No Yemenis are testifying before Congress. We asked 100 of them to speak about the war. Shireen Al-Adeimi collected and translated statements about the war and humanitarian crisis from scores of Yemenis.
This is what our Yemen policy looks like. Nick Kristof shows the effects of famine on Abrar Ibrahim, a starving 12-year old girl.
The sources of Iranian conduct. Paul Pillar considers why the Iranian government behaves as it does and explains why the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign won’t succeed.
I read Michel Houellebecq’s strange case for Trump. He made a few interesting observations, but this line is bizarre and wrong:
Trump is pursuing and amplifying the policy of disengagement initiated by Obama; this is very good news for the rest of the world.
No doubt there are many hawkish interventionists and a few Trump supporters that would like us to believe this, but I don’t see any evidence that it is an accurate description of Trump’s foreign policy (or Obama’s, for that matter). I agree that it would be very good news for the rest of the world if the U.S. were not meddling and interfering as much as we have in the past, but there is not yet any sign that Trump intends to meddle significantly less than his meddlesome predecessors. That is what some of his voters hoped he would do, but they have been thoroughly disappointed by the substance of administration foreign policy.
Houellebecq urges us to consider things “from the point of view of the rest of the world,” but I don’t think he does that. Maybe it isn’t possible for anyone from a particular place to do that, but I submit that this piece doesn’t make a serious effort. It is easy to answer Houellebecq’s assertion that the “Americans are getting off our backs” when we remember that the Trump administration has been threatening European companies and governments with punishment if they don’t adhere to the illegitimately reimposed Iran sanctions. Even leaving aside the arbitrary use of national security justifications for slapping tariffs on many of our allies, Trump’s Iran policy has amounted to attacking most of the world’s major economies over their legitimate trade with Iran. That isn’t happening because of anything Iran or its trading partners have done, but because the president made an arbitrary, irrational decision to leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). That doesn’t sound like getting off the backs of non-Americans to me. Houellebecq also says that the “Americans are letting us exist,” but the millions of of Yemenis being starved as part of a U.S.-backed war that Trump has defended to the hilt would surely disagree. So would the tens of millions of Iranians subjected to collective punishment under sanctions that were supposed to remain suspended as long as Iran honored the terms of the JCPOA. You will not be surprised to find that the words Iran and Yemen never appear anywhere in the essay.
Many foreign policy pundits and analysts worried that Trump would pursue a policy of “disengagement,” but he has delivered something different from and much worse than that. The U.S. has not disengaged from the world under Trump, but it has made a point of walking away from several multilateral agreements, most of which were clearly in the interests of the United States. Trump’s foreign policy remains an aggressive, meddlesome one, but it is also one that runs roughshod over international law and institutions in much the same way that George W. Bush’s foreign policy did. It is unilateralist in order to be even less restrained.
Houellebecq’s assessment that Trump’s foreign policy “is very good news for the rest of the world” rests on the false assumption that Trump is pursuing a “policy of disengagement.” His error is compounded by his mistaken belief that Obama “initiated” such a policy when he was president. If Obama “initiated” a “policy of disengagement,” it is strange that Trump began his presidency with at least three wars in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq/Syria. Two of those wars began under Obama, and Trump subsequently escalated all of them. Houellebecq congratulates Obama for not intervening in Syria in 2013, but seems not to have noticed that the U.S. intervened in Syria in 2014 and our forces have remained there illegally ever since. He applauds Obama for not adding Syria “to the long list (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and others I’m no doubt forgetting) of Muslim lands where the West has committed atrocities,” but notably forgets to include Yemen as one of the places that Obama did add to that list.
While he’s at it, he makes another assertion for which there is no evidence:
It seems that President Trump has even managed to tame the North Korean madman; I found this feat positively classy.
Unless one is reciting administration talking points, I have no idea why anyone would say this. Kim Jong-un hasn’t been “tamed,” Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach has failed on its own terms, and North Korea is engaging with South Korea for its own reasons and in response to the diplomatic work of President Moon. Trump has been irrelevant to the progress in rapprochement between North and South Korea, and the administration’s fixation on North Korean disarmament has been working at cross-purposes with South Korea’s engagement policy.
