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Trump’s Iran Obsession and the War on Yemen

Putting Yemen "front and center" in an Iran strategy shows just how little the administration knows about Yemen and how readily they will exaggerate Iran's role anywhere in the region.
yemen airstrikes sa'ada

The Trump administration is reportedly preparing to make our government’s already indefensible Yemen policy worse, and they want to do it for this lousy reason:

Coupled with Iran’s proximity to the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, the Houthi missile transfers have raised concerns that Tehran may be positioning itself to control two crucial energy chokepoints in the region.

This is why Yemen is now “front and center” in the administration’s new Iran strategy, according to a senior advisor who helped draft it.

Focusing on Yemen as a way to oppose Iranian influence is ineptitude pure and simple. Iranian influence there has been and remains minimal, so there is no need to do it. The Houthis are not their proxies, so fearing that Tehran can “control” anything in Yemen or its vicinity is based in nothing but fantasy. The cost to Yemen’s population from the Saudi-led war has already been horrific, and it will only get worse the longer that Washington indulges its clients. The Saudis and their allies dressed up their war on Yemen with similar claims about Iranian influence, but these claims have been debunked many times over the last two and a half years. It is alarming and disheartening that these bogus claims are further misinforming U.S. policy for the future.

Putting Yemen “front and center” in an Iran strategy shows just how little the administration knows about Yemen and how readily they will exaggerate Iran’s role anywhere in the region. This is what comes from an administration that is both obsessed with Iran and deeply ignorant about Iran and the wider region. Unfortunately, this is just what I feared Trump’s approach to Yemen would be on account of his ignorant statements about the country and the war in the past.

There is a worrisome echo of Cold War blunders in all of this. Just as hard-line anticommunists imagined that every local conflict could be shoehorned into the rivalry with Moscow, hard-line Iran hawks keep trying to do the same to regional conflicts that are being fought over very different issues among local actors with agendas that have nothing to with Iran. The administration’s fixation on picking fights with Iran is misguided enough as it is, but it is even worse to support a policy that is destroying Yemen when Iran’s involvement there is so negligible. I’ll just quote what I said about this eight months ago:

Whatever the U.S. does next in Yemen, it won’t “roll back Iran” because Iran isn’t there to be rolled back. If the Trump administration falls for this, they will be dragging the U.S. deeper into an unnecessary war that will do nothing to Iran. Instead, it will continue our shameful policy of helping to inflict death and destruction on Yemenis that have done nothing to us.

Meanwhile, in the real world, it is the Saudi-led coalition that has devastated Yemen with U.S. assistance. More than seven million are starving, millions more are badly malnourished, over three-quarters of a million are infected with cholera, and four-fifths of the country’s population is in need of humanitarian aid. As Reuters has documented in a recent report, the horrible conditions in the country have mostly been created by the coalition war and blockade. The failed Saudi war has been a boon for Iran inasmuch as it has bogged down its rivals in an unwinnable conflict that saps their resources. No competent strategy aimed at weakening Iranian influence would include this shameful policy, but then this administration wouldn’t know the first thing about competent strategy.

There is now every indication that the administration will continue to back that war and implicate the U.S. in the coalition’s crimes. That makes Congress’ opposition to this policy essential. That is why I hope the House votes to pass H. Con. Res. 81 next month.



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