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The Foreseeable Disaster in Yemen

Michael Hanna and Thanassis Cambanis call for ending U.S. complicity in the war on Yemen:

Under scrutiny, however, the strategic justifications don’t hold up. In almost every case, the war has made old problems worse while creating new ones.The Houthis were not by any stretch an Iranian proxy at the outset of the current conflict, but welcomed ever greater levels of assistance and coordination from Tehran as they responded to the Saudi-led escalation. Today, the Houthis are much more strategically aligned with Iran than ever before—as a result of a military campaign that was supposed to curtail Iranian reach. Furthermore, the harm to civilians is a clear result of the air war and blockade: Saudi and Emirati talking points on this part of the conflict have failed to convince most Yemen observers.

The Saudi coalition supposedly sought to combat the minimal Iranian influence in Yemen that existed in 2015, but Iranian influence has grown as a direct result of their intervention. This was predictable, and anyone paying close attention could see that this is what was going to happen. In April 2015, just a couple weeks after the Saudi-led intervention began, I wrote:

Perversely, the war on Yemen could increase Iranian influence by forcing Yemenis to look for help against the attack on their country.

Iran’s influence has grown in Yemen, but it still remains quite limited. It would have been even more limited if the Saudis and Emiratis had not been wrecking and starving the country for three and a half years. The war has failed to achieve any of its stated objectives (restoring Hadi, expelling the Houthis from the capital), and it has devastated an entire country for absolutely nothing. Wars fought to “prevent” future threats tend to create the dangers that they were supposedly going to eliminate. As I said back in 2015:

Waging a war now in an attempt to squelch a threat that does not yet exist is always a bad bargain: it inflicts damage that didn’t have to happen, it imposes costs on all involved that could have been avoided, and it turns a potentially manageable situation into a prolonged and ruinous conflict.

More than three years after I wrote that, we can see just how prolonged and ruinous the conflict turned out to be. Up to 14 million people are at risk of starving to death, a new cholera epidemic is starting, and as many as 66,000 children are already dying each year from preventable causes. None of this had to happen, and most of it has happened because outside governments chose to interfere in a conflict and made it far worse than it could have been without their intervention. The U.S. should never have been involved in this war, and it is imperative that the U.S. end that involvement and pressure the Saudi coalition to accept a ceasefire and lift the blockade on the country. If the war isn’t brought to an end very soon, there will be even more horrific consequences for the people of Yemen. The truly shameful thing is that the disaster engulfing Yemen right is now is a foreseeable and preventable disaster that our government and the Saudi coalition are allowing to unfold.

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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