He also lauds Trump’s trade policies:
President Trump was elected to safeguard the interests of American workers; he’s safeguarding the interests of American workers.
Once again, this is what some Trump supporters would claim, but the evidence for it is scant. The president’s trade wars have mostly yielded higher costs for American businesses and consumers, and even in the industries Trump has been favoring the workers aren’t seeing any of the benefits. It would be more accurate to say that Trump is safeguarding the interests of a handful of corporations at everyone else’s expense. That is not what Trump’s voters thought they were getting, but it is what they got.
Houellebecq is using Trump in most of the essay as an excuse to make points about other things that he already wants to make. After all, what does one’s view of the Russian government have to do with the Great Schism of 1054? Nothing at all, but bringing up Russia lets him offer his thoughts about the relationship between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. He thinks France should leave NATO. I don’t have a problem with that, but he is kidding himself if he thinks that Trump is going to hasten the day when that arrives. Trump is fine with the continued existence of NATO, and just wants to berate Europeans to spend more on the military. Houellebecq makes a mistake common to defenders of Trump’s foreign policy: he invests great importance in the fleeting, superficial rhetoric that the president sometimes uses while ignoring the president’s actions.
He concludes that “Trump seems to me to be one of the best American presidents I’ve ever seen,” but he has reached that conclusion by relying on unfounded assertions and false assumptions about what it is that Trump has actually done. The essay seems to be an extended exercise in conjuring up an imaginary world. The imaginary Trump that he has dreamed up might prove to be an okay president, but the real one is nothing of the sort.
The Wall Street Journal gets things backwards on Saudi Arabia and Yemen as usual:
But all 49 Democrats voted for it, as did seven Republicans. They had the political luxury of knowing the bill is going nowhere in the House this year. There’s nothing more senatorial than voting for something you know won’t pass and calling it an “historic victory,” as Mr. Sanders did.
The more useful effort was a resolution sponsored by Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker that condemned the Saudi murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and held Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman responsible.
The Senate’s passage of S.J.Res. 54 today was historic in several respects. It was the first time the Senate used the War Powers resolution to oppose ongoing U.S. involvement in a foreign war, and it was the first time in decades that the Senate repudiated a war involving the U.S. against the wishes of the sitting president. U.S. support for the war on Yemen has been a bipartisan policy that spans two administrations, but it is such a despicable and outrageous policy that it mobilized a bipartisan coalition to vote to end it. There are few other issues that could unite Tea Party conservatives, democratic socialist independents, and progressive Democrats in common cause, but the war on Yemen and our role in enabling it have done exactly that. S.J.Res. 54 challenges decades of Congressional acquiescence to illegal presidential warmaking, and it set a precedent by defining hostilities to mean everything up to and including the refueling of other governments’ air forces in wartime. The WSJ is scoffing at the resolution, but I suspect they are actually terrified of what it portends for the future of Congress’ role in matters of war and the prospects for the success of war opponents in the next Congress. The Trump administration and the Pentagon trotted out all of the usual nonsense arguments in favor of continued U.S. involvement and the Saudi relationship, and the Senate dismissed their pathetic excuses. It would have been easy for most senators to fall in line and take the easier path of deferring to the executive as members of Congress almost always do, but instead they did the more difficult and right thing for U.S. interests and peace in Yemen.
Corker’s resolution was fine as far as it went, but it was not all that useful. It was a non-binding “sense of the Senate” resolution with no consequences for the Saudi government. I have no problem with the Senate pointing the finger at the obviously guilty crown prince for Khashoggi’s murder, but absent any meaningful action it is also just so much play-acting on the part of Republican hawks. They held Mohammed bin Salman to be responsible for the crime, but saying it and doing something about it are two very different things. Corker’s resolution allowed the 41 Republicans who voted against S.J.Res. 54 (including Corker) to act as thought that they aren’t complete pro-Saudi lackeys, but there is nothing easier for a politician than voting for something that he knows won’t have any consequences for himself or anyone else.
The WSJ editors must think they are making a clever point when they say this:
The President who is so often criticized for wanting to retreat from the world and not standing by allies was rebuked for refusing to abandon an ally in a proxy war with Iran.
