End the US-Saudi War on Yemen

By by Michael Kelly on

On August 9, 2018, a US-Saudi airstrike hit a school bus in Yemen and killed 40 Yemeni school boys. Several Yemeni freelance journalists documented on Twitter that the attack was carried out with an MK-82 guided bomb produced by Lockheed Martin, the leading US defense contractor1. This event catalyzed an August 31 public protest outside Lockheed Martin’s facility in Syracuse2, and then a teach-in on October 14 about the US-Saudi war on Yemen.

Lockheed Martin employs 1,600 people locally3. In July 2016, the company renewed a $1 million donation to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, and a former Lockheed VP of Strategy and Business Development sits on the institute’s board4. Lockheed Martin has deep, concrete ties to the local university and economy. This is not at all a distant or faraway conflict.

Background and the US role

The US-Saudi war on Yemen has gone on for over 3.5 years (since March 2015), and has caused the worst cholera outbreak in modern history. UN officials have described the conflict, and the dire situation, as “catastrophic,”5 “apocalyptic,”6 and the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”7 Save the Children reports 113,000 children died of preventable causes in 2016 and 2017 alone, and airstrikes have killed over 10,000 civilians8. The Saudi-led coalition has bombed civilian infrastructure, including water, sanitation, and medical facilities.

Many Yemeni activists and writers have stressed that the conflict is indeed a US-Saudi war on Yemen9. The US provides crucial and extensive support to the Saudi-led coalition: weapons, training, targeting assistance, mid-air refueling, diplomatic support, and mercenary and special forces troops deployed at the Saudi-Yemeni border10. The US Navy assists the land, air, and sea blockade of the country. Experts have said that if the US withdrew support, the war could end tomorrow.11

Five Reasons Why the US Supports the War on Yemen

1) It benefits the Military-Industrial Complex

In March 2018, when Trump met with Mohammad Bin Salman (the Saudi crown prince and defense minister), he held up a poster board on camera and transparently spoke about how much money the US-Saudi alliance, including the war on Yemen, makes for US companies and defense contractors.12 After recent backlash to the Khashoggi killing, Trump again stressed the importance of 110 billion dollars in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia. Under President Obama, the US sold more than $115 billion in weapons, equipment and training to the kingdom13.


2) Re-election strategy and “job creation” narrative

Trump’s second poster showed his intention to use these arms contracts to “create jobs” in Ohio, Florida, Michigan, and other swing states. This could be part of a cynical 2020 re-election plan. It also appeals to a shallow “pro-worker” politics, which suggests we must beg existing corporations (including those complicit in murder and imperialism abroad) to employ people, rather than imagine alternative economies or guarantee full employment by right.


3) Control of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a strategic chokepoint and trade route

Yemen controls the Bab el-Mandeb strait, a 12-mile wide waterway through which over 4.8 million barrels of oil travel per day. It connects maritime commerce between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. In July 2018, when the Houthis (a northern tribal group that drove the Hadi government into self-exile in 2014) were accused of firing two missiles at trade ships in the strait, the US business press (Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Bloomberg, etc.) reported in straight dollar-and-cents terms what losing control of this trade route could mean to US corporations’ bottom lines. “The increased distances would add to shipping and fuel costs, and also disrupt supplies.”14


4) Consistent with US record of backing autocratic leaders

The US government has long backed reactionary, autocratic states in the Gulf region. US support for Saudi Arabia then is not strange or deviational. In fact, Saudi Arabia exists in its current form because of the US and Britain. In the early 20th century, the British government backed the House of Saud in its brutal tribal wars to consolidate power15. In February 1945, FDR met with Saudi King Abdul Aziz and agreed to guarantee the monarchy’s security in exchange for privileged access to Saudi oil16.

Ali Abdullah Saleh ruled Yemen for 33 years, as the president of North Yemen from 1978 to 1990, and as the president of a unified Yemen from 1990 to 2011. From 2001 to 2011, he gave the US free rein to carry out drone strikes and disastrous post-9/11 policies in the country. The study Living Under Drones documents the terror US drone warfare wrought on Yemeni civilians, including the bombings of funerals, wedding parties, and open-air cafes17. This is entirely consistent with the US State Department’s record of working hand-in-hand with brutal strongmen, who bend to US geopolitical aims.

5) US imperialism helps impose global capitalism on areas of the Global South

The US-Saudi campaign seeks to reinstate the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. After Saleh stepped down in 2011 and transferred power to Hadi, his vice president of 18 years (in a process overseen by the US and other Gulf states), Hadi joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) and began implementing neoliberal reforms18.

The Hadi government agreed to privatize 11 of Yemen’s 12 economic sectors, and 78 of its 120 sub-sectors. He “liberalized markets”—that is, opened up Yemen’s economy to competition on the world market, a move over which many Yemeni public-sector workers protested and threatened to strike19. Hadi also imposed austerity—the drastic cutting of social services—most notably, cutting fuel subsidies in 2014 under a World Bank/International Monetary Fund (IMF) proposal, which further impoverished poor Yemenis, and caused civil unrest20.

This is a familiar playbook that, for decades, the US and IMF have enacted in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe, and other areas of the Global South.

Yemeni-led Organizing and Direct Action

As a white organizer and US citizen, it’s essential for me to follow the direction and leadership of directly impacted people, both Yemenis in Yemen and the Yemeni refugee community in New York State and the US. There are several ongoing, Yemeni-led efforts to end the US-Saudi war, and it’s important to show up and offer them material support (donations, platforms, volunteer labor, etc). Last month, Yemeni-Americans protested outside the UN General Assembly in NYC, condemning both the US and Saudi governments21. The Yemeni Alliance Committee in California publicly protested Mohammed Bin Salman’s visit to Silicon Valley in April 201822. In January 2017, over 1,000 Yemeni-owned bodegas engaged in a one-day strike to protest Trump’s Muslim Ban23.

I hope the movement in Syracuse continues to grow and remains faithful to these principles. Even small disruptions in the imperial core—the US—can create large openings for resistance in the Global South.

Michael Kelly is an activist and teacher in Syracuse, NY. He's an organizer with Syracuse Tenants United and is involved in local efforts around labor, immigration, and US imperialism.



18 Blumi, Isa. Destroying Yemen (2018).