Home/Daniel Larison/The War on Yemen Has Nothing to Do With Self-Defense

The War on Yemen Has Nothing to Do With Self-Defense

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

Kenneth Pollack and Barbara Walter make an especially absurd claim in an op-ed this morning:

This doesn’t mean that the Sunni Arab states, which are America’s traditional allies, like the Russian choice. But they understand it. What they don’t understand is the frightening strategy their longtime protector is pursuing. The result is that a traditional U.S. ally like Saudi Arabia has felt obliged to take risky actions in self-defense [bold mine-DL], such as executing a Shiite cleric last month, and intervening in Yemen’s civil war by backing the Sunni-led government against the Shiite Houthis favored by Tehran.

If there’s one thing that should be very clear by now, it is that Saudi-led intervention in Yemen and the execution of non-violent Shia dissidents have nothing to do with self-defense. The Saudis execute domestic critics because theirs is an oppressive and sectarian regime. The Saudis and their allies chose to take a side in Yemen’s civil war, and in so doing they ensured that the war would be far more destructive. They did this because they wanted to have a dependent government in Yemen aligned with them. Their security was not at risk, but out of an irrational fear of a supposed Iranian “takeover” they plunged into a war that they aren’t winning but won’t stop. The Saudi-led intervention is an aggressive and unjustifiable one, and it has provoked attacks on Saudi territory that would not have happened otherwise.

The greatest error that Obama made in the last year was not focusing on ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It was the disgraceful decision to back the Saudis’ appalling war on Yemen for the last ten months. The problem with Obama’s policies in the region isn’t that he has failed to indulge the Gulf states enough in their preoccupations, but that he has been far too concerned to “reassure” and support their destructive behavior. The best thing that the U.S. could do to help settle the conflict in Yemen is to stop lending support to the Saudi-led campaign and to use whatever influence Washington still has with them to pressure them to accept a compromise, but Pollack and Walter have nothing to say about that. As usual, the U.S. role in the war on Yemen remains goes unmentioned, and its part in helping to stoke the conflict receives no criticism.

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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