Daniel Larison

The Saudi ‘Reformer’ Who Uses Torture

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, from ‘Saudi Strike Force’ video

Many of the detainees seized during Mohammed bin Salman’s purge last year were subjected to physical abuse, and one later died from his injuries:

During months of captivity, many were subject to coercion and physical abuse, witnesses said. In the early days of the crackdown, at least 17 detainees were hospitalized for physical abuse and one later died in custody with a neck that appeared twisted, a badly swollen body and other signs of abuse, according to a person who saw the body.

Mohammed bin Salman’s power grab and subsequent shakedown of detainees were always aimed at consolidating power and extracting money by force. That seemed clear enough at the time, and this report just confirms it. The “anti-corruption” spin was always a pretext for doing these things and never a very convincing one, and it is a measure of how easily seduced by Mohammed bin Salman’s promise of “reform” they are that so many Western observers accepted his explanation at face value. Obviously, torturing people into handing assets over to the state is a crude abuse of power that has nothing to do with fighting corruption. Abusing detainees into signing over their wealth is consistent with Mohammed bin Salman’s heavy-handed crackdown on internal dissent and his prosecution of an atrocious war that is creating one of the worst famines of modern times. If foreign investors were nervous about the prospects of doing business in the new Saudi Arabia before now, this story should make them extremely wary. When the crown prince comes to the U.S. later this month, his hosts should force him to address the many abuses committed by his government. With any luck, he will find that many of his would-be investors don’t want to do business in a country ruled by such a reckless and incompetent man.

Before the U.S. wades any deeper into the muck with Mohammed bin Salman, there is an opportunity to extricate the U.S. from the disastrous war on Yemen that our government has been helping the Saudis and their allies wage for the last three years. The resolution introduced by Sens. Sanders, Lee, and Murphy, S.J.Res 54, can put an end to U.S. involvement in the war, but only if it passes. Voting to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war on Yemen would be a fitting rebuke to the crown prince in response to the appalling war crimes committed by coalition forces in Yemen. An end to U.S. support would make it much more difficult for the coalition to keep their war going, and that creates an opening for a cease-fire and a more enduring peace settlement. Yemen desperately needs peace, and our government needs to respect the Constitution. Passing S.J.Res. 54 offers an opportunity to reject illegal involvement in a foreign war and cuts off the support that the Saudi-led coalition needs to continue waging their war.

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Reneging on the Nuclear Deal Sabotages Diplomacy with North Korea

President Trump and Supreme Leader Ali Khomeini. CreativeCommons, Shutterstock.

This New York Times article spells out why Trump’s desire to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran and his sudden willingness to meet with Kim are in conflict:

The Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, drastically different but often spoken of in the same breath, are now being thrust together, as President Trump’s determination to kill the landmark 2015 accord limiting Tehran’s capabilities is colliding with his scramble to reach a far more complex deal with Pyongyang.

I made a similar point in yesterday’s post. One thing I would add here is that the collision the article describes is not new and became unavoidable once Trump was determined to scrap the deal with Iran. It has been hard to miss that Trump wanted to renege on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) all along, and the only reason he has not done so is so that he can pretend that he first tried to “fix” it by making absurd demands that the deal’s opponents knew in advance would never be accepted. The president reportedly confirmed to Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu last week that the U.S. would withdraw from the deal in the absence of “significant changes”:

President Trump told Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in their meeting at the White House last Monday that he won’t show flexibility in the negotiations with France, Germany and the U.K. on amending the Iran nuclear deal, two senior Israeli officials told me.

The officials say Trump told Netanyahu that until now the three European powers only proposed “cosmetic changes” that he doesn’t find satisfactory. Trump said he demands “significant changes” in the Iran deal itself and not simply the addition of a supplemental agreement between the U.S. and the European countries, according to the officials.

The bottom line: Trump stressed that if his demands are not met, the U.S. will withdraw from the deal.

