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The Pointless Suffering of Yemen

Marc Lynch comments on the U.S. role in Yemen in his recent Foreign Affairs essay on Obama’s policies in the region:

The Obama administration’s willingness to support the Saudi campaign in Yemen has been more cynical. Few in Washington believe the Saudi rationale for war, and even fewer believe the campaign has any hope of success [bold mine-DL]. In reality, the United States was appeasing the Saudis on Yemen in order to prevent them from acting as a spoiler on the Iran talks, thereby condemning millions of Yemenis to pointless suffering.

This has become the standard explanation for why the U.S. is backing the intervention in Yemen, but it remains a very unsatisfying one. If the U.S. hadn’t aided the Saudi-led attack, what exactly would the Saudis and their allies have been doing to “spoil” the Iran talks? They would have expressed their objections to the deal publicly, much as the Israeli government has done in the strongest terms, and then the P5+1 would have pressed ahead with the negotiations regardless. The administration indulged its Gulf clients’ paranoia about Iran and endorsed their reckless war to win tacit acceptance of a deal that those clients had no ability to derail. Like the war on Yemen itself, this was unnecessary and foolish.

The fact that so few in Washington expect the Saudi-led intervention to succeed makes U.S. support for it that much worse. Of course, even if the intervention did “work” to achieve some of the Saudis’ goals (which has never been likely), that wouldn’t make it any less indefensible or appalling. Yemen’s civilian population continues to pay the price for this war, and the humanitarian crisis is set to worsen. This is especially true since the Saudis bombed one of the country’s major ports earlier this month. Mark Kaye explains:

The crisis has been compounded by the fact that getting aid into Yemen and transporting it around the country is very limited. Aid agencies like Save the Children are frantically trying to scale up our response, but it’s almost impossible when we can’t get relief supplies into the country. The recent bombing of Hodeida port – the key entry point for supplies to the hungry people in the north and centre of the country – was the last straw, putting the aid effort in jeopardy at a time when people are running out of food, water and medicine.

As Kaye makes clear, the suffering of the people of Yemen is enormous and is only going to increase under current conditions, and as Lynch says it has all been pointless suffering.

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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