Accusations of retreat against Trump are ridiculous precisely because he is embracing the Saudis and Emiratis and making every excuse possible to continue U.S. support for their disgraceful war. Of all the “allies” in the world that Trump chooses to defend to the bitter end, he has chosen the worst, most useless client states and their indefensible war. The Saudis and Emiratis are not allies, the U.S. isn’t obliged to aid them in their attack on a neighbor, and governments that commit war crimes and crimes against humanity deserve to be left in the lurch. Trump’s defense of these clients and the war has been a disgrace, and he deserved the resounding defeat that he suffered this week. Next year, we can hope that he suffers more defeats just like it.
The Sanders-Lee-Murphy resolution, S.J.Res. 54, directs the president to withdraw from the Saudi coalition war. It has passed this afternoon with 56 votes:
56-41 #Senate ADOPTED S.J. Res. 54, Yemen War Powers Resolution,, as amended.
— Senate Press Gallery (@SenatePress) December 13, 2018
The passage of the resolution is an important victory in reclaiming Congressional war powers and it is the first measure of its kind under the War Powers Resolution to pass the Senate. It expresses the American public’s broad opposition to a despicable Yemen policy that has gone on for more than forty-four months, and it represents a dramatic change from March when the same resolution was killed before it ever came to a final vote. Next year when the new Congress begins, the House can take up a similar measure and will almost certainly pass it. Thanks to the determined leadership of the resolution’s original co-sponsors, the support of their colleagues, and the tireless efforts of peace activists, the Senate has finally come out in direct opposition to the war on Yemen. That will place additional political pressure on the administration to end U.S. support, and it will send a message to the Saudis and Emiratis that most Americans are not with them as they destroy and starve Yemen. The White House, Pentagon, and State Department threw everything they had at the Senate in a desperate bid to stop this resolution from passing, and they lost. This is the most significant repudiation of a president on a question of war and peace since the 2013 debate over intervention in Syria, and it is even more significant than that was because the Senate followed through and voted for opposition to U.S. involvement in an ongoing war over the explicit objections of the executive. We are a little closer to ending our shameful participation in an unnecessary war, and opponents of the war prevailed over the cynical and dishonest arguments of the Trump administration and its allies.
Meanwhile, U.N.-sponsored consultations in Sweden have yielded some important agreements that should alleviate some of the civilian population’s misery if they are implemented properly. It remains to be seen how these agreements are implemented and if they hold, and there is still an urgent need for a ceasefire everywhere in the country, but it is a promising start and the first genuinely good news about Yemen in years. This week the U.S. took an important step towards extricating itself from an indefensible war, and the warring parties in Yemen took a first step towards de-escalation and possibly a cessation of hostilities in the future. There is still a very long way to go, and there is still an urgent need to stave off the worst famine in decades, but for once things seem to be moving in the right direction.
The Wall Street Journal reports on the Trump administration’s plans for U.S. policy in Africa:
President Trump plans to reshape America’s policy in Africa by challenging the continent’s leaders to make a strategic choice to align themselves with America instead of Russia or China.
As he has done in other parts of the globe, Mr. Trump is angling to strengthen ties with like-minded African allies and isolate uncooperative leaders who work with America’s biggest competitors.
“The predatory practices pursued by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa, threaten the financial independence of African nations, inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment, interfere with U.S. military operations and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests,” John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, is expected to say on Thursday in a speech unveiling the new approach.
U.S. security interests aren’t threatened by Chinese and Russian influence in Africa, and framing U.S. policy for the entire continent as a zero-sum great power competition isn’t going to be very appealing to African governments. Considering how large and diverse Africa is, defining U.S. policy as one for the entire continent is not smart, and it will probably be taken as a sign that the administration doesn’t know what it’s talking about. Most of these states had a history of non-alignment during the Cold War, and I suspect most of them will not want to be forced into making such a choice now. The administration’s plan is called “Prosper Africa,” but African governments will be understandably skeptical that Trump has any interest in seeing their countries prosper. The plan appears to be forcing African governments to choose Washington’s camp or risk facing “isolation” imposed by the U.S. That is a typically heavy-handed approach, and it’s one that won’t be welcomed.
