The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 20, 2017 1:00 am

Morality and security: Yemen's strife poses US challenge - to allay misery, foil extremists

Todd Young

In countries like Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan, and Yemen, the world confronts the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.

The situation in Yemen is particularly bleak.

Every 10 minutes, a child dies of preventable diseases in Yemen.

According to a senior official from the U.S. Agency for International Development in a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing I recently convened, in Yemen, “More than 17 million people, an astounding 60 percent of the country's population, are food-insecure, including nearly 7 million people who are unable to survive without food assistance.”

To make matters worse, Yemen confronts the world's worst cholera outbreak – with about 350,000 infected and nearly 1,800 already dying.

What makes this humanitarian crisis particularly heartbreaking and tragic is that the suffering is primarily man-made and preventable.

Yemen is engulfed in a multi-year civil war between forces supported by Saudi Arabia and forces supported by Iran. Consistent with its malign activities elsewhere, Iran is supporting and promoting terrorism and continues to be the world's worst state sponsor of terrorism.

Complicating matters, Yemen is the headquarters for al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula – widely viewed as al Qaida's most dangerous affiliate. You may remember the group as the catalyst for the “underwear” bomber who attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day in 2011. ISIS maintains a presence in Yemen, too.

Predictably, as they often do, these terrorist groups thrive in sectarian environments when conflict is rife and when there is little to no effective governance. That is exactly what we are seeing in Yemen.

As Saudi Arabia and Iran double down in their support for their proxies and the conflict becomes more sectarian, it creates an ideal environment for terrorist groups to recruit members and inspire attacks.

Caught in the middle of this war are the innocent people of Yemen – and their plight is horrible and getting worse.

Given this fact, I believe we have a moral imperative – consistent with the best traditions of American international leadership and the international humanitarian principles we support – to do all we can to help. At the same time, we need to understand the security implications for Americans and our allies.

In the hearing I convened, the World Food Programme's executive director, David Beasley, said the following:

“Whether you're dealing with extremist groups or terrorist groups, when mothers and fathers and families can't feed their children in these extremist areas and they don't have the access or the opportunity to leave, then they have no choice but to turn to what's available to them.

“And so when the United States provides the leadership to make certain that these families, mothers and fathers can feed their children, they do not turn to extremism, they do not turn and yield to terrorism.

“And if we are not there, terrorism, extremism will proliferate and the problems that we're facing around the world will only be exacerbated and compounded, and then of course we're dealing with the military and other operations that are very costly after the fact.”

As the international community considers the situation in Yemen and what steps to take, we should start with a clear-eyed appreciation for the fact that the crisis in Yemen is unacceptable from both a humanitarian and security perspective.

The longer this humanitarian crisis continues, the more empowered terrorist groups in Yemen will become, and the threat to our homeland and our interests will only grow.

For these reasons, we must work together to eliminate any man-made obstacles that are preventing the delivery of humanitarian relief to the people in Yemen who desperately need it. Hoosiers can count on me, as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to continue to do just that.

U.S. Sen. Todd Young is a Republican from Indiana.

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