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Obama’s Disgraceful Enabling of the War on Yemen

This report [1] on internal administration debates over Yemen is as infuriating as it is unsurprising:

The White House does not want to anger Saudi Arabia, a vital, oil-rich ally already unhappy with President Barack Obama’s decision to pursue a nuclear deal with Iran. At the same time, what many hoped would be a short Saudi-led campaign [bold mine-DL] against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels who overthrew Yemen’s government, is now entering its eighth month with no end in sight.

There was no reason to assume that the Saudi-led campaign would be short or successful. Even superficial familiarity with modern Yemeni history would have been enough to know that. The goals of their intervention were unrealistic from the start, and have only become more so as the campaign has dragged on and the suffering of the civilian population has increased. The U.S. backed the intervention anyway in order to keep Riyadh and the other reckless clients happy, but as so often happens the decision to indulge and enable bad clients has only encouraged them in their worst behavior. It’s also not true that Saudi Arabia is a “vital” ally. At best, it is a tiresome client state whose interests are increasingly diverging from ours, as this conflict demonstrates very well. Linking the U.S. with their disgraceful war effort is one of the great unforced errors of the entire Obama era. It served no U.S. interests, but it has aided the cause of jihadists in Yemen and deepened resentment against the U.S. throughout the country.

The administration is split between people who realize U.S. support for the war on Yemen is a disaster but won’t do anything about it and those that care more about placating a group of despotic governments regardless of the cost. At the moment, the latter are still prevailing, but it’s not clear what would change if they lost the debate. The story repeatedly claims that the administration is “frustrated” with the Saudis, but there is absolutely no evidence of this when one looks at the assistance that the U.S. continues to provide the Saudi-led coalition. What we see instead is a lot of blame-shifting and a desperate effort to avoid accountability for the war crimes that the U.S.-backed coalition commits in Yemen. The Obama administration keeps wringing its hands to the press about how unhappy it is with the Saudis’ war, but it has done nothing to limit or end its involvement in that war. The conceit that reducing U.S. support for this indefensible war would make things worse is just an excuse to avoid making the hard decision to risk breaking with the Saudis. It is very likely that the possibility of a cut-off of U.S. aid may be the only thing that will force Washington’s clients to halt their campaign and lift the blockade, and it is something that the administration is apparently not even considering.

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4 Comments To "Obama’s Disgraceful Enabling of the War on Yemen"

#1 Comment By a spencer On October 26, 2015 @ 8:57 pm

Absolutely correct. The bold statement is pure cynicism.

Perverse from the beginning. The bloodshed is sickening. The humanitarian disaster for children who really had no choice where they were born…

for what?

#2 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On October 26, 2015 @ 11:29 pm

Thank you for being prophetic on this issue. No one else seems to be pointing to this disgrace.

#3 Comment By Richard W. Bray On October 26, 2015 @ 11:55 pm

It saddens that so few of my fellow liberals are willing to speak up on this issue and renounce the deep, deep cynicism of Barack Obama, the man who promised Hope and Change.

What’s also sad: So few commentators of any perspective possess the clarity, humanity, and consistency of Daniel Larison. Keep up the good work, Sir.

Saudi Arabia is a true frenemy and the relationship is detrimental to the US in various ways; however, unlike the so many other of our needy client states, the Saudis do give us something tangible–they continue to support the petrodollar.

As for our other unhealthy client-state relationships: Turkey was extremely helpful to us during the Cold War; Israel was somewhat useful to us during the Cold War (when they weren’t sinking our ships and trading our missile secrets to our chief enemy); Pakistan was vital in assisting the Mujaheddin; Egypt, I guess, provided some psychological benefit to us when they turned away from the Soviet Union.

But really folks, What Have You Done for Us Lately?

#4 Comment By Charlieford On October 27, 2015 @ 10:15 pm

Good piece. I love this line: “At best, it is a tiresome client state whose interests are increasingly diverging from ours . . .” Ain’t that the chronic condition?

I do wonder about this, however: “It is very likely that the possibility of a cut-off of U.S. aid may be the only thing that will force Washington’s clients to halt their campaign and lift the blockade . . .” I think our experience has been, whether with foes or friends, that local concerns drive policies, not US aid or its lack. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t cut our enabling connection to this idiocy.