Part of Bolton’s speech will involve more of the usual U.N.-bashing that we expect from him, and it will apparently include a threat to cut off support for peacekeeping operations on the continent:
Mr. Bolton also is expected to warn the United Nations that the Trump administration could end its support for peacekeeping efforts in Africa, home to seven of the 14 ongoing “blue helmet” operations.
Yanking support for peacekeeping operations would be a good way to anger and alienate a lot of governments across the continent. It seems that Bolton’s hostility to the U.N. is so great that he doesn’t care if it undermines the larger policy that he is supposed to be unveiling. Just by threatening to take away that support, the administration is telling its would-be partners that it isn’t reliable. Much as it has done in other parts of the world, the Trump administration thinks that it can rely on threats to cajole states to take their side, but it is no more likely to work in Africa than it has anywhere else.
Outgoing U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley unwittingly summed up the stupidity of the Trump administration’s embrace of Saudi Arabia in a recent interview:
What I can tell you that’s so important is that the Saudis have been our partner in defeating and dealing with Iran. And that has been hugely important.
While Haley is certain that it is important, there is no evidence that what she claims is true. The Saudis have not been “our partner in defeating and dealing with Iran.” The Saudis have been very effective in playing into the hands of Iran, driving other countries closer to Iran, and generally making a mess of everything they have tried to do. Haley is simply reciting talking points as always, but it is striking how vapid those talking points still are after all this time. If “defeating and dealing with Iran” is so important to you, you should be livid with the incompetence and ineffectiveness of the Saudi government. The fact that the Trump administration keeps making excuses for the Saudis and covers for their crimes just shows how inept and hopelessly out of their depth they are as well.
Iran hawks have an uncanny ability to support policies that end up strengthening Iranian influence in the region in misguided attempts to hurt them. We all know they backed the invasion of Iraq, which was by far the greatest boon to the Iranian government that anyone has done in a long time, but they have also consistently endorsed confrontational and hard-line policies that end up backfiring and helping Iran from Lebanon to Yemen to Qatar. Iran has gained more thanks to the stupidity and arrogance of its self-professed enemies than it could have ever achieved on its own. Mohammed bin Salman and his government have been worse than useless when it comes to “defeating and dealing with Iran,” but Iran hawks couldn’t be more pleased with both the crown prince and the Saudi government. The Trump administration is still mindlessly devoted to a Saudi relationship that doesn’t even live up to its supposed importance as a “bulwark” against Iran, and it seems that nothing is going to change their position.
All of this is a timely reminder that the U.S.-Saudi relationship is not nearly as important or valuable to the U.S. as its apologists claim, and the Saudi government is little more than a liability.
Nick Kristof has written another important column on the need to end the war on Yemen, and the most important part is not anything he writes:
I’m giving up most of my column space today to introduce you to Abrar Ibrahim, a 12-year-old girl in Yemen who weighs just 28 pounds. Nothing I write can be as searing or persuasive or true as Abrar is in this photo.
Abrar is starving in part as a consequence of the American-backed Saudi Arabian war in Yemen. Members of the United States Congress are considering measures that would end our country’s support for the war. They should look at Abrar. Her emaciation reflects the reality that United States policies are contributing to the deaths of children in Yemen by the tens of thousands.
The many tens of thousands of innocent Yemenis who have already died from preventable causes over the last three and a half years remain almost completely anonymous and invisible to the outside world. Until recently, their deaths have gone uncounted and unremarked by almost everyone outside the country. That is beginning to change, but the change has come too late for many of the war’s victims. The question before us is whether we will act in time to prevent catastrophic famine that threatens to take 14 million lives.
Despite the great number of unnecessary, preventable deaths caused by the war on Yemen, our government’s policy of enabling this catastrophe has remained the same. Many members of Congress in both houses have been working tirelessly to put an end to that policy, but it has been an uphill struggle the entire time. There has been and continues to be concerted opposition from the White House and the Pentagon, and the Republican leadership in both houses has been unremittingly hostile to every effort to cut off support to the Saudi coalition. It is a credit to the perseverance and determination of war opponents that the war is finally being debated and voted on. There should be a vote on amendments and final passage starting tomorrow afternoon. Things have reached this point only because of continued pressure from members of Congress, activists, and voters, and no matter what happens this week that pressure has to continue into the new year. The Democratic majority in the House will be much more amenable to antiwar resolutions on Yemen, and there should still be enough votes in the Senate to pass a resolution against the war a second time.