European governments were never going to be willing to give Trump what he wanted, because to give him everything he demanded would have required them to join the U.S. in violating the agreement they had made. U.S. withdrawal has been extremely likely ever since Trump refused to certify the deal last fall, and it became a virtual certainty after his ridiculous ultimatum to our allies.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that reneging on a carefully negotiated, successful nonproliferation agreement would have negative consequences for arms control diplomacy with a nuclear-armed state. Iran made major concessions that it didn’t have to make under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and as a result it has accepted significant restrictions on its nuclear program to ensure that their program remains peaceful. In return, it was supposed to receive substantial sanctions relief that has been very slow in coming, and it expected to be able to welcome foreign investment that the U.S. has been actively discouraging in a pretty clear breach of our own commitments. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been taking a harder line with Iran across the board since Trump took office. The post-deal treatment of Iran is hardly a ringing endorsement of the benefits of making an agreement with the U.S. and its allies. Trump wants to renege on the deal anyway because it did not force Iran’s complete surrender. That bodes ill for what Trump thinks a “good deal” with North Korea would look like. Once the U.S. reneges on the JCPOA, North Korea will have another very big reason not to trust any U.S. promises made during negotiations with them.

Trump’s position on the nuclear deal is particularly absurd because the JCPOA is the kind of strong nonproliferation agreement that the U.S. wishes it could have negotiated with North Korea in the past. The agreement that Trump denounces as the worst of all time was a substantial improvement on the Agreed Framework negotiated with North Korea, and right now it would be an extraordinary triumph if North Korea would return to the weaker restrictions of the Agreed Framework. The Bush administration’s disastrous decision to blow up the agreement with North Korea in a vain pursuit of forcing more concessions is what brought us to the current impasse with the DPRK, and Trump is intent on imitating one of Bush’s most serious and lasting errors.

Trump presumably doesn’t even realize that he is doing this because he buys the convenient, false story that North Korea has nuclear weapons because previous efforts at engagement failed. On the contrary, engagement with North Korea has been the only thing that has worked at all, but the Bush administration insisted on and all-or-nothing outcome and ended up with a nuclear-armed North Korea. Pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran would seriously undermine any diplomatic efforts with North Korea, but I fear that Trump and his advisers don’t understand or care.

The Trump administration is proceeding under the mistaken assumption that their “maximum pressure” campaign has forced North Korea into doing something it doesn’t want to do, but the truth is that their campaign has already failed and isn’t going to produce the results they want. Trump wants to renege on the JCPOA, and when he does he will think that he is showing the world how “tough” he is being on an adversary, but all that anyone else will see is proof that there is no point in making a deal with the U.S. that a future administration can discard like the trash.

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North Korea and Trump’s Loathing of the Nuclear Deal

Trump speaks at Washington rally against the Iran deal back in September 2015. Credit: Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA/Newscom

Trump spoke at a rally in Pennsylvania over the weekend, and Daniel Dale was reporting on the event. The president said this:

Trump’s last line here struck me as potentially very significant. He has made a point of denouncing every deal the U.S. has ever made as a bad one negotiated by stupid leaders (he thinks the nuclear deal with Iran is one of the worst of all), and he has said that he thinks the mark of a good negotiator is a willingness to walk away. Barring some dramatic change, Trump will likely renege on the nuclear deal with Iran in two months, and that has obvious implications for negotiations with North Korea in the future. The president will be making a very public show of his administration’s unwillingness to honor commitments made in good faith later this year, and the North Korean government will have more evidence from this administration that the U.S. can’t be trusted.

I was reminded of this while reading Ross Douthat’s column this morning. Douthat writes:

But still, any lasting deal with the paranoid kingdom north of the 38th parallel would have to persuade Pyongyang that we might attack if they keep raising the nuclear ante and that we really don’t care about toppling them otherwise. So it is potentially helpful to our negotiations that Trump combines a temperamental bellicosity with a deep skepticism about the democracy-promoting objectives of U.S. foreign policy over the last 20 years.

This won’t prevent him from bungling things; it shouldn’t make anyone rest easy. It just means that if we are to hope for any progress in these negotiations, we have to place some of that hope in Trump’s most Trumpish qualities, and from his rejection of bipartisan tendencies that have not saved us from this brink.

