Home/Daniel Larison/Obama’s Horrible Legacy in Yemen

Obama’s Horrible Legacy in Yemen

Samuel Oakford and Peter Salisbury review the Obama administration’s record of enabling the Saudi-led war on Yemen:

The once-improbable now seems imminent: unless the Obama administration ends refueling and logistical support for the Saudis, it appears all but certain to hand off the war in Yemen to his successor.

The Obama administration started its support for the Saudi-led war in the name of “reassuring” the Gulf clients, and so there seems to be nothing that the coalition does to Yemen that can put that support at risk. When the goal of a policy is simply to placate other governments regardless of what those governments do with the assistance, it becomes impossible to stop the support without angering those governments and thus defeating the purpose of the policy of “reassurance.” Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom in Washington has been that Obama has been too hard on the Saudis and other Gulf clients, so the next president is likely to indulge them even more and criticize them less than the very limited criticism Obama has offered. In the case of Clinton and Kaine, we have every reason to expect this. Kaine “urged” the administration to continue providing logistical and intelligence support to the coalition from the very beginning of the bombing campaign, and everything Clinton has said about the relationship with the Saudis and their allies indicates that she has no desire to cut off the assistance. As far as I know, Trump and Pence haven’t said anything publicly about U.S. support for the war, but what Trump has said about Yemen isn’t encouraging.

Last week’s Senate debate on the latest arms sale was dispiriting but instructive in showing the lengths to which supporters of the war on Yemen would go to frame the conflict in pro-Saudi terms. According to the warped view of the Saudis’ allies in the Senate, the aggressive war on Yemen has been reinvented as a defensive war against Yemeni “aggression.” Some of the supporters will butcher basic geography in order to spin the Saudis’ war as a necessary one. I don’t know how many people in the administration genuinely share this upside-down view of the conflict, but judging from their public statements over the last year and a half U.S. officials are more likely to lie and echo Saudi propaganda than challenge it.

I have said many times that U.S. support for this war is a black mark on Obama’s record. It is arguably the worst thing he has done overseas, and enabling the coalition bombing campaign and supporting its blockade are among the worst things the U.S. has done to another part of the world in my lifetime. The candidate who once claimed to oppose “rash” and “dumb” wars will leave office after helping to fuel one of the most reckless and most foolish wars of the last twenty years. Thanks to Obama’s indulgence of the Saudis, millions of Yemenis are on the brink of famine, and many have already perished because the Saudi-led blockade has deprived them of necessary food and medicine. Yemen will be living with the consequences of Obama’s “reassurance” for decades after he leaves office, and his legacy there will be that he helped Yemen’s wealthier neighbors wreck an entire country so that despotic rulers might whine a little less about being neglected by Washington.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

leave a comment

Latest Articles