When senators vote on S.J.Res. 54 this week, they should all ask themselves the most important questions: 1) why is the U.S. involved in an unwinnable war in Yemen on the side of the aggressors?; 2) why has our government made itself party to war crimes and crimes against humanity?; 3) how can the current policy of backing the Saudi coalition war be justified when it is causing the worst famine in decades? They should look at the picture of the starving Abrar Ibhrahim, they should look at the portraits of the dozens of massacred schoolboys in Dahyan, they should read the account of the massacre of the villagers from Arhab district, and they should look at the picture of the starving Amal Hussain, now deceased, and ask why all of these people were blown up or starved to death as a result of our despicable Yemen policy. There are no good answers to any of these questions. The only sane and decent response to these horrors is to vote to put an end to U.S. support for the war.
The Trump administration continues using humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip in talks with North Korea. The result is the spread of preventable and treatable diseases:
The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is restricting some international relief agencies from delivering humanitarian assistance to needy North Koreans, in the latest effort to compel Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear arms program.
In recent months, U.S. diplomats have delayed the export of surgical equipment and supplies for fighting tuberculosis and malaria to North Korea, and held up the delivery from Canada of 300 stainless steel soy-milk cans for day care centers and orphanages there, according to several diplomatic sources and internal United Nations documents.
The measures, which the United States is channeling through the U.N. Security Council committee responsible for monitoring sanctions on North Korea, appears to be part of Washington’s maximum pressure campaign against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime.
Delaying humanitarian assistance to sick and hungry people is a cruel and unworthy tactic. Worse still, it is being cruel for no good reason. As I said in October when this pressure tactic was first being reported, the North Korean government is not going to be suddenly moved to give up its nuclear weapons because our government interferes with the delivery of aid. If the North Korean government were greatly concerned about the health and welfare of these people, there would not be such a need for outside aid in the first place. Note that the aid efforts that the administration is interfering with are charitable works being done for the sake of helping North Korea’s poor and sick. Our government is getting in the way because it wants to turn that aid into an incentive that it can use in its fruitless negotiations with Pyongyang.
Impeding the delivery of aid to sick and starving people has become a recurring theme in Trump administration policies. In each case, it doesn’t achieve anything except to impose greater hardship on already suffering people. There is some opposition from Congress to this pointless cruelty:
In a November 7 letter to President Trump, Edward Markey, the Democratic U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, said he was “deeply troubled” by the American restrictions.
Markey said that the U.S. Treasury Department requirements are so onerous that simple tasks now take months to complete and often require help from attorneys.
“The humanitarian situation in North Korea is far too dire for these draconian policies. The United Nations estimates that 60,000 children are at risk of starvation, and cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis—if left untreated—threaten to spread with devastating effect throughout the country and potentially into neighboring states,” he said.
This is simply a case of punishing the weakest and most vulnerable people in North Korea in a vain bid to revive a “maximum pressure” policy that has already failed. It’s unnecessary, unjust, and serves no American interests.
Today the Senate is expected to vote on the motion to proceed for S.J.Res. 54, the Sanders-Lee-Murphy resolution that advanced to the floor two weeks ago by a 63-37 vote. There are likely enough votes to pass the motion to proceed, and that will clear the way for the resolution to be considered for final passage before the end of the year. The Senate has an opportunity to strike a blow against unauthorized, illegal warfare and against a despicable Yemen policy that the vast majority of Americans doesn’t support.