I understand what he is trying to say here, but it is odd to refer to “Trump’s most Trumpish qualities” on foreign policy without mentioning that he is a determined opponent of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This is the most recent successful nonproliferation agreement, and Trump hates it. Trump may have no interest in the “democracy-promoting objectives” of previous administrations, but he also loathes any agreement that requires the U.S. to concede anything. He is in perfect agreement with his own party’s most hawkish members that most diplomatic bargains are appeasement.

For example, he wrongly believes that the Obama administration “gave” Iran $150 billion as part of the nuclear deal, and he is outraged that the U.S. didn’t “get” anything tangible from the JCPOA. The money he is talking about was Iran’s, they didn’t get nearly as much of it as Trump thinks they did, and unfreezing Iranian assets was an inevitable part of any agreement that led to their acceptance of restrictions on their nuclear program. In his mind, Iran’s verifiable commitment not to develop and build nuclear weapons doesn’t count as a win. None of that matters to him, just as it doesn’t matter to him that the IAEA has confirmed ten times in a row that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA. What rankles him is the feeling that the U.S. was somehow taken for a ride because Iran wasn’t forced to give up absolutely everything. If it were up to him, Iran would have to commit to getting rid of its nuclear program all together along with shutting down their missile program and changing their entire foreign policy. If that is what he thinks about a nuclear deal that restricted a nuclear program in a state that never had nuclear weapons, we have to assume that his idea of a “good” deal with a nuclear weapons state is equally unrealistic and unobtainable.

Keeping all of this in mind, we should pay attention when Trump suggests that he may go to a meeting with Kim only to “leave fast.” We can be reasonably sure that he isn’t going to secure “the greatest deal for the world” because we know in advance that his terms aren’t going to be acceptable for North Korea. He is approaching the meeting with the misunderstanding that “they want to denuclearize” when they definitely do not, and so he will be expecting them to make an offer that won’t be forthcoming. Thanks to Trump’s poor grasp of foreign policy issues and his narcissism–two other very “Trumpish qualities”–he doesn’t know that denuclearization is unrealistic and he is vain enough to think that he is the first one to get them to agree to it.

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Successful Diplomacy with North Korea Requires Compromise

Jeffrey Lewis explains that the proposed summit between Trump and Kim seems to be based on a serious misunderstanding between the two sides:

In other words, Trump seems to have thought that Kim would meet to give up his nuclear weapons. But for Kim the meeting is about being treated as an equal because of his nuclear and missile programs. After all, Saddam Hussein abandoned his weapons and was invaded and hanged. Muammar al-Qaddafi abandoned his and was toppled with the help of American airpower and dragged out of his SUV to a grisly death. Kim Jong Un, by contrast, kept his programs and now is on the verge of a state visit.

The Trump administration now seems to realize this. And so, despite the president personally teasing the announcement, the White House is now saying that no meeting will occur until North Korea takes “concrete steps” toward denuclearizing — a restatement of its previous position.

The Trump administration should absolutely be trying to negotiate with North Korea, but it should not be starting its engagement with the DPRK by having a rushed, slapdash summit based on unrealistic expectations. Supporters of engagement want diplomacy with North Korea to succeed, but that can’t happen without the necessary work and preparation that the Trump administration hasn’t been doing and seems to have no interest in doing. If Trump accepted the meeting because he thought North Korea was about to capitulate, he was badly misinformed. The president has shown great disdain for diplomacy for more than a year, and everything he has done in his dealings with both Iran and North Korea has reflected his contempt for reaching a compromise with adversaries. Why would we think that he has suddenly become open to striking a compromise with Kim?

There is nothing wrong with meeting with an adversary to settle a disputed issue, and it is sometimes necessary in order to complete an agreement in the final stages of negotiations. Successful diplomacy requires giving up on maximalist demands and a willingness to compromise, but it also requires careful preparation and competent execution. These are necessary not only to ensure that the U.S. benefits as much as it can from the negotiation, but also to make sure that any agreement that is made can withstand the intense scrutiny it will inevitably face back home. Holding a summit on short notice when the positions of both sides remain essentially unchanged does not seem likely to lead to an improved relationship and a reduction of tensions, and it makes any tentative deal that might be struck vulnerable to sabotage. It practically guarantees that the summit will be and be seen as a failure, and then both sides will blame each other for that failure. That could very well put us all in a worse position than we were in before the meeting happened.

