Stop Enabling the Destruction of Yemen
By: DANIEL LARISON
Hal Brands doesn’t think much of the antiwar arguments from the Democratic presidential candidates and others. Here he comments on Yemen:
Or think about the U.S. role in Yemen. Progressives — as well as most Democrats and some Republicans — want to cut off American support to the Saudi-led coalition. That’s entirely understandable, given that the war has produced appalling humanitarian consequences without achieving much in the way of strategic success. And there is a good argument to be made that the U.S. should more aggressively use the leverage its support provides — with both Saudi Arabia and its Houthi adversaries — to push for a diplomatic settlement in Yemen. Yet there is no guarantee that simply terminating that support will make a horrific situation better rather than worse. If a U.S. pullback does not force Saudi Arabia to end the war, for instance, the upshot might be to make the Saudis even less discriminating and effective in waging the conflict.
Insofar as the Saudi coalition depends on U.S. arms and military assistance to wage the war, withholding all support for Saudi Arabia and the UAE would make a significant difference in their ability to continue the war. According to Bruce Riedel, if the U.S. and U.K. cut off all support to the Saudi military they would be forced to halt their bombing campaign at once. Forcing an end to the coalition’s bombing campaign would unquestionably make the situation better. The U.S. also needs to press for an end to the blockade and the economic war that the coalition and the “legitimate” government have been waging against the vast majority of the population.
The idea that cutting off U.S. support might make the war worse ignores the fact that four years of unconditional backing has created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Supporters of the war have claimed again and again that U.S. involvement reduces the harm to civilians, but that cannot be taken seriously when the Saudi coalition repeatedly targets civilian targets on purpose. U.S. support and arms simply enable more war crimes, and cutting off support and arms will deprive the coalition of the means to commit more. The U.S. should not be taking part in a war where our clients are blowing up school buses, schools, hospitals, and homes with alarming frequency. We have no business being involved in this war, our involvement has undeniably made things much worse, our government’s involvement was never authorized by Congress, and by supporting the war it makes our government complicit in thousands of war crimes committed against innocent Yemenis.
Brands faults Sanders and other progressives for not having an answer for “how” they want to end our foreign wars, but of course they have made very clear how to end U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen. The obstacle to this for the last two and a half years has been the president. Thanks to Trump’s determination to back the Saudis and Emiratis to the hilt, the U.S. illegally remains a party to a conflict it should never have joined, and it is only because of his veto that the U.S. has not already ended its support for the Saudi coalition. Brands doesn’t even try to argue that ending U.S. involvement would be detrimental to U.S. security because the war has never had anything to do with our security. Indeed, the war has been a boon to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and other jihadists, and the sooner that the U.S. can use its leverage with Saudi Arabia and the UAE to bring the war to an end the better it will be for the U.S. and the wider region.
Ending U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen shouldn’t be controversial at this point, and it doesn’t even require making “hard strategic choices.” It is by the worst and most indefensible U.S. policy overseas right now, and Congress has already stated clearly that it is unauthorized and has to end. The problem here is not that opponents of the war haven’t considered the ramifications or thought through the consequences of halting U.S. support, but that the president clings to a disgraceful policy in order to curry favor with some of the worst governments in the world. If Brands can’t endorse putting a stop to that, is there any illegal and unnecessary war that he would favor ending?
The views expressed in this article belong to the authors.