Home/Daniel Larison/The Saudi-Led War Keeps Failing at Everything Except Wrecking Yemen

The Saudi-Led War Keeps Failing at Everything Except Wrecking Yemen

Bruce Riedel notes that the Saudi-led war continues to fail in achieving any of its objectives. Because of the war, the new Saudi leadership has earned a reputation in the region for recklessness:

There are mutterings around the Gulf states now that the Saudi leadership is impulsive and rash. The Saudis have traditionally been very conservative and risk averse. From Faysal to Abdullah, Saudi Kings were cautious and careful. Now there is hushed talk of a team out of its depth with no plan for an endgame.

It was clear from the beginning of the campaign that the Saudis had no “plan for an endgame.” As interventionist states often do, the Saudis and their partners rushed in to a conflict they were never likely to win and declared goals that they were always very unlikely to achieve. The Saudi decision was a classic case of choosing to intervene in a conflict because they could. The Saudis sought to impose their political preferences on Yemen through force, which they should have already known would be a fool’s errand.

The Saudis evidently underestimated the difficulty of what they were trying to do and never considered what they ought to do if the initial campaign failed. They can continue to bludgeon and starve Yemen, and they seem intent on doing so, but the war is likely to provide them with nothing except increasing costs and increased insecurity along the border with Yemen. As Riedel mentions, the Houthis are now shelling targets inside Saudi Arabia, so at this point the war is exposing Saudi territory to attacks that would not be happening were it not for the intervention.

Meanwhile, Iran can just sit back and watch as the Saudis sabotage themselves with an ill-conceived and unnecessary war. Riedel writes:

Instead — after weeks of air attacks on the Zaydi Shiite Houthi rebels and their allies — the prince’s war looks like a stalemate. The immense damage done to Yemen’s weak infrastructure has created considerable bad blood between Yemenis and their rich Gulf neighbors that will poison relations for years. Yemenis always resented their rich brothers, and now many will want revenge. Iran is scoring a victory on its Gulf rival without any cost to Tehran and with only limited Iranian assistance to the Zaydis.

Exaggerated fears of Iranian influence in Yemen contributed to the Saudi decision to launch their dangerous intervention, so it is fitting that the Saudis are hurting their own cause with self-inflicted wounds in their desperate gamble to thwart an “expansion” of Iranian influence that was not actually taking place.

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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