End­ing a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis

Half-hearted draw­downs in Ye­men aren’t enough

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Bon­nie Kris­tian

Two months af­ter Saudi Ara­bian airstrikes killed more than 140 peo­ple at a fu­neral in Ye­men — the lat­est in a long string of attacks on civil­ian tar­gets that have led to ac­cu­sa­tions of war crimes in the tiny Gulf nation — the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has de­cided to cur­tail Amer­i­can sup­port for Riyadh’s bloody in­ter­ven­tion in the Ye­meni civil war.

“We con­tinue to have con­cerns about the con­flict in Ye­men and how it has been waged, most es­pe­cially the air cam­paign,” an un­named ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial told ABC News. “Con­se­quently, we have de­cided to not move for­ward with fi­nal ap­proval on some sales of mu­ni­tions. This re­flects our continued, strong con­cerns with the flaws in the [Saudi-led] Coali­tion’s tar­get­ing prac­tices and over­all pros­e­cu­tion of the air cam­paign in Ye­men.”

In a war (and galling hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis) so per­sis­tently down­played by Wash­ing­ton and ig­nored by much of our me­dia, this shift is wel­come news. Saudi in­ter­ven­tion — and specif­i­cally the block­ade the United States has helped en­force — is de­stroy­ing Ye­meni civil­ians, pro­duc­ing mas­sive in­ter­nal dis­place­ment and star­va­tion, and leav­ing mil­lions with­out ac­cess to ba­sic health care or even clean wa­ter. The tur­moil the U.S.-backed, Saudiled in­ter­ven­tion has fos­tered has also en­abled the growth of ter­ror­ist groups in Ye­men, in­clud­ing the Is­lamic State and al Qaeda in the Ara­bian Penin­sula (AQAP), the lat­ter of which has surged into the war-torn coun­try’s power vac­uum to cre­ate a mini-state along the Gulf coast.

The de­ci­sion to re­vise Amer­i­can sup­port for Riyadh’s in­ter­ven­tion is long over­due, but it’s a good start. The bulk of Amer­i­can as­sis­tance will re­main in­tact, how­ever, which is a strate­gic mis­take.

As much as the White House in­sists its back­ing is not a “blank check” to Saudi Ara­bia, the Saudis might well be for­given for com­ing to the op­po­site con­clu­sion. In fact, The Wash­ing­ton Post notes, while draw­ing down some sup­port mea­sures, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will si­mul­ta­ne­ously “con­tinue or even in­crease other kinds of in­tel­li­gence shar­ing” with Saudi forces, con­tin­u­ing to train them for air cam­paigns and giv­ing un­spec­i­fied “ex­panded sup­port for the de­fense of the Saudi bor­der.”

Thus the can­celed arms sale is more a slap on the wrist than a fun­da­men­tal re­think of whether our per­ma­nent Saudi al­liance in gen­eral or as­sist­ing Saudi attacks in Ye­men in par­tic­u­lar is in the United States’ best in­ter­est. That re­think is much-needed and much over­due.

“Saudi Ara­bia has been a long­time ally of the United States, a friend in a re­gion where Iran and Iraq have been hos­tile,” writes con­ser­va­tive colum­nist Michael Bren­dan Dougherty at The Week. “But the House of Saud’s war in Ye­men is a con­flict that is an­ger­ing sev­eral of our other al­lies” — like Aus­tralia, which has called for cease­fire in Ye­men — and dam­ag­ing U.S. cred­i­bil­ity and moral stand­ing in con­demn­ing other Mideast atroc­i­ties such as the suf­fer­ing in Aleppo, Syria.

Though cast by Wash­ing­ton as an im­por­tant friend­ship to main­tain for Amer­i­can se­cu­rity, our re­la­tion­ship with Saudi Ara­bia is not as vi­tal as it once was — and the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of turn­ing a blind eye are in­creas­ingly se­vere. U.S. in­volve­ment in Ye­men is lit­tle more than an effort to po­lice sec­tar­ian in­fight­ing and part of a broader effort to re­make an en­tire re­gion from afar. It’s an im­pos­si­ble and costly task that in prac­tice makes us less safe while devastating Ye­men it­self.

“This is not a pu­ni­tive mea­sure; it’s a cor­rec­tive mea­sure,” a se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial told the Post of the can­celed arms sale. “We have to care­ful not to cut back on things that serve our in­ter­ests in the process of try­ing to cut back on things that don’t serve our in­ter­est.”

That as­sess­ment is ex­actly right. The prob­lem is our for­eign pol­icy man­darins have lost sight of ex­actly what Amer­ica’s vi­tal na­tional in­ter­ests are.

Wash­ing­ton elites — the ar­chi­tects of the last 15 years of regime-change cam­paigns, nation-build­ing projects, and other mis­ad­ven­tures — have cost Amer­ica and our military greatly, and the re­sult has been in­creased death and de­struc­tion and a flood of refugees.

It’s about time we “cut back on things that don’t serve our in­ter­ests” — let’s start by end­ing U.S. sup­port for Saudi Ara­bia’s reck­less and un­law­ful ac­tions in Ye­men’s civil war.

Bon­nie Kris­tian, a week­end editor at The Week and a colum­nist at Rare, is a fel­low at De­fense Pri­or­i­ties.

Though cast by Wash­ing­ton as an im­por­tant friend­ship to main­tain for Amer­i­can se­cu­rity, our re­la­tion­ship with Saudi Ara­bia is not as vi­tal as it once was — and the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of turn­ing a blind eye are in­creas­ingly se­vere.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.