60 Minutes Imagines a Different War in Yemen

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by Derek Davison

The November 19 episode of the CBS News program 60 Minutes devoted its first segment to covering the humanitarian atrocity taking place in Yemen. Or rather, it devoted its first segment to covering a fictional crisis loosely based on the humanitarian atrocity taking place in Yemen. Any similarity between that crisis and what’s actually happening in Yemen was apparently coincidental.

The 60 Minutes segment focused entirely on Yemen’s hunger crisis, which is so acute that World Food Programme head David Beasley told the program that if his organization doesn’t get substantially more international assistance in the next few months, 125,000 children could starve to death. The reason for the urgency is quite simple: Saudi Arabia and its coalition allies have placed a total blockade on those parts of Yemen under rebel control.

The blockade was instituted in response to a rebel missile strike on Riyadh on November 4—a strike that Saudi missile defenses intercepted and that caused no casualties. The Saudis immediately announced a blockade on all points of entry into Yemen, but under international pressure they later modified the blockade to apply only to rebel-held areas. Of course, there is desperate need for humanitarian assistance in those rebel-held areas, and so the Saudi decision to “ease” the blockade—which was meant to make Riyadh seem reasonable—was in fact a largely meaningless gesture that has done little to really improve the situation in Yemen.

Despite the fact that Yemen’s starvation crisis is almost entirely the result of Saudi actions, Beasley was either unable or unwilling to say so. Here’s how he described Yemen’s hunger crisis to 60 Minutes:

Pelley and his team were ordered off a ship and then two planes headed to Yemen. The Saudis have heavily restricted reporters from the region; the country’s support of the government against the Houthi rebels includes bombing campaigns that have killed many civilians. The Saudis have also blockaded Yemen, preventing food as well as weapons from getting into the country. Beasley says holding up food is part of their strategy. “I don’t think there’s any question the Saudi-led coalition, along with the Houthis and all of those involved, are using food as a weapon.”

Perhaps Beasley feels constrained to avoid the appearance of bias, but with an estimated seven million Yemenis in or nearing famine conditions, it’s long past the point of trying to protect Riyadh’s delicate feelings. Regardless, it must be said loud and clear that “all of those involved” aren’t currently blockading Yemen from the air, land, and sea. “All of those involved” aren’t equally responsible for nearly a million Yemenis suffering from cholera without access to proper medical care. And “all of those involved” aren’t regularly conducting airstrikes that hit civilian targets in rebel-held northern Yemen.

But by far the most egregious part of the 60 Minutes coverage was its total failure to identify one key element of “all those involved,” namely the role that the United States and Britain have played in arming and sustaining the Saudi war effort. The United States has been intimately involved in the Saudi intervention in Yemen going back to the Obama administration, but Donald Trump, in his zeal for all things Saudi, has significantly intensified that involvement. According to Jack Detsch in al-Monitor:

Amid a worsening humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country, the US Department of Defense provided about 480,000 gallons of aviation fuel to the mission at a cost of more than $1 million in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, a 140% increase over the previous year. The disclosure comes as Yemen suffers the world’s worst cholera epidemic and the Saudis face international pressure to lift their blockade of the country’s ports…

This revelation should be a wake-up call to every policymaker and every American that this country is literally fueling the largest humanitarian crisis in the world and the worst cholera outbreak in recorded history,” said Kate Gould, a lobbyist with the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker group. “The [United States] is operating these gas stations in the sky to fuel Saudi and UAE bombers as they rain down terror on Yemeni water and other sanitation infrastructure — the last safeguards Yemen has against these disease outbreaks sweeping the country.”

It is no exaggeration to say that the Saudi operation in Yemen depends on this ongoing logistical support from the U.S. It also depends on arms, like American cluster bombs and British missiles, that U.S. and U.K. arms dealers eagerly sell to the Saudis. Which means that it’s within American and British power to end this atrocity, to end the starvation, to force the Saudis to reopen the entire country to humanitarian aid. But whether it’s because they believe Saudi propaganda about Iran or they’re simply too invested in maintaining their toxic but very lucrative relationships with the Saudi monarchy, neither Washington nor London has taken any substantive steps to end or even reduce their involvement in immiserating the Yemeni people.

Which somehow all seems to have escaped 60 Minutes, which devoted not so much as a single sentence of its Yemen segment to explaining how America and Britain are partly responsible for the many images of starving children their viewers were seeing on Sunday night. This is certainly not a new phenomenon in Western media, which has made a habit of downplaying or outright ignoring American and British involvement in Yemen. But it is still a stunning omission. The program’s American audience deserves to know that its own government in part created the atrocities that flashed by on the screen. In failing to inform them of that fact, 60 Minutes did its viewers, and the people of Yemen, a tremendous disservice.

Photo: David Beasley appearing on 60 Minutes

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Derek Davison

Derek Davison is a Washington-based researcher and writer on international affairs and American politics. He has Master's degrees in Middle East Studies from the University of Chicago, where he specialized in Iranian history and policy, and in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University, where he studied American foreign policy and Russian/Cold War history. He previously worked in the Persian Gulf for The RAND Corporation.

3 Comments

  1. There is more to this genocide than what the public is allowed to know. Perhaps the most egregous reason for the inihilation of the Shia Yemeni, and most ignored, is the fact of their overt, fundamentalistic hatred of Israel. It isn’t hidden, and is displayed in full view, but, you will not be informed about it, here, in the west. They also believe that the Wahabist rulers of Saudi Arabia, are themselves jews, and its founder an apostate. Sectarian violence and war fuelled by racial superiority and psychotic, brutal hatred.

  2. Time to wake up Citizens of the United States of America!

    Your Government is committing Genocide in Yemen…

  3. ‘The program’s American audience deserves to know that its own government in part created the atrocities that flashed by on the screen.’

    Dear Derek, thank you for putting the spotlight on the American audience.

    To expect the US & UK to ask KSA & UAE not to use the bombers & the bombs will be an unprecedented ‘violation’ of their Western Global Rulebook: The main purpose of purchasing the sophisticated American and British arms is to ‘use’ them especially now that the KSA & UAE have found a safe environment like Yemen that lacks air defense to defend/retaliate! How else can they test the efficacy of the American and British arms, and how can the US convince the KSA to buy more than $100 billion of American arms if the Arabs never use what they have already purchased from the US/UK – that will be against the rulebook. And what is the point of all these American and British politicians and military advisers’ visits and meddling in the Middle East, and the Western media’s faked reports and demonizing programs if no substantial arms sale is signed!? To assure KSA & UAE of the validity of the Western Rulebook it is also vital for the Western media and politicians to ‘publicly’ give moral support/legitimacy to implementing the rules, no matter what the extent of the mass murder.

    But how interesting that you mention the ‘American audience’.

    Do the American audience care about what they watch or what they ‘deserve’ to know? Do they know that not only are their governments involved hence complicit in mass murder, but they too, by virtue of their inaction/lip service, are complicit? Do you really think the American Audience or the British do not know?!

    Why is it that for decades the German public were condemned and rightly damned for their inaction in the face of their government’s barbaric treatment of the Jews but never ever have the ‘American Audience’ been damned for their inaction in the face of the shocking and heartless genocides carried out by their civilized governments, fathers, brothers, sons and daughters in the Middle East?

    Don’t you think we need some more investigative reports on this vital issue? And once again thank you for your article!

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