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Yemen and the Destructive Habit of Taking Sides

The U.S. is assisting ugly client regimes as they lay waste to an impoverished country.
yemen sana'a air strike

Paul Pillar concludes an excellent post on the U.S. role in the war on Yemen with this observation:

Mistaken policies such as the U.S. posture toward Yemen will continue as long as U.S. policy is made in a domestic political climate in which prevailing sentiment automatically labels some foreign states as “allies” and others as practitioners of “nefarious” behavior, and insists that the United States always align itself with the former and always oppose anything having to do with the latter.

The most common excuse for U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign and blockade of Yemen is that Washington needed to “reassure” Riyadh that they could count on U.S. backing in the future in spite of the nuclear agreement reached with Iran. As I’ve said before, this is a thoroughly unsatisfying explanation that tries to ignore the many substantive objections to U.S. involvement in this war by invoking the importance of “alliance management.” Never mind that the U.S. is under no obligation to the Saudis or any of the other client states attacking Yemen. Properly speaking, none of them is a genuine treaty ally, and the U.S. owes them nothing if they choose to wage a reckless war against one of their neighbors. However, they are conventionally labeled as allies and they have presented their war as a struggle against Iranian influence, which makes many people in Washington think that the U.S. has to rally behind our so-called “allies.” It doesn’t seem to matter whether the interests of these so-called “allies” diverge with ours or not, and indeed U.S. interests are never even part of the discussion when it comes to enabling our reckless clients.

The default U.S. response from the start has been to take the Saudis’ side when the only justifiable and appropriate response in the case of Yemen is American neutrality. There is no question that lending U.S. backing to the war–and to subsequent diplomatic efforts to cover up the crimes committed in that war–has made the campaign easier and less costly for the Saudis and their allies than it would have otherwise been. It is possible that the Saudis and their allies might not be able to keep the campaign going in the absence of U.S. backing. Even if they can, the U.S. has no business participating in such an unnecessary and atrocious war. U.S. involvement isn’t merely the wrong response based on flawed assumptions, but it is also directly contributing to the ruin of another country and their people that have done nothing to the U.S. There is nothing admirable in taking sides in a war in which the U.S. has nothing at stake. As we are seeing in Yemen, it just means that the U.S. is assisting ugly client regimes as they lay waste to an impoverished country and starve its inhabitants.



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