Home/The State of the Union/Designating the Houthis Is Another Senseless Attack on Yemeni Civilians

Designating the Houthis Is Another Senseless Attack on Yemeni Civilians

Yemeni child eats ready-to-use therapeutic food bag in 2017. Credit: UNICEF/USAID/Flickr

The Trump administration is preparing to go through with the terrible idea of designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization:

The Trump administration is preparing to designate Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi insurgents a terrorist organization before leaving office in January, fueling fears the move will disrupt international aid efforts and upend United Nations-brokered peace efforts between the Shiite movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, according to several diplomatic sources.

Designating the Houthis is a mistake on the merits. but It will make it more difficult to reach a negotiated settlement to end the war. It will make an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis even worse. All of this was true when it was being floated earlier this year, and it is still true today. On top of all that, there is good reason to believe that this decision is being made as a last-minute gift to the Saudis. It is also another attempt to tie the hands of the next administration:

“They have been contemplating this for a while, but Pompeo wants this fast-tracked,” said one diplomatic source. “It’s part of the scorched-earth policy the sour grapes in the White House are taking.”

The Trump administration’s Yemen policy has been a disgrace for the last four years, so it isn’t really surprising that they would do the wrong thing on their way out the door. This is just about the worst thing they could do after having already suspended U.S. aid to Houthi-controlled territory, which is where roughly 80% of the population resides. The U.N. special envoy has urged the U.S. not to do this, as have several of our allies and the Secretary-General of the U.N. Even the Pentagon and experts at the State Department are against doing this:

The U.S. Department of Defense and career experts in the State Department are said to be against the move. A coalition of international charities, meanwhile, are preparing a joint statement anticipating the designation, comparing the potential impacts to the famine in Somalia after the U.S. designated al-Shabab as a terrorist group in 2008.

The expected designation has already prompted evacuations of American U.N. staff and Americans working for other organizations from northern Yemen:

American staffers for the United Nations and some workers at nongovernmental organizations have been relocated out of northern Yemen in anticipation of the Trump administration’s possible terrorist designation for the Iran-backed Houthi rebels that is likely to complicate aid deliveries and further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country.

Humanitarian relief organizations have pleaded with the administration not to designate the Houthis because of the serious impediments this would create in doing their life-saving work in northern Yemen. A designation would not do much to harm the Houthis, and it would do nothing to Iran, but it would punish millions of innocent Yemenis who are already suffering from widespread malnutrition, starvation, and disease. Yemeni civilians will be made to suffer simply so that the administration can cater to its despotic clients one last time:

“The lives of millions of vulnerable children in Yemen are already at risk—this policy will only deepen their suffering by further restricting humanitarian access to vulnerable communities. Recent evidence continues to point to a worsening malnutrition crisis for children,” said Janti Soeripto, the president and CEO of Save the Children. “Even if a humanitarian exemption is permitted, this designation will likely make reaching children and families more difficult and could also heighten security risks for our staff and hinder the fragile peace process.”

In addition to impeding the delivery of aid, a designation gives the Houthis no incentive to compromise and encourages them to keep the war going as long as they can:

“The reality is that the Houthis must be part of any final negotiated settlement to the conflict in Yemen, and designating them a foreign terrorist organization could be taken by the Houthis as a signal that they cannot achieve their goals at the negotiating table,” said Kate Kizer, the policy director for the advocacy group Win Without War.

“That’s a recipe for more war and suffering for the Yemeni people, not peace,” she said.

Designating the Houthis is the sort of senseless, harmful posturing that the Trump administration specializes in. It makes an end to the war less likely, it will further exacerbate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, and it aligns the U.S. even more closely with the wretched client states that it has been supporting for the last five and a half years. Many more innocent Yemenis will needlessly die if the administration makes this designation, and the U.S. will bear responsibility for their preventable deaths.

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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