It is jarring to return to my Mercer Island home after a trip to Yemen. In Yemen, family and friends are caught in the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.
Extreme hunger, cholera outbreaks, shortage of medicine and a crashing economy are ravaging the lives of millions. This is due in large part to U.S. support for the Saudi Arabian-United Arab Emirates war and blockade. I can never leave all of that behind — especially when I know my government plays a direct role in this suffering. At least now, I see a hopeful end in sight.
It took me four days to reach Sana’a because the Saudis closed the Sana’a airport in 2016, which serves 70% of the population, a trip that used to take me 18 hours. When I arrived in Sana’a, I was greeted by Saudi airstrikes. During my stay, bombings were regular, and the fear in the children’s eyes as they covered their ears will always haunt me.
I have been working with Yemeni-Americans and supporters to raise awareness of the crisis in Yemen and to end the U.S. support for the war. Most members of Congress didn’t know much about Yemen or the U.S. role in the war.
In March 2015, the Saudi-led coalition, with support from the U.S., started an airstrike campaign targeting Yemen with a stated goal of restoring the internationally recognized government to power that was overthrown by the Houthi movement. However, the German foreign intelligence agency published a report in 2015 indicating that Mohamed Bin Salman, deputy crown prince, was using the war to cement his place in the royal succession and become crown prince. It also reported that Saudi Arabia is destabilizing the Middle East with proxy wars in Yemen and elsewhere. The war and the accompanying blockade have had a devastating impact on every vital sector in Yemen.
This August marked one year since a U.S.-made bomb hit a school bus and killed more than 40 children. Airstrikes have hit civilians 67% of the time. Despite that horrific moment that galvanized attention and calls for change, many more followed — and Secretary Mike Pompeo certified Saudi Arabia and the UAE were doing enough to avoid civilian targets. In the year since, there have been nearly 1,000 more child casualties from airstrikes.
Thanks to the efforts of many, and the leadership of Washington’s U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, we have a potential success ahead as the National Defense Authorization Act is finalized in September. We are pushing for amendments to be included that will end U.S. arms sales and other support to the Saudi-led coalition. Smith, who is now the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has been on a journey with us and through real engagement with his constituents, he is now a champion for this cause.
I am proud to see Seattle’s activists and elected officials drive change that will save lives. We can reach what could be a monumental change in U.S. policy that will reflect Congress and the public’s will.
I hope to go to Yemen before the end of this year, and I want to share good news — I want to be proud of U.S. policy in Yemen.