Home/Daniel Larison/The War on Yemen and the Folly of Enabling Reckless Clients

The War on Yemen and the Folly of Enabling Reckless Clients

Ibrahem Qasim/Flickr: air strike in Sana'a, May 2015

Samuel Oakford reviews the effects of the Saudi-led war on Yemen and the U.S. role in enabling it:

In the span of four days earlier this month, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in Yemen bombed a Doctors Without Borders-supported hospital, killing 19 people; a school, where 10 children, some as young as 8, died; and a vital bridge over which United Nations food supplies traveled, punishing millions [bold mine-DL].

In a war that has seen reports of human rights violations committed by every side, these three attacks stand out. But the Obama administration says these strikes, like previous ones that killed thousands of civilians since last March, will have no effect on the American support that is crucial for Saudi Arabia’s air war.

One of the more striking details in the op-ed is that the administration specifically told the Saudis not to bomb the bridge that connected Hodeidah and Sanaa, but the Saudis did it anyway. They have since bombed other bridges on the same route. Destroying the bridge has made the already very severe humanitarian crisis even worse:

More than 14 million Yemenis suffer dangerous levels of food insecurity — a figure that dwarfs that of any other country in conflict, worsened by a Saudi-led and American-supported blockade. One in three children under the age of 5 reportedly suffers from acute malnutrition. An estimated 90 percent of food that the United Nation’s World Food Program transports to Sana traveled across the destroyed bridge [bold mine-DL].

The administration has claimed that its involvement in the conflict helps make the coalition bombing campaign more accurate and less likely to cause civilian casualties, but the truth appears to be that the Saudis and their allies bomb whatever they like with our help and disregard any contrary advice they are given. The U.S. has been unstinting in its support for the coalition campaign and blockade, and it seems that there is nothing the coalition can do to put that at risk.

This is one of the dangers of reflexively and uncritically backing irresponsible clients: it implicates the U.S. in whatever the clients do with our government’s assistance and forfeits any chance of reining the clients in when they commit excesses and crimes. The clients are also more likely to commit crimes when they assume they have carte blanche from Washington. When the purpose of the entire exercise is to “reassure” the clients for reassurance’s sake, the U.S. has already handcuffed itself to the coalition and made itself a prisoner of their war. It puts the patron in the bizarre position of trying to curry favor with its clients, and it allows the clients to take as much as they can get while always claiming to be unsatisfied and neglected. When indulging their destructive policy is the only discernible goal of U.S. support, it seems that there is nothing that the Saudis and their allies can do to jeopardize our government’s backing.

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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