Victor Cha notes that the danger of holding a high-level meeting of this kind is that it makes conflict more likely if the meeting produces no results:

Finally, everyone should be aware that this dramatic act of diplomacy by these two unusual leaders, who love flair and drama, may also take us closer to war. Failed negotiations at the summit level leave all parties with no other recourse for diplomacy. In which case, as Mr. Trump has said, we really will have “run out of road” on North Korea.

Hard-liners will sometimes feign an interest in diplomatic overtures, but then conduct them in such a provocative way that they can’t succeed. Then they will say that that “diplomacy has failed” because they made sure that it would, and the agitation for military action will start all over again. This is why so many strong supporters of diplomatic engagement with North Korea are worried about the proposed meeting. We are under no illusions that Trump has unexpectedly seen the light and wants to reach a compromise, and so we see a real danger in luring the hotheaded president into a meeting where he thinks he is about to win a great victory when nothing of the sort is going to happen. Lewis continues:

What if Trump’s aides, South Korea, and the rest of us aren’t managing him, but enabling him? I have long advocated a serious diplomatic outreach to North Korea, including one that accepts — if only tacitly — that North Korea will remain a nuclear power for the foreseeable future. But I don’t think that Trump has embraced this strategy. I think everyone around him just wanted him to think he was winning … something. Look at the statements by both South Korea and Japan heaping fawning praise on the “maximum pressure” strategy for eliciting an invitation from Kim. The diplomats in both countries know that is complete BS. But they’ve decided that flattering Trump is a thing that must be done to allow everyone to get on with our lives.

They may think they are pulling one over on Trump, but what happens when he realizes that Kim Jong Un isn’t giving up the bomb?

That is why the administration’s continued insistence on denuclearization is so dangerous. The U.S. has trapped itself by demanding something that North Korea isn’t and won’t be giving up, but the president seems to have accepted the invitation on the misunderstanding that denuclearization is within reach. Unless the administration realizes that denuclearization isn’t happening, a diplomatic solution to the standoff will remain elusive.

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The Week’s Most Interesting Reads

Famine as a weapon. Vincent Bongers talks to Alex de Waal about the resurgence of famines in our time and the responsibility of the Saudi-led coalition for famine in Yemen.

NGOs push senators to support Yemen resolution. Derek Davison calls attention to the effort to pass S.J.Res. 54.

What will Trump give at the meeting with Kim? Victor Cha considers the possible benefits and risks of the proposed meeting with the North Korean leader.

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A Trump-Kim Summit?

Trump has reportedly accepted an invitation to meet Kim Jong-un:

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has invited President Trump to meet for negotiations over its nuclear program, an audacious diplomatic overture that would bring together two strong-willed, idiosyncratic leaders who have traded threats of war.

The South Korean official, Chung Eui-yong, who conveyed the invitation told reporters that Mr. Trump had accepted it and would meet with Mr. Kim by May.

The U.S. should be willing to test North Korea’s offer to talk, but given the administration’s misguided fixation on demanding denuclearization it’s not clear what the point of Trump-Kim meeting would be. If Trump is accepting the invitation simply to repeat the same unrealistic demand, a high-profile meeting isn’t likely to achieve anything. If the two sides approach this meeting with very different expectations of what they will be negotiating, it will be much harder to make any progress. The initial comments from the White House suggest that the administration doesn’t think anything has changed:

That raises the question: if the meeting is to be a negotiation, what is the U.S. prepared to offer North Korea? Sanctions relief? A security guarantee? Something else? All of the above? If the administration remains wedded to its maximalist position that North Korea has to give up everything first before any offer is made, any negotiation will break down almost as soon as it begins. The White House says “we look forward to the denuclearization” of North Korea as if they actually think that is going to happen. How will they react when it dawns on them that this will never happen?

