In his final year in office, President Obama’s foreign policy featured the bombing of seven Islamic countries by the U.S. military. Despite fears (and hopes) that President Trump would withdraw America from the world stage and institute a fortress-America foreign policy, the new guard has put Obama’s foreign policy on autopilot. The most significant adjustment Trump made was to give more discretion to his generals. The rate of bombing has increased in all seven nations.
Nowhere is this policy more craven and disastrous than in Yemen, where the U.S. has backed Saudi Arabia’s crusade to re-install Sunni general Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in power. The Saudis say they cannot abide a Yemen controlled by Houthis, adherents of the Zayd sect of Shia Islam, who rose up to stake their claim in a government that had excluded them from power. It is another civil war, like Syria’s, in which the U.S. seeks to aid the overthrow of a Shia-led government, without also making the local branches of al-Qaeda the main beneficiaries of the subsequent power vacuum. The Saudis are much less discriminating about these things.
The Houthi-led government of Yemen cannot project power against the United States and is no threat to it. The only threat against the United States that can ever come from Yemen is the breakdown of authority and the establishment of al-Qaeda training camps. In the past, we’ve been able to harass these camps under a succession of different Yemeni governments. But in the chaos of this conflict, al-Qaeda’s numbers in Yemen are growing.
It’s a conflict whose human cost makes a lie of every moral sentiment deployed to justify American action in the Middle East. Millions of Yemeni are displaced by this war. Saudi blockades have led to the worst famine conditions in the world, and famine conditions have led to the worst cholera outbreak in decades, affecting some 300,000. We are not horrified by the slaughter; we are merely horrified at displeasing our ally Saudi Arabia.
It’s a conflict whose human cost makes a lie of every moral sentiment deployed to justify American action in the Middle East.
The Obama administration would occasionally leak to reporters its “frustration” over Saudi Arabia’s actions. But this frustration never slowed the pace of American cooperation or ever impinged on U.S.-Saudi relations. The war increasingly looks like a way for the United States to apologize to the Saudis for making a deal with Iran over nuclear weapons.
But, the U.S. has substantial pull over Saudi Arabia, and we should use it to persuade the Saudis to loosen their grip on Yemen and begin bringing this conflict to an end.
Trump received a potentate’s welcome in Saudi Arabia, with his image burnished everywhere. But Saudi Arabia is a source of headaches almost everywhere. Their promotion of Wahabbist ideology and generous funding of extremist clerics across the world results in terror and blowback across the globe, from Iraq, to Libya, to India and Europe. What will we reap from this disgraceful little war?
— Michael Brendan Dougherty is a senior writer at National Review.