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The Saudi Coalition Continues to Falter in Yemen

Congress won't support increasing U.S. involvement in a war that they have repeatedly voted to end, but the president has vetoed their resolutions and ignored their objections for more than two years.
trump bin salman

The UAE has been withdrawing some forces from the war on Yemen. That has not put an end to their interference in Yemen by any stretch of the imagination, but it represents another setback for the Saudi coalition. The failed Saudi-led war on Yemen continues to falter. The New York Times reports that Mohammed bin Salman wants the U.S. to increase its involvement in the war to fill the gap left by the UAE:

Four years later, the war is lodged in a stalemate and Prince Mohammed’s signature fight has become a quagmire, diplomats and analysts say. A steep pullout by his key ally, the United Arab Emirates, they say, raises questions about Saudi Arabia’s ability to lead the war on its own.

Emboldened by the hawkish comments of Trump administration officials, Prince Mohammed is now hoping Washington will help make up the difference with new American military support, according to diplomats with knowledge of the conversations.

Congress won’t support increasing U.S. involvement in a war that they have repeatedly voted to end, but the president has vetoed their resolutions and ignored their objections for more than two years. It remains to be seen whether he would try to escalate our government’s already illegal involvement in this war. To date, Trump has indulged the Saudi government on practically everything, and he has been echoing Saudi propaganda on Yemen for so many years that he may actually think that this has something to do with fighting Iran. It would be difficult to sell deeper U.S. involvement when even the UAE has decided that the war in northern Yemen isn’t worth fighting. If it isn’t important enough for the UAE, how could it possibly be important enough for the U.S.?

The war on Yemen wasn’t winnable for the Saudi coalition before, and now with the UAE’s pullback it is certain that the coalition can’t prevail:

“Saudi Arabia can prevent peace from breaking out and can bleed the Houthis on a never-ending northern front,” Michael Knights, a researcher at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, argued in a report this week. “But only the U.A.E. had the military potency and local allied forces to credibly threaten defeat for the Houthis.”

The responsible thing for the U.S. to do is to take advantage of the Saudi coalition’s weakness and use our leverage with Saudi Arabia to get a general ceasefire and peace negotiations. We know the Trump administration won’t do that, but that is what would bring the biggest part of the war to a close. The war has a catastrophe for Yemen, but it has also been terrible for Saudi Arabia’s security. Halting their campaign is the best way for them to put an end to missile and drone attacks inside their country. The longer the Saudis take to extricate themselves from the mess they created, the worse it is going to be for them. The U.S. should do everything it can to urge and push them to get out at once.

Unfortunately, the administration has been sending Saudi Arabia the wrong signals. The article mentions that Pompeo was encouraging the Saudis to press on with the war just a few months ago:

At an American-sponsored conference in Warsaw in February, Mr. Pompeo bluntly told the Saudis and others that the coalition fighting in Yemen should kick the stuffing out of the Houthis, one diplomat present said, although he said Mr. Pompeo used an earthier noun than stuffing. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private meeting.

That certainly sounds like Pompeo: gruff, stupid, and bombastic. If that is representative of how the Trump administration sees the war, we have to assume that they will put no pressure on Saudi Arabia to end the war and they may even try to increase the U.S. role.

More than four years after the Saudi coalition intervened in Yemen, they have achieved none of their stated goals, and they have failed to compel the Houthis to cede the capital. Abandoning a failed war will be embarrassing for Mohammed bin Salman, but persisting in an unwinnable quagmire out of misguided pride is even more humiliating and destructive.