will always carry greater cultural weight because of the contrast. What can be said objectively however, is that US guilt for Yemen’s horror is far heavier than our guilt over Bosnia. In Bosnia we were shamefully ineffectual bystanders. In Yemen we are perpetrators.
Let’s pretend the actual crimes committed on the ground are equal. The case against the US from 1991 to 1995 is that we did nothing in Bosnia. And that’s largely accurate. Yugoslavia had been a member of the Communist bloc and didn’t have any US weapons. We sanctioned every party to the conflict soon after it started. In fact, the main argument against the US was that we sanctioned too much, we probably should have sold some weapons to the persecuted Bosnian Muslims. In Yemen the United States participates in and enables every single attack. Saudi Arabia’s air force and Navy are jokes. They are very expensive, but the Saudi royal family has intentionally kept them weak and dependent on the United States to avoid creating a rival power center. For the first years of the conflict, the United States was providing aerial refueling to the Saudi child murder jets, free of charge. There was enough of an outcry against this to stop the practice, but Saudi Arabia’s planes do not fly without US contractors. They do not function without US intelligence and guidance. Without US missiles, and US government approved arms contracts the Saudis would have nothing to bomb Yemeni school buses with. Without the US, Saudi Arabia would be roundly condemned for these massacres at the UN security council, instead of celebrated for it. The blood of nearly 400,000 Yemenis is on my hands, and if you’re a US tax-payer it’s on your hands too.
Let’s be brutally honest about what’s going on here. There was a political figure that occupied almost exactly the US role in the Bosnian conflict. He stood at a distance, pretending to regret the bloodshed, while insisting all the time that there were somehow two sides to the conflict and that the mass murderers were acting in self-defense. He would claim not to be involved while he continued to arm and diplomatically support the baby killers. Under Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden, the United States has filled the role of Yemen’s Slobodan Milosevic. Though that might be a little unfair to Slobodan Milosevic. We have two to four times as much blood on our hands as he did, and he would never have dared to support and arm the Bosnian Serb militias as openly as we have supported Saudi imperialism in Yemen.
“We Need to end the forever wars and stop support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen
This was Joe Biden on the campaign trail in 2019. After a full year of his time in office I think it’s fair to call this what it really was. This was bullshit.
For much of 2021, the Saudi government seemed to believe it though. They dialed back there participation in the war in Yemen, in fear that the Democrats were as good as their word and would react negatively to new outrages. They needn’t have worried. In October the United States did nothing as the Saudis bribed the United Nations to shut down its Yemen war crimes inquiry. And in December, the US went ahead and sold Saudi Arabia another 650 million dollars worth of missiles. In recent weeks, masked in part by the Ukraine crisis, the Saudi and UAE attack on Yemen has been dramatically stepped up. Civilian deaths are mounting, and last week a Saudi attack knocked out the internet for the whole country for almost five days. Knowing all this, the fact that the United States is currently whining about the Houthis sending a missile or two towards the UAE isn’t just comical, it’s evil. 3 people died in the UAE, and that’s sad. 377,000 and counting have died in Yemen due to the invasion the UAE helped lead. Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and the UAE aren’t terrorism, they are retaliation. Complaining about Houthi attacks on Gulf cities is a lot like complaining about French and Polish resistance to the Nazis.
Let me close by talking a bit more about the Houthis, the government that has controlled 85% of Yemen’s population for the entirety of this war. They suck. They are brutal to any dissenters, they prioritize the fight for freedom over feeding their population, and they have certainly killed many civilians too. Their rallying slogan and flag is also very depressing. But you know who else was brutal to those they saw as collaborators? The Vietnamese who threw out the French and the Americans in the 20th century. Oh and and also George Washington and the American founding fathers in the 18th century. Canada’s first big English speaking populations were British loyalist refugees from the United States after all. Saudi Arabia’s propagandists in Washington, DC like to pretend there is some kind of moral equivalence between an indigenous resistance movement and a foreign invader. There isn’t. And because the Houthis are obviously winning, and always have been, historians will recognize that too. Historians will also see US participation in this horror as a stain on our reputation far worse than any negligence in Bosnia.
Thanks for watching, please subscribe, and if you live in the United States, please call your Congressperson and ask them what they are doing to end the nightmare in Yemen.