Home/Daniel Larison/The War on Yemen and Everything That’s Wrong with U.S. Foreign Policy

The War on Yemen and Everything That’s Wrong with U.S. Foreign Policy

Micah Zenko calls for a halt to U.S. support for the war on Yemen:

It is time to phase out and terminate America’s support for the Saudi-led component of this civil war, and, more importantly, never again go to war, or support other’s wars, without purpose or objectives.

Zenko was one of the earliest critics of this policy when Obama started it over three years ago, and he correctly pointed out then just how absurd it was that the U.S. was backing a war because our government supposedly couldn’t stop it from happening. Supporting the Saudi coalition’s intervention was the worst foreign policy decision Obama made as president, and continuing that policy is easily the worst and most destructive decision Trump has made since taking office. The rationalizations for this support may change over time, but they are no more compelling or credible today than they were three years ago. Whether the U.S. is “reassuring” despotic clients or resisting imaginary Iranian “expansionism,” there is no justification for what the U.S. has enabled the Saudis and their allies to do to the people of Yemen.

When the military intervention began, it was called Decisive Storm because it was expected to be successful and quick, but it was never going to be either of those things. Over 40 months later, it has unfortunately become even worse than the horror that opponents of this policy warned that it would be at the start. The Saudi coalition absurdly claimed to be fighting for the stability of Yemen, but it has thrown the country into chaos and worsened all of its existing divisions. Just as I feared it would, outside intervention intensified and prolonged the existing conflict and the civilian population has paid the highest price as a result. An already poor country has been kicked into the abyss of famine and cholera thanks to relentless coalition bombing and a strangling blockade, and all of it has been done with the ongoing blessing and support of our government.

Our government’s support for the war on Yemen exemplifies all of what is worst in U.S. foreign policy. It began with the unthinking, automatic backing for “allies” that we aren’t actually obliged to assist, and it continued with the pathetic refusal to hold those states accountable for their numerous war crimes. The president committed the U.S. to involvement in a foreign war without Congressional debate or authorization, and the U.S. has remained illegally involved in the war ever since. The military intervention itself was a war of choice, and the U.S. then chose to support it when there was nothing requiring our government to do so. U.S. interests have been consistently subordinated to the interests of Saudi and Emirati clients to the detriment of all concerned.

The threat that the intervention was supposedly countering was grossly exaggerated in order to justify attacking a country whose people had done nothing to the intervening governments and who posed no threat to the U.S. Instead of using our government’s considerable leverage to rein in our clients after they committed war crimes, both the Obama and Trump administrations indulged these governments and helped cover for them at the U.N. for fear of losing influence. The government defends its support for these states as both vitally important and therefore beyond question while also claiming that it is so limited that it doesn’t need to be authorized by Congress. When our clients commit war crimes, the U.S. feigns ignorance of what they’re doing with our support, but when Congress tries to cut them off the administration insists that it is far too important to end.

The Saudi coalition war is Exhibit A of what Barry Posen would call “reckless driving” by U.S. clients, and presidents from both parties have encouraged them in that recklessness. Despite more than three years of failure, the U.S. persists in supporting the coalition when it should be obvious that backing the war has been a colossal error. All of this has happened in plain view, and yet it has been mostly ignored at home. The Obama and Trump administrations are able to avoid scrutiny and criticism because Congress can’t be bothered to do its job and most of the foreign policy establishment has no real problem with the policy. Most of the costs are borne by the people of Yemen and therefore those costs remain largely invisible to the American public, but they are no less horrifying for all that.

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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