Brux column: The economics of a proxy-war
This opinion column will address the economics of current policy issues. Writer Dr. Jackie Brux is an emeritus professor of economics and founder/director of the Center for International Development at UW-River Falls; and author of the college textbook, “Economic Issues and Policy.”
Yemen is a small, very poor country that lies along the southwest border of Saudi Arabia. Income per person is about $600, making it comparable to some of the poorest countries in Africa.
Let me start by saying that world poverty and hunger have been improving in recent years. Many poor countries are engaged in economic development.
There is a glaring exception, however, and this stems from the many violent conflicts in our world today. This is believed by experts to be the main challenge to fighting global hunger and poverty.
There has been civil war in Yemen since the Arab Spring movement in 2015, which involved Sunni military forces fighting Shia forces. However, that fighting was nothing like what is occurring now. Yemen's civil war has become a "proxy war," consisting of Iranian support for a Yemeni group of people called the Houthi's, and a Saudi Arabian-led Coalition that includes the U.S. In other words, the Saudi-led coalition is fighting against Iran on Yemeni soil. The people of Yemen are not interested in the objectives of Iran or the Coalition; they merely want to live and feed their children.
The U.S. role in the Coalition is to supply intelligence and logistics, and to use our planes to refuel the Saudi warplanes as they drop bombs on the Yemeni people. There is no effort by the bombers to avoid civilian casualties; instead, civilians are the actual targets. People are dying from the bombs, but even more so because the ports that provide food and medicine have been closed off due to fighting. The UN is now warning that the country is in "clear and present danger" of mass deaths from starvation, adding that "Yemen is sliding fast toward what could become one of the worst famines in living history." Tens of thousands are dying from the bombing, but many more are dying due to starvation.
We've seen the photos of starving children before, but that was in the 1972 "world food crisis" and the 1974 famine in Bangladesh. Now the photos show severely stunted and malnourished skin-and-bones children in Yemen. They die before journalists can show their photos a second time.
In addition, the largest cholera outbreak in history is taking place in Yemen. An estimated 10,000 new cases of suspected cholera are reported each week. Children account for 30 percent of the cholera infections.
Despite all this, the U.S. chooses to remain in the Coalition. And, the president defends our "$110 billion" in arms sales to Saudi Arabia, saying this is creating U.S. jobs. No one knows how he came up with the $110 billion. The Pentagon suggests maybe it is $14.5 billion, but other researchers state that "very little [money] has changed hands." (Most recently, the president said it is hundreds of billions of dollars.)
And, Trump has an entire string of numbers of U.S. jobs created from the weapon sales: first he said 40,000; then 500,000; and then 600,000. In fact, we know that the total number of U.S. jobs created by arms sales is 7,666, and this includes all arms sales to all countries, including our own military. Many of the jobs created by our weapon sales to Saudi Arabia go to workers in rich neighboring countries, and other jobs go to Saudi workers. (For example, U.S. weapons producer, Raytheon, is now in the process of opening a subsidiary in Riyadh.)
What we do know about Saudi Arabia is this:
• The U.S. doesn't need arms sales to Saudi Arabia to sustain our economy and jobs.
• Amnesty International places Saudi Arabia among the worst ten human rights abusers. The UN places the Saudi-led coalition on its "list of shame."
• Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was recently assassinated on the orders of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. The only good outcome of this is that the world, finally, has its eyes on the atrocities in Yemen.
There are things we can do. We can join the candle-light vigil for Yemen on Monday, Dec. 17, from 5-6 p.m., at the intersection of Main Street and Cascade Avenue. We can participate in other "Ray of Light for Yemen" activities in December. And, we can contact our legislators and tell them how we feel about Yemen. Contact information is found at www.house.gov and www.senate.gov.