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Supporting a Year of the Appalling War on Yemen to ‘Reassure’ Despots

Obama's bad decision to support the Saudi-led intervention was made for all the wrong reasons.
yemen airstrikes sa'ada

The New York Times reports on the Saudi-led war on Yemen and U.S. support for the campaign as the war nears the one-year mark. The article doesn’t contain that much new information for readers that have been following the conflict closely, but it is still worth reading. This section stood out to me:

Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf neighbors were poised to begin a campaign in support of Yemen’s impotent government — an offensive Mr. Jubeir said could be relatively swift.

Two days of discussions in the West Wing followed, but there was little real debate. Among other reasons, the White House needed to placate the Saudis as the administration completed a nuclear deal with Iran, Saudi Arabia’s archenemy. That fact alone eclipsed concerns among many of the president’s advisers that the Saudi-led offensive would be long, bloody and indecisive. [bold mine-DL]

Mr. Obama soon gave his approval for the Pentagon to support the impending military campaign.

This doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, but it reconfirms that Obama’s bad decision to support the Saudi-led intervention was made for all the wrong reasons. Giving the Saudis aid so that they could pummel and starve a poor neighbor is indefensible, and doing it just to suck up to Riyadh is even worse. Obama’s advisers correctly foresaw that the war would be “long, blood, and indecisive,” so the administration wasn’t being overly optimistic about the Saudis’ chances of success. They could see that the intervention was a mistake before it happened, and they backed the Saudis’ reckless war anyway just to placate our despotic clients. Since there was “little real debate” about what the U.S. should do and the desire to “reassure” bad clients was so strong, it’s no wonder that the president made such a terrible decision.

The report says that the administration has been “whipsawed by criticism from all sides,” but that’s an exaggeration. It would be more accurate to say that the administration has largely avoided criticism at home by pretending that it isn’t a party to the conflict, and it has failed to get any credit from the clients it has been supporting. Obama wants the Saudis and the other Gulf states involved to be grateful for backing their unnecessary war, but he doesn’t want the U.S. to be held responsible for any of the coalition’s crimes. On the one hand, he has Kerry talking about how the U.S. is standing with the Saudis and praising the Emiratis for their “sacrifice,” and on the other he and his officials act as if the U.S. is a mere spectator. All the while, no U.S. interests are being advanced by any of this, and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the local ISIS affiliate have profited from the upheaval. As Obama is discovering once again, indulging bad clients doesn’t satisfy them, but just encourages them to whine more in the hopes that the U.S. will do more for them. For all of Obama’s supposed “frustration” with the Saudis and the Saudis’ distrust of Obama, he has been reliably indulging the Saudis in their worst instincts for at least the last year if not longer.



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