It’s Time For The U.S. To Stop Supporting The War On Yemen

Through our so-called allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the United States is helping to destroy Yemen. It's time for our support for that war to come to an end.

The Washington Post Editorial Board is calling for an end to American support for the Saudi Arabian war on Yemen:

Like the Obama administration before it, the Trump administration has tried to keep its distance from the Saudi campaign while simultaneously supporting it through the sales of bombs, targeting intelligence and refueling for planes. Meanwhile, a promised cakewalk — the Saudis and their United Arab Emirates allies promised to quickly defeat Houthi rebels who had driven a Saudi-backed government out of the capital — has turned into a quagