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The Reckless Saudi War on Yemen

The war on Yemen is already backfiring and harming regional security.

The reason for U.S. support for the Saudis’ war on Yemen is even worse than you would have thought:

American officials said they supported the Saudi campaign mainly because of a lack of alternatives.

“If you ask why we’re backing this, beyond the fact that the Saudis are allies and have been allies for a long time, the answer you’re going to get from most people — if they were being honest — is that we weren’t going to be able to stop it,” said an American defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the official was discussing internal government deliberations.

“If the Saudis were willing to step in, the thinking was that they should be encouraged,” the official said. “We were not going to send our military, that’s for certain.”

In other words, if the U.S. can’t stop a client from blundering into an unnecessary war, our government thinks it should throw its support behind that war and help the client to make a terrible mistake. Of course, there was a clear alternative to backing a dangerous military intervention in Yemen: refusing to provide any support for it. If the U.S. couldn’t bring itself to criticize the attack publicly, it could at the very least not help the Saudis with their campaign. As it is, the U.S. is backing a war that it doesn’t control. Almost no one thinks the campaign will be successful, and it is is likely to make the region less secure than it was before. No U.S. interests could possibly be served by this.

In the meantime, the Houthis are advancing in spite of the Saudi campaign, and the campaign has inadvertently proved to be a boon for jihadists:

The Houthis, portrayed as Iranian proxies by the Saudis but few others, have continued their advances despite nine nights of Saudi-led airstrikes. On Thursday, Houthi fighters captured a presidential palace in the southern port of Aden, killed a Saudi soldier in a skirmish at the border and wounded five others.

Islamist militants, meanwhile, capitalized on the chaos caused by the airstrikes to free a leader of Al Qaeda and hundreds of others from prison and to partly seize control of a crucial city in the south.

The war on Yemen is just a week old, but it is already backfiring and harming regional security. The U.S. should not only stop assisting the Saudis with this reckless war, but it should be pressing them to recognize the harm they are doing to their own security in the process. Besides the enormous harm that is being done to Yemen, the war has the potential to destabilize Saudi Arabia as well:

But analysts say it also risks destabilizing Saudi Arabia, a crucial ally in the region, and increasing the Houthis’ reliance on Iran.

“I don’t think they have thought through how to solve the problems in Yemen, or even how to manage it,” said Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University. “I don’t know how the Saudis can insulate themselves from Yemen and the violence that will come out of it.”

It is typical of most military interventions that they are not carefully thought through, but it seems especially true in this case. It’s not surprising that the Saudis failed to do this, but it makes the decision to attack that much worse. The U.S. has no excuse for indulging the Saudis in this recklessness. The administration has committed the U.S. to this fight with no thought about the negative consequences that would follow or the risks to U.S. interests that this war might pose.



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