The fact that this was all originally announced by a South Korean official rather than in a joint statement from the U.S. and South Korea is odd. Why didn’t the announcement first come from the White House or State Department? That suggests that the administration may just be humoring their South Korean guests, and they aren’t going to follow through on the commitment to meet. Vipin Narang commented on this tonight:

There appears to be have been little or no coordination inside the administration before committing publicly to this meeting. Following the withdrawal of Cha’s nomination and Yun’s resignation, the administration has few people with the relevant experience to prepare for such a meeting if it actually takes place. A May meeting doesn’t leave much time for an understaffed administration to get ready if they are going to take this seriously. Successful negotiations usually require significant preparatory work by lower-level officials over a longer period of time before a summit of this kind takes place, and there won’t be enough time or opportunities for that in this case. Once again, the Trump administration’s disdain for diplomacy and diplomats is catching up with them.

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The Perils of ‘Rooting’ for a Foreign Leader

Senior White House Adviser Jared Kushner, and his wife, Assistant to the President Ivanka Trump,at the Murabba Palace with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The shameful spinning for the Saudis doesn’t stop. Here’s John Bradley in The Spectator touting Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) as the “real deal”:

We have a Saudi crown prince who is being more frank about Wahhabi-inspired terrorism than the British. Just last year, the UK government saw fit to suppress a report that found a link between Saudi-funded mosques and Isis-inspired terrorist attacks. It was kept quiet because we didn’t want to upset the Saudis. So not only does bin Salman have a thicker skin than his predecessors, he has inadvertently shone a bright light on the cowardice of our own political leaders.

It really doesn’t take much to impress the crown prince’s fan club. Just think about this argument. Bradley tells us that Mohammed bin Salman deserves credit for being more forthcoming about Wahhabi-inspired terrorism than the British government, and he says we know this because the British government suppressed evidence as recently as a year ago (when MbS was already a leading figure in the Saudi government) that showed a link between Saudi-funded mosques and terrorism. Note that Bradley isn’t saying that MbS is actually cracking down on that funding, nor has the prince actually done anything that would make us think that he disapproves of the British government’s efforts to cover for the Saudis. He said some of the right things, and his overeager admirers believe every word of it.

Bradley allows that some skepticism is “absolutely necessary” when dealing with the Saudis, but then proceeds to cast all skepticism aside. This assertion struck me as especially unwise and premature:

Most importantly, Bin Salman is not hated in the way that the Shah and Mubarak were.

That could be true now, but that doesn’t tell us very much. It is only three years from the start of his father’s reign and less than one year since he was made crown prince. Maybe we should wait until he has been in power more than a few years before we making sweeping assessments of how popular and lasting his future reign will be. It took decades for people to grow to loathe Mubarak to the point where they overthrew him, but eventually they did. It took decades of the Shah’s rule before the revolution occurred, but it happened. There may not be a popular backlash in the near term, but it is far too soon to know. If the crown prince’s reform agenda proves to be much less successful than promised, people in the kingdom might start to tire of him sooner than anyone expects. It is also possible that the crown prince has already made so many internal enemies with his power grabs and purges that he will face a different kind of backlash.

Instead of looking at what the crown prince says or promises to do, we would do well to look at the fruits of the policies he has already supported. He may talk a good game about combating jihadists, but in practice the war that he has presided over for the last three years has strengthened jihadists in Yemen and Saudi policy in Syria has led to the funding and arming of Islamist and jihadist groups. The Saudi government continues to stoke sectarian hatred as part of its foreign policy, and it is through this fueling of sectarian hostility that Mohammed bin Salman has placated Wahhabist clerics at home. Insofar as he is at all serious about changing things at home, the trade-off for that is that the Saudis will continue exporting more fanaticism, misery, and destruction to the rest of the region and perhaps beyond.

We don’t hear anything about this from the crown prince’s Western fans, and as usual we hear nothing from them about the Saudi-led coalition’s own myriad crimes in Yemen. Whenever Western observers feel as though they ought to “root” for a foreign leader, they ignore the leader’s many flaws and bad decisions that they should be taking as warning signs. That causes them to misjudge the leader’s abilities and staying power with sometimes disastrous consequences.

