Trump and the War on Yemen
Michael Brendan Dougherty proposes that Trump should try to end the war in Yemen:
But if Trump does want to bring some positive change to U.S. foreign policy, he should seek to end the war in Yemen.
Halting U.S. support for the atrocious Saudi-led war would be a smart move and a welcome change, and I hope it happens. The Saudi-led coalition depends on U.S. weapons and refueling to carry on their campaign, and they would be hard-pressed to continue without that assistance. Ending U.S. backing for the war could force the coalition and the Hadi government to accept a compromise that they have refused to consider so far. I’m skeptical that Trump would do this for a few reasons.
If there is one thing that seems to unite Trump and his various advisers, it is hostility to Iran. The Saudis and their allies have sold the war on Yemen as an intervention against supposed Iranian “expansionism,” and they have many people in the U.S. willing to repeat that lie. Iran’s role in Yemen is and remains negligible, but Iran hawks here in the U.S. don’t let the facts get in the way of alarmist propaganda. Based on the only thing he has had to say about the war, Trump appears to buy into that propaganda and doesn’t understand what’s going on there, and I doubt the anti-Iranian hard-liner Flynn would be inclined to tell him that it isn’t true. Maybe if someone explained to him that the war has strengthened Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), he would see how U.S. support for the war is undermining our security and that of the region, but who among his advisers would see it that way or even care?
If Trump saw U.S. backing for the war as a bad deal, perhaps he could be persuaded to cut off the Saudis and their allies anyway, but there doesn’t appear to be anyone in Trump’s circle that views it this way. Bob Corker is Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and a Trump ally, and he has been a vocal proponent of continued backing for the war. He called on Obama to “close the daylight” with the Gulf states, so he certainly isn’t going to advise Trump to pull the plug on them. During the debate over the last arms sale to the Saudis, Corker went so far as to invent a new map of the region in an effort to peddle the nonsense that Iran was threatening to take over Yemen. On top of that, Trump’s transition team is loaded with people with ties to the defense industry, and those are the businesses that stand to benefit from continued arms sales to the Saudis and other coalition members. As we saw earlier this year, Congress is also full of people in addition to Corker willing to recite the Saudi line, and they would object to ending U.S. support.
Trump’s election inadvertently exposed the absurdity of U.S. support for the war in that his victory caused at least one former Saudi official to call on him not to rip up the nuclear deal. Of course, the official justification for backing their war on Yemen was to placate the Saudis and their allies because of their supposed dissatisfaction with the deal, but this never made much sense. It has always seemed more likely that the Saudis and the other Gulf states feigned concern over the deal to extract more support from Washington, and in this they were entirely successful. Maybe if Trump recognized how the U.S. is being scammed by bad clients he would withdraw the support Obama provided, but it seems more likely that halting the war on Yemen will be an even lower priority for the new administration than it was for Obama.