Guest column: U.S. cannot wash its hands of the refugee crises

Yemen is another example of America’s contribution to the refugee crisis, writes Jim Jones

The New York Times reported on July 26 that U.S. allies have killed thousands of civilians in the Yemen civil war. Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirati pilots, flying U.S.-supplied planes and dropping U.S.-supplied bombs, have been the major contributor to more than 16,000 civilian casualties in that conflict.

It is an unfortunate fact that war often results in unintended civilian casualties. But, combatants have the responsibility to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. Our partners in that war have not done so. Reports out of Yemen repeatedly demonstrate indiscriminate bombing by Saudi and UAE forces, such as the 22 villagers killed at a wedding last April.

Why should we care? The U.S. is aiding and abetting this unnecessary toll of death and destruction. It does not serve our national interest to be a party to the indiscriminate killing of innocent bystanders. It is morally wrong! And, you can’t win the hearts and minds of a population (or of the world in general) when you take part in killing their families and kinfolk. You also uproot survivors, who flee for safety to refugee camps.

There may be some valid reasons for helping the Saudis and Emiratis, although I am skeptical about that. However, we should make it clear to them that we will not permit loose rules of engagement that result in civilian casualties. And, we should not provide weapons like cluster munitions that kill indiscriminately.

I have never liked cluster munitions. In 1969, I was serving as an artillery spotter in Vietnam when a cluster shell was first available for use. It was called a “firecracker” round, a 200 pound shell that held about 100 grenade-type explosive devices. The round would explode several hundred feet above the ground, spreading the grenades over a wide area. I did not use them because they did not have the accuracy or explosive power of a regular high explosive round. Plus, I was told that many of the small explosive devices would not detonate, creating a hazard for anyone who might later be walking around the area. It just didn’t seem like a good idea. Some of those little bomblets still populate the terrain in Vietnam to this day, causing war-related casualties, mostly among curious children. They are indiscriminate killers and we ought to quit using and providing them to others.

I have doubts about our support for this war and would like for the U.S. to opt out of it. At a minimum, we should insist that our allies immediately implement tighter rules of engagement and stop the slaughter of civilians. We also should recognize our complicity in the war and the serious refugee crisis it has caused in Yemen.

And, while we are thinking of refugee crises (plural, in case anyone missed it), we should recognize that the U.S. has caused or contributed to the flood of refugees from any number of countries in that region. We started an unnecessary war in Iraq that created a tremendous refugee crisis in that country. Our Iraq war helped to get the conflict going in Syria, resulting in a catastrophic flood of refugees from that country. Our actions in Libya and Somalia have created a flow of refugees from those countries.

Yet, after having been a primary creator of these massive refugee flows, we have essentially washed our hands of the whole thing and walked away from all responsibility. These countries are all on our travel ban and the refugees are left high, dry and on their own. We have dumped the old rule about “you broke it, you fix it,” not to mention the admonishment in Zechariah 7:9 to “show kindness and mercy to one another.”


A Twin Falls native, Jim Jones is a former attorney general of Idaho and a former chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court.


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