April 6, 2019


Do Democrats Want a U.S.-Saudi Alliance or Not? (Eli Lake, April 5, 2019, Bloomberg)

Does it matter to America which side wins the civil war in Yemen? It most certainly does -- although congressional Democrats seem to need a reminder why.

The question arises after the House passed a resolution Thursday to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in that conflict by a vote of 247 to 175. While some Republicans in both chambers supported the resolution, it enjoyed near unanimous support from Democrats in Congress.

As Senator Chris Murphy put it last month during the debate over the resolution in the Senate, where it passed by a vote of 54 to 46: "We should not be associated with a bombing campaign that the U.N. tells us is likely a gross violation of human rights."

Murphy is not wrong that Saudi Arabia has caused famine and misery in Yemen. It has destroyed not just schools but school buses, and prevented the delivery of humanitarian aid. Add to this the Saudis' murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and their lies and half truths about it, and it's easy to see why members of Congress would want to end U.S. support for the Saudis' war in Yemen.

Nonetheless, this approach is short-sighted. To focus solely on Saudi Arabia's role in the Yemen conflict is to give Iran a pass for making it worse -- by, for example, giving its Houthi clients missiles capable of reaching Riyadh. If the Houthis prevail, then Iran will have access to a port in the Red Sea, from which it can make more mischief in the Middle East.

The American war is against Salafism not self-determination.

Yemen Cannot Afford to Wait (ROBERT MALLEY &  STEPHEN POMPER, 4/06/19, Defense One)

[H]owever indirectly the U.S. may be culpable for the calamity befalling Yemen, it is culpable nonetheless. The roots of the country's failure go deep: from Sanaa's repeated neglect of Houthi and southern grievances, to Yemeni elites' betrayal of the promises of the 2011 uprising, to President Hadi's ineffective and corrupt governance before the war, to the Houthi's toppling of the government in late 2014 and subsequent conquest of the rest of the country, and finally to the Saudi-led coalition's reaction to that move in the aftermath. At so many of these turns, the U.S. arguably mishandled its response. From the outset, it focused on the fight against Al-Qaeda. That blurred its vision of Hadi's failings and helped it miss the fact that, however obliging a counterterrorism partner he might have been, he widely was perceived by Yemenis as having let them down as their nation's leader. But at none of those turns was the price ultimately to be paid higher than in the American decision to support the coalition's battle.

Why the U.S. got entangled in this war--and why a president so determined to keep the country out of another Mideast military mess nonetheless got caught in this one--makes for a painful a story. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia came to the U.S. with a request for support in a campaign it vowed to conduct regardless. After that, and although events took place a mere four years ago, memories blur. In our conversations, many former U.S. officials found it hard to recall what precisely the Saudis asked for, what specific commitments the administration made in response, and when certain types of assistance started to flow. Some, including one of us who attended the deliberations, recall a deeply ambivalent president who greenlighted U.S. support but insisted it be confined to the defense of Saudi territory and not extend to the war against the Houthis. Others don't recall hearing about that instruction, and struggle to reconcile it with what the U.S. actually did during the war--including refueling coalition sorties and replenishing weapons stocks.

Yet all agree the decision ultimately came without much debate. The reason, at bottom, was straightforward: Here was a partner (Saudi Arabia) seeking help in restoring a government (that of President Hadi) the U.S. regarded as legitimate and a loyal ally in the war against al-Qaeda. That government had been toppled by an insurgent group (the Houthi or Ansar Allah); although the extent of its ties to Iran was debatable and debated, their existence was indisputable. Plus, all this came at a time when relations between Washington and Riyadh already were deeply damaged by disagreements over the Obama administration's response to the Arab uprisings and, even more so, its negotiations over a nuclear deal with Tehran. As Riyadh saw it, doing nothing would mean permitting control by a Hizbollah-like organization of its southern border, ensconcing a perpetual threat. Rebuffing the Saudi request at any time likely would have provoked a serious crisis in Saudi/U.S. bilateral relations. Doing so while the U.S. was seeking a landmark agreement with the kingdom's sworn enemy could have brought them to breaking point. That was a risk even a president skeptical of the wisdom of Saudi policies and willing to call into question elements of the relationship was not prepared to take.

it's exactly like Shi'a self-determination in Lebanon.

Posted by at April 6, 2019 8:14 AM