Daniel Larison

The Dangerous Saudi Intervention in Yemen

Ken Pollack warns about the dangers of the Saudi-led and U.S.-backed intervention in Yemen:

The news that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states along with Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Sudan have launched air strikes against Houthi forces in Yemen should give every American pause. Yes, the Houthis are Shi’a who receive some degree of backing from Iran, but this is a very dangerous escalation that is unlikely to improve the situation in Yemen and risks the stability of Saudi Arabia over the medium to long term. Moreover, the Iranian role has been greatly exaggerated in what is first and foremost a Yemeni civil war.

The U.S. is providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudis for their attack on Yemen, but Pollack dismisses the rationales for doing this because they “place short-term needs ahead of far greater long-term interests.” As he says, the U.S. shouldn’t be doing anything to encourage the Saudis and the other GCC countries to become more deeply involved in Yemen’s internal conflict. If the Saudis and their neighbors insist on blundering ahead with an intervention, at the very least the U.S. shouldn’t be helping them. Ideally, Washington should be trying to restrain them.

Writing before the Saudis began their attack, Adam Baron made many of the same points as Pollack:

But what is abundantly clear at the moment is that this remains, by and large, an internal Yemeni political conflict—one that, despite frequent sectarian mischaracterizations and potential regional implications, remains deeply rooted in local Yemeni issues.

And if history is a guide, foreign intervention will only stand to exacerbate the situation.

The U.S. has no reason to take or to support actions that are likely to intensify and prolong a conflict in Yemen. Instead of enabling our latest reckless client, Washington should be pressuring the Saudis and other regional governments not to interfere. In another article, Baron argues that the sectarian nature of the conflict in Yemen has been overstated so far, but warns that Saudi intervention will serve to stoke sectarianism:

It’s worth noting that [former President] Saleh’s support has put swathes of Sunni Yemeni soldiers and tribal fighters into the field on the side of the Shia Houthis, underscoring the fact that the roots of this conflict are not purely sectarian. Still, the conflict certainly has a sectarian tinge. The Houthi movement is rooted in the revival of Zaidism, a heterodox Shia sect found almost exclusively in the Yemeni highlands. And many of the Houthis’ Sunni opponents have framed their conflicts in religious terms.

The Saudi-led intervention has exacerbated the sectarian dimension.

To make matters worse, it appears that the intervention Hadi’s behalf has hardened the positions of the Houthis and Hadi so that both are less likely to agree to a compromise than they were before the intervention began. Baron continues:

But the Houthis have dug in — defiantly rejecting the idea that they will be bombed into submission — while Hadi, empowered by the groundswell of foreign support, has expressed unprecedented confidence.

Intervening on behalf of the weaker side in a conflict is always a good way to make sure that a conflict drags on longer than it has to and costs many more lives. If the U.S. must have some role in this conflict, it should be to pressure its clients to avoid escalation and to halt their military action.

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3 Responses to The Dangerous Saudi Intervention in Yemen

  1. Ken Pollack is right, but the author of The Threatening Storm is in no position to lecture anyone on the wisdom of nonintervention.

    And at this point, does anyone believe that President Obama’s hideous drone assassination program in Yemen has increased stability in the region?

    Now let’s all sing together…

    “Let there be peace on Earth
    And let it begin with me”

  2. Cliff says:

    I agree with all of your objections to this campaign, but what I find bizarre is that we’re now supporting the Saudis in their fight against what we see as Iranian proxies in Yemen, and at least smiling upon the Iranian fight against Saudi proxies in Iraq. Whose side are we supposed to be on, anyway? Is it an exercise in “let’s you and him fight”?

  3. CharleyCarp says:

    Richard, the drone campaign wasn’t supposed to “increase stability in the region” it was supposed to decrease AQAP’s ability to direct terrorist attacks into the US.

    Adam Baron knows a heck of a lot about Yemen, and folks should pay attention to his work.

    Anyone who talks about the Houthis and isn’t also talking about Saleh, and elements of the Army that’ve chosen Saleh over Hadi, can and should be ignored.

    The same people who were completely wrong about the Cold War all through the 80s are making the same mistake with the ‘Iran is On The March’ claim today. Oh yeah, ‘on the march’ as in their allies losing Mosul, Syria falling apart, etc.

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