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Mohammed bin Salman’s Bizarre Western Fan Club

CSIS / cc

Tom Friedman gushes some more about the Saudi crown prince:

M.B.S. is definitely bold. I can think of no one else in the ruling family who would have put in place the profound social, religious and economic reforms that he’s dared to do — and all at once. But I can also think of no one in that family who’d have undertaken the bullying foreign policy initiatives, domestic power plays and excessive personal buying sprees he’s dared to do, all at once. They are two halves of the same M.B.S. package. Our job: help curb his bad impulses and nurture his good ones.

His potential is vast. M.B.S. is trying to forge a societal transformation in Saudi Arabia. Call it “one country, two systems.” For those who want piety, the mosque, Mecca and Islamic education, they’ll all be available and respected. But for those who want modern education and a more normal social life between men and women — and access to Western film, music and the arts — those too will be available and respected. No more religious domination. That is huge.

Friedman’s unceasing praise for Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is an extreme form of the bizarre admiration that the crown prince seems to inspire in a lot of Western pundits. Unlike his first love letter, this column at least alludes to some of MbS’ flaws, but Friedman doesn’t really let any of those flaws bother him. There is no proof as yet that there is any substance to MbS’ rhetoric about moderate Islam, and there is every reason to think that it is a not very convincing distraction from the Saudis’ promotion of sectarianism in Yemen and elsewhere. The “one country, two systems” description given here doesn’t have any connection to reality.

There are a few serious problems with this excessive enthusiasm for the Saudi heir. Almost all of the “reforms” that MbS has promised have not yet been put into practice, and so may prove to be far less “profound” than his boosters imagine. It is not certain that most of the crown prince’s reform agenda will ever happen. Instead of waiting to see what he actually does, Friedman and other fans celebrate him for what he might do. Meanwhile, they ignore or wave away the awful things that the crown prince has done and is doing at the moment. For whatever reason, the modest changes that MbS might one day make are given more weight than the serious war crimes and other abuses his government has been committing for the last three years. When Western pundits are this credulous about a foreign leader, they are almost always kidding themselves and end up being misled at the same time that they mislead their readers. At best, this is unreasonably positive spin masquerading as analysis, and at worst it is just naked propagandizing on behalf of a foreign government.

Yemen is mentioned only twice in the column. Friedman does allow that Yemen is one of MbS’ “failed overreaches,” but that is the only criticism he will offer. The most that he will say about the war is that Trump should “appoint a James Baker or Dave Petraeus as your special envoy to the Arab Gulf [sic] who can help M.B.S. defuse Yemen.” Unfortunately, Friedman doesn’t seem to grasp that MbS doesn’t want to “defuse Yemen,” but instead wants to keep battering and starving it in pursuit of unrealistic goals. Friedman won’t fully acknowledge MbS’ responsibility for coalition war crimes and helping to create the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and any “memo” to the president that fails to address these things isn’t worth very much at all.

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Britain’s Shameful Embrace of the Saudi War Criminal

Britain’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry denounces the British government’s embrace of Mohammed bin Salman during his visit this week:

Yet today the architect of that Saudi intervention in Yemen – crown prince Mohammad bin Salman – will visit Britain, and will receive the red carpet treatment from the Tory government, as if he were Nelson Mandela. This is the man behind the rolling blockade of Yemen’s rebel-held ports, preventing the supply of essential food, medicine and fuel to Yemeni civilians, and – on all the available evidence – breaching international law by using starvation as a weapon of war [bold mine-DL].

The man who –, in an equally flagrant breach of the Geneva convention, authorised the destruction of Yemen’s agricultural and food infrastructure in the early stages of the war, with systematic air strikes on farms, dairies, food factories and markets.

