While We Obsess Over Ukraine, Let’s Not Neglect Our Duty to Others

Photo by Hanna Morris on Unsplash

Most of us know what the Ukrainian flag looks like now after a month of wall-to-wall coverage of Russia’s onslaught against Ukraine.

A month ago the only ones who knew the name “ Volodymyr Zelenskyy” were probably news media pundits, politicians, and those who followed Donald Trump’s first impeachment for attempting to extort a phony investigation of Joe Biden from the Ukrainian president in exchange for military aid — which Trump ultimately withheld.

The United States is on the right side of history in its defense of Ukraine against Russia.

But how can a government declare its commitment to democratic ideals and humanitarian concerns for one country and ignore those concerns for others?

That is the question many are asking, including Katharina Ritz, head of the Yemen delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Ritz explained:

“I think our duty is to respond equally to the needs and do our best. I think it’s not about is it Ukraine or not? Now it’s Ukraine and Yemen and Syria and Iraq and Congo and so on…We have to add Ukraine on all the crises, but we shouldn’t shift.”

This criticism comes after the United Nations food agency head warned 13 million Yemeni are facing starvation amid the U.S.-supported conflict ravaging Yemen since 2014 responsible for the deaths of 400,000 people.

Aid agencies report 17 million people require food assistance and more than 160,000 face imminent famine.

International Commission of the Red Cross in Yemen spokesperson, Basheer Al Selwi, explained:

“Since the onset of the Ukraine conflict, we have seen the prices of food skyrocket by more than 150%. Millions of Yemeni families don’t know how to get their next meal.”

The United Nations was set to raise more than $4.2 billion for the Yemeni people, yet only managed less than a third$1.3 billion.

Norwegian Refugee Council secretary general, Jan Egeland, said:

“I am deeply disappointed. The people of Yemen need the same level of support and solidarity that we’ve seen for the people of Ukraine. The crisis in Europe will dramatically impact Yemenis’ access to food and fuel, making an already dire situation even worse.”

During an interview on Democracy Now!, Democracy for the Arab World Now executive director, Sarah Leah Whitson, admonished the Biden administration for its plea to the Saudi Arabian government to increase oil production to help lower gasoline prices as the Saudi military continues its relentless assault of Yemen.

“It’s mind-boggling,” Whitson said, “and it’s mind-boggling that [Saudi crown prince] bin Salman has actually said that he will not increase oil production unless the U.S. increases its support for the war in Yemen. Basically, the Biden administration is bargaining to do more to save the children of Ukraine by massacring more children in Yemen. That is the formula. And that’s why it’s just-it’s so discombobulating to see [U.S] Secretary [Antony] Blinken and President Biden falling over themselves to decry Russian atrocities in Ukraine while they support very similar, if not worse-certainly, to date, worse-atrocities by Saudi Arabia and the UAE [United Arab Emirates] in Yemen.”

Commenting on the arrival in Poland of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Samantha Power, who was the UN ambassador in 2015 when the war in Yemen began, Sarah Lazare wrote:

“When Power in her role as a UN ambassador actually had the power to help stop the war on Yemen, by publicly breaking with her boss [President Obama] and encouraging meaningful action at the United Nations, she did nothing. Instead she embraced a policy of silence-and shielded the US-Saudi coalition from meaningful international scrutiny as it dropped bombs on homes, schools, hospitals and funerals.”

Quincy Institute senior research fellow, William Hartung, warns Washington war hawks are exploiting aid for Ukraine to justify an unprecedented increase in the U.S. military budget, already at a record $800 billion a year.

In an interview with Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman, Hartung explained:

“There’s a danger that not only will this be a war in Ukraine, but the U.S. will use it as an excuse for a more aggressive policy around the world, arguing that it’s to counter Russia or China or Iran, or whoever the enemy of the moment is.”

Concerning Yemen, Hartung stressed the Biden administration could “end that killing tomorrow.

In an op-ed for Stars & Stripes, Hartung noted that upon assuming office, President Biden pledged to end support for “offensive operations in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”

Yet, Hartung adds, “After pausing two sales of bombs destined for the Royal Saudi Air Force, the administration approved more than $1 billion in arms sales to the regime. These sales raise serious concerns in their own right, but they also represent an endorsement of Saudi conduct.”

Some are citing racism on the part of European allies as a reason for all but ignoring ongoing struggles in Yemen, Gaza, Syria, or Myanmar.

Standing up against autocracy, genocide, and oppression is only effective when we are prepared to do the heavy lifting of defending all people, all countries against autocracy, genocide, and oppression.

Is it expensive?

Yes.

Is it resource intensive?

Yes.

Is it moral?

Absolutely.

While we unite behind the Ukrainian people in their defense of democracy and self-determination, we mustn’t pretend they are the only ones being threatened.

Either we go all in on “the battle between democracy and autocracy. Between liberty and repression. Between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force,” as President Biden pronounced in Poland yesterday, or we don’t.

Originally published at https://theleftplace.substack.com on March 27, 2022.

Ted Millar is a teacher, poet, and political writer for Liberal America and the Left Place blog on Substack: https://theleftplace.substack.com/.

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Ted Millar

Ted Millar

Ted Millar is a teacher, poet, and political writer for Liberal America and the Left Place blog on Substack: https://theleftplace.substack.com/.

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