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The Complete Failure of the War on Yemen

Rawan Shaif notes that the Saudi government has pushed the Houthis towards Iran through its disastrous intervention in Yemen:

Nevertheless, when the coalition’s aerial bombardment campaign began in Yemen, it triggered a self-fulfilling prophecy. Until the international conflict began in Yemen in 2015, Saudi allegations of Houthi-Iranian cooperation were mostly only backed by hearsay and online rumor-mongering. According to Peter Salisbury, an analyst at the International Crisis Group, the Houthis received only minimal levels of support from Iran before the regional war started. “It has been politically more convenient to lay the blame for the Houthis at Iran’s door than to say that the Houthis’ rise was the product of a series of internal political miscalculations and misplaced international priorities,” Salisbury said.

Blaming Iran for the war on Yemen has been the Trump administration’s go-to excuse for continuing to arm and support the Saudi coalition, but it isn’t true. Iran isn’t responsible for the war, and it is still much less involved than the governments that the U.S. has supported to the hilt for years. In fact, the Iran hawks in the administration are doing Iran a favor every day that they continue to support this unwinnable war. The smartest thing the administration could do would be to pull the plug on that support and push the Saudis and Emiratis to negotiate, but instead they have chosen to indulge and cover for their clients.

The war on Yemen provided an opening for increased cooperation between the Houthis and Iran. The war was sold on the lie of combating “Iranian expansionism,” but like many ill-conceived military interventions before it the Saudi-led campaign contributed to creating the thing it was supposedly launched to prevent. The Houthis still have their own agenda and shouldn’t be seen simply as extensions of Iran, but there is no question that the war has given both an incentive to work together more than they once did. The Saudi coalition and its Western supporters are the best friends that Iran could have, since they are the ones providing the Iranian government with an easy opportunity to exploit the weakness of its regional rivals that would not have existed were it not for the folly and recklessness of the Saudi and Emirati governments. As usual, the people shrieking loudest about Iranian influence are the ones that have helped that influence to spread. Much as the Iraq war was a boon to Iran’s position in the region, the war on Yemen has worked to Iran’s advantage at the expense of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Iranian foreign policy tends to be reactive and opportunistic, and the U.S. and its clients excel at giving them opportunities to exploit.

This was not only foreseeable, but it was actually pretty obvious to anyone paying attention when the intervention started. Way back in April 2015, I said that the Saudi-led intervention would be more likely to drive the Houthis and Iran together than it was to keep them apart:

It might be worth noting that if one wanted to create a new Hizbullah, the fastest way to do that would be to have foreign governments attack this group’s country, thus providing it with the perfect opportunity to present itself as defending the country against the invader. The campaign that Hadi and the U.S. support is making this outcome more likely rather than less.

The longer that the war on Yemen goes on, the worse it is for the Saudis and Emiratis. I said the same thing again a couple years ago:

The absurdity of MBS’ position is that the longer the Saudis and their allies wreck and starve Yemen, the more likely it is that they turn the Houthis into the Iranian proxy that Riyadh claims to fear.

They thought that they could carve up Yemen for themselves, install new puppets to do their bidding, and that would be that. Instead, they have created a much greater threat to their security than existed four and a half years ago. Mark Perry recently quoted a military official in a report for TAC a few days ago that referred to “the bumbling, incompetent and feckless stupidity of it all.” He was referring to the Saudi-led war on Yemen. Four and a half years later, millions of Yemenis are starving and hundreds of thousands are dead because of that feckless stupidity, the U.S. is implicated in thousands of war crimes, and the Saudi coalition has completely failed in achieving any of its goals.

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.

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