Everything that Thornberry charges against Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi-led coalition is true and has been well-documented by journalists, aid groups, and human rights organizations over the last three years. The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is the world’s worst. It is a man-made crisis, and it has been caused deliberately by the decisions of the coalition governments with Saudi Arabia chief among them. Apart from the king, there is no one in the Saudi government more responsible for the indiscriminate bombing campaign and starvation blockade than Mohammed bin Salman. He is one the war’s architects, and as such he is one of the leading war criminals of our time. The warm welcome he is receiving from Theresa May is shameful, but it helps to call attention to the outrageous support that the U.S. and U.K. have been giving to the Saudis and their allies over the last three years. It would be fitting if the crown prince’s foreign tour and public relations blitz backfired on him and caused a public backlash against the governments that have been enabling the atrocious Saudi-led war on Yemen.

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The Ridiculous Hawkish Arguments for Supporting the War on Yemen

James Jay Carafano must assume that his audience doesn’t know anything about the war on Yemen:

Instead of turning our back on Yemen, the U.S. should focus on ending the war.

If U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition were withdrawn, that would go a long way towards ending the war by making it much more difficult for the coalition to continue waging it. Carafano frames stopping U.S. support for wrecking Yemen as “turning our back on Yemen,” which is about as misleading as can be. The U.S. has been turning its back on the civilian population of Yemen for the last three years by aiding and abetting the governments that have been bombing and starving them. He notably omits any mention of the coalition’s commission of numerous war crimes against the civilian population. The plight of the civilian population created by the coalition blockade is likewise nowhere to be found. If the U.S. were no longer enabling coalition war crimes and collective punishment, that would be the first time in years that our government would be seriously paying attention to the plight of the people of Yemen.

Carafano writes:

America is there for a reason: to keep the region from falling apart. The collapse of any friendly regime there is bad for us.

The first part of this is debatable, but when applied to Yemen it is clearly not true. U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war has been contributing to the country’s fragmentation. The war is causing the country’s devastation and division, and by supporting it the U.S. is encouraging those outcomes. There is no “friendly regime” in Yemen to be defended.The Hadi government has no legitimacy in the eyes of most Yemenis and has virtually no support anywhere in the country, and the coalition’s goal of reimposing him on Yemen will never be reached.

Helping the Saudis and their allies to pummel and starve a country that has done nothing to us is what is bad for the U.S. In addition to making ourselves complicit in terrible crimes and famine, U.S. support for this war has created conditions in which Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the local ISIS affiliate have been flourishing. Backing the Saudi-led war on Yemen is harmful to U.S. interests and a shameful blot on our national reputation.

Carafano gets something else profoundly wrong:

The greatest threats to Middle East stability and security are Iran and transnational Islamist terrorists groups, principally the Islamic State group and al-Qaida. And it is precisely these forces that are fueling the Yemen war.

That is undoubtedly what the Saudis and Emiratis would have us believe, but it is simply not true. In Yemen, these are not the greatest threats to security and stability. Iran’s involvement has been and remains limited, and it is a gross exaggeration to say that their involvement is what is “fueling the Yemen war” when the coalition’s role in keeping the war going is a hundred times greater. Jihadist groups are benefiting from the instability and upheaval created by the war, but they are not the driving forces behind it. AQAP and ISIS are exploiting the situation for their own ends, but the war continues because the coalition insists on continuing it. The longer that the U.S. provides them with military assistance, the longer it will be before they acknowledge that their intervention has failed.

Carafano makes another misleading statement:

If Congress forces the administration to abandon our allies, Tehran, Islamic State group and al-Qaida would feel emboldened and likely double-down on expanding the war.

There is no reason to think any of this is true. First, these governments aren’t really our allies, and calling them that creates the impression that we owe them something when we do not. AQAP and ISIS have gained strength since the coalition intervened because the Saudi-led war has diverted attention and resources away from combating them. When the Saudi-led war ends, those groups should have a harder time operating. Cutting off U.S. support does not risk “expanding the war” at all. On the contrary, it will pressure the coalition governments to curtail their interference in Yemen and create an opening for a diplomatic solution. It is telling that hawkish defenses of U.S. involvement in this war rely on thoroughly misrepresenting the nature of the conflict.

The U.S. absolutely should “drive the other players toward a peaceful political settlement.” The first step in doing that is to stop being a party to the war and to end our military backing for the governments that have done so much damage to the country.

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