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The Saudis’ Failing Intervention in Yemen

The war on Yemen has been a costly failure.
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The Saudi-led war on Yemen continues to be a failure on the Saudis’ own terms:

Eight months after launching a war in Yemen, Saudi Arabia appears trapped in a protracted and devastating conflict that is straining relations with its allies, intensifying internal power struggles and emboldening its regional rival, Iran, analysts say.

Who would have guessed that launching an unnecessary, unprovoked war in a country known for its successful armed resistance to invaders would turn out badly for the intervening governments? It was clearly a bad idea from the outset, and it was inexcusable folly for the U.S. to support it. It shouldn’t have required thousands to be killed, more than a million to be displaced, tens of thousands injured, and an entire country brought to the brink of famine before this was understood. Like so many reckless, ill-considered wars before it, the war on Yemen has inflicted enormous death and destruction on a poor country for nothing.

The Saudis could acknowledge that the war was a mistake and halt the campaign, but unfortunately that still seems unlikely to happen. The new king and his son are so closely identified with the campaign that acknowledging its failure would be politically damaging for both of them. As coalition casualties have grown, there is even less desire to admit that the intervention was ill-advised for the usual fallacious sunk-cost reasons that we know only too well from our own wars. Having grossly exaggerated the role of Iran in Yemen, the Saudis cannot easily admit that their propaganda claims were nonsense. Because they falsely portrayed the war as a necessary fight to thwart supposed Iranian “expansionism” that was never happening, the Saudis would have to admit that their effort failed and worse still that the entire intervention didn’t have to happen.

The coalition governments bear the greatest responsibility for their failed intervention, but the U.S. shares significant responsibility for enabling and supporting their campaign. As Emma Ashford pointed out in her excellent talk at our conference last week, the U.S. has made “reassuring” allies and clients “an end in itself,” and she cited U.S. support for the war on Yemen as the “most heinous example” of this. As she said, our involvement in this war does nothing to advance our interests or to make our country more secure, and it contributes to the wrecking of an entire country. Worst of all, as we’re seeing in this latest report, it isn’t even achieving the dubious goals that it was meant to achieve, but .has been a costly failure.



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