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Yemen: The Worst Kind of “Preventive” War

Bilal Saab considers the thinking behind the United Arab Emirates’ significant role in the war on Yemen:

There is acceptance in Abu Dhabi and Riyadh that Iran does not see Yemen as a priority and its assistance to the Houthis has been modest [bold mine-DL], but the Emirati and Saudi concern is about the future. Unchecked, Iran could use Yemen to challenge Saudi national security. The Houthis in Yemen could be the next Hezbollah in Lebanon, a scenario which Saudi Arabia and the UAE would much prefer to avoid. So the war is preventive par excellence, with a goal of denying Iran an opportunity to spread its destabilizing influence in another Arab capital like it did in Baghdad, Damascus, and Beirut.

This reconfirms that the war on Yemen is like any other preventive war: premature, unnecessary, and easily avoidable. The original Saudi propaganda line in support of the intervention was that Yemen was suffering from an Iranian “takeover” that had to be reversed. Now even the coalition governments acknowledge that this wasn’t really true. If there was any threat to them, it was many years away and didn’t require the massive and heavy-handed military intervention that has been taking place. The governments waging the war on Yemen are causing enormous harm and paying substantial costs because of the fear of possible future threats that might have never materialized or could have been handled another way. Waging a war now in an attempt to squelch a threat that does not yet exist is always a bad bargain: it inflicts damage that didn’t have to happen, it imposes costs on all involved that could have been avoided, and it turns a potentially manageable situation into a prolonged and ruinous conflict. Six months into a war that the Saudis and their allies chose to escalate, the coalition is demonstrating the folly and recklessness of waging wars of choice to ward off distant, manageable threats. The coalition members are likely to discover that the gains from such a war will be paltry or non-existent, while the costs to them and to Yemen will be much higher than they ever anticipated.

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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