International News

Sen. Bill Nelson Votes to Continue Helping Saudi Arabia Kill Yemeni Citizens

A Yemeni national in Moscow protests the Saudi bombardment in 2015.
A Yemeni national in Moscow protests the Saudi bombardment in 2015. NickolayV /
Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has bombed the entire nation to pieces, starved its citizens via a blockade, caused a deadly cholera outbreak, and allegedly attacked innocent people by using illegal chemical weapons such as white phosphorus. The United Nations has repeatedly said the attacks amount to crimes against humanity.

The United States is actively aiding the Saudis in the assault. America has given the kingdom more than $1 billion in weapons, helped the Saudis gather military intelligence, refueled Saudi bomber planes, allegedly supplied the Saudis with illegal chemical weapons, and on at least one occasion fired missiles from a warship directly at the impoverished nation.

Yet despite those well-documented facts, Florida's senior U.S. senator, Bill Nelson, voted yesterday to table a resolution that would have pulled America's support for the Saudi-led humanitarian catastrophe. The measure failed 55-44 thanks to Nelson and nine other Democrats who are apparently fine with giving the United Nations, independent human rights groups, and dying Yemeni children the finger.

It's amazing the war in Yemen has not been regular, front-page news since the United States became actively involved in killing people there under President Obama, especially because multiple legal analysts argue that some American actions, such as refueling Saudi bombers midair, constitute illegal acts of war not approved by Congress. But a bipartisan trio of U.S. senators — Arizona Republican Mike Lee, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, and Vermont's Bernie Sanders — proposed a resolution this year that would have finally pulled America's support for the Saudi-led war.

Thanks to Nelson and nine other Democrats, including Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, the resolution died yesterday. Donald Trump's administration lobbied heavily against the resolution, arguing it would alienate the Saudis; Menendez, meanwhile, said the measure should go back to committee.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Nelson has received $172,400 from the defense industry over the course of his career.

Nelson has made a series of deeply questionable decisions this year, including voting to extend Trump's National Security Agency spying powers and to deregulate some of the largest banks in America. Heading into a heated 2018 reelection campaign, Nelson has not signaled to Florida voters that he plans to fight for progressive causes, which apparently include preventing a bank crisis and not killing innocent civilians.
Those who support the war say Saudi Arabia is attacking only Houthi rebels, an armed group allegedly fighting a proxy war on behalf of Iran. (A UN panel in 2017 found evidence that Houthis were using Iranian weapons but also that the Saudis were using American missiles too.) American hawks argue the Houthis need to be put down, lest Iran gain another foothold in the Middle East.

But observers say the truth on the ground is far more complicated. For one, numerous foreign-policy analysts have noted the two sides aren't that clear-cut. The Houthis have also fought Al-Qaeda, for example, and also bucked the wishes of Iran on some occasions. Furthermore, the war began as an extremely local conflict before Iran and the Saudis even stepped in, raising questions as to whether the struggle really represents some sort of crucial battle for the soul of the Middle East in 2018.

In fact, even if the Saudi's "win" the war, it simply means the nation will fall under the control of a kingdom of Wahhabi fundamentalists who torture and behead people, often in ways that would make the Iranians blush. The only so-called positive is simply that the Saudis are American allies, and the Iranians aren't.

So a group of 40 nongovernmental organizations signed an open letter demanding the U.S. pass yesterday's Senate resolution. One portion of the letter reads as follows:

Since March 2015, the U.S. has provided the Saudi and UAE-led coalition in Yemen with political and military support, including targeting intelligence, mid-air refueling, and other logistical support. U.S. personnel reportedly work alongside Saudi and other counterparts in the coalition’s joint command center for targeting assistance and other purposes. CENTCOM has publicly confirmed that the U.S. continues to provide mid-air refueling to the coalition, despite having no information on the objectives, flight plans, or targets of the refueled missions and no way to verify whether such missions comport with the laws of armed conflict or U.S. national security objectives. U.S. weapons sold to Saudi Arabia have been misused repeatedly in airstrikes on civilians and civilian objects that are the leading cause of civilian casualties in the conflict and destroyed Yemen’s vital infrastructure. This destruction of infrastructure has exacerbated the world’s largest hunger crisis in which 8.4 million civilians are on the brink of starvation and created the conditions necessary for the largest cholera outbreak ever documented. 
Nelson, instead, voted to prolong the war.
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.