In the House, Reps. Ro Khanna and Thomas Massie have brought up a new version of the antiwar resolution that the House Republican leadership torpedoed last month. Last night, the Rules Committee tacked on a provision to the rule for the farm bill that would de-privilege the new resolution, H.Con.Res 142:
Wow. The rule for the Farm Bill approved tonight by House Rules strips privilege from any War Powers resolution that limits US involvement in Yemen for the rest of the year. The rule still must pass the House. https://t.co/iGFtIJRutu pic.twitter.com/jqEOYF6PWi
— Connor O’Brien (@connorobrienNH) December 12, 2018
Rep. Massie condemned the maneuver in an interview:
“This is definitely not America First. We shouldn’t be spending our blood and treasure in the Middle East, and furthermore on another level, we shouldn’t be jeopardizing the passage of domestic policy and domestic spending with a foreign policy/ war issue,” Massie told Breitbart News. “In other words, if you’re putting America First, why would you jeopardize passage of the Farm bill by sneaking in the War in Yemen through the Farm bill?”
“It’s not America First; it’s not putting America’s farmers first,” Massie added. “I don’t’ think they would be excited find out that Paul Ryan used their bill to pull these shenanigans.”
Rep. Khanna spoke out against it earlier today:
Once again the GOP is using parliamentary tricks to block our effort to end the devastating war in Yemen. Every 10 minutes a Yemeni child is dying. @SpeakerRyan is using his remaining power to protect the Saudis who are aligned w/ al-Qaeda and murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. pic.twitter.com/FAtRdAc54W
— Rep. Ro Khanna (@RepRoKhanna) December 12, 2018
The House votes this afternoon on the rule, so there is a chance that the rule will be voted down and the resolution will survive. Regardless, this marks the second time this year and the third overall that the House GOP leadership has tried to torpedo an important antiwar measure. Rep. Walter Jones denounced the latest attempt:
This extraordinary and reckless move by leadership is a slap in the face to both the Constitution and the War Powers Act. I urge all of my colleagues to reject this rule, and STOP using our constitutional responsibility as a bargaining chip. https://t.co/faPLw0XWlh
— Rep. Walter Jones (@RepWalterJones) December 12, 2018
Congress has neglected its responsibilities in matters of war for a very long time. Today both the House and the Senate have opportunities to do their constitutional duty and to begin extricating the U.S. from a truly shameful, unnecessary war.
Update: The House voted to approve the rule on the farm bill, 206-203.
Second update: The motion to proceed on S.J.Res. 54 passed 60-39.
Foreign Affairs recently asked a number of analysts and scholars what U.S. strategy in the Middle East should be. The participants were asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “The United States should stop trying to solve the regional problems of the Middle East,” and they were asked to assign their level of confidence in their answer. The responses were mostly what you would expect. For example, Elliott Abrams strongly disagrees with the statement and Emma Ashford strongly agrees with it (both confidence level 10). John Mearsheimer very much agrees and Shadi Hamid disagrees almost as much. Some were less certain, and others professed to be neutral. With maybe a couple exceptions, informed readers could have accurately guessed the participants’ answers before they gave them. It’s an interesting exercise for gauging the relative hawkishness and/or meddlesomeness of the people answering the question, but it may be the wrong question for thinking about what is really wrong with U.S. policies in the region.
The question takes for granted that the U.S. has spent the last several decades trying to “solve” the region’s problems, and the disagreement is over whether it should keep making the effort, reduce that effort, or give up entirely. What if the U.S. has not been trying to “solve” the region’s problems at all, but has instead been trying to exploit and compound them with other goals in mind? For instance, taking sides in Syria’s war and funneling arms and equipment to insurgents is not what one does when one wishes to bring a conflict to an end more quickly. It it what an outside government does to keep a conflict going longer than it otherwise would. Maintaining an illegal, open-ended military presence in Syria doesn’t seem designed to “solve” any of Syria’s problems. No one can seriously argue that U.S. policy in Yemen has been aimed at trying to solve that country’s problems. It’s also true that the U.S. isn’t very good at solving regional problems because we don’t understand the region, but finding solutions to those problems has not been a high priority for Washington for a very long time. The real question isn’t whether or not we should stop “trying to solve” problems in the region, because we haven’t been trying to do that, but whether we should stop using the countries of the region as pawns in our government’s destructive fixations with terrorism and Iran. My answer to that question is obviously a yes, and I think this question gets to the heart of why U.S. policies in the region have been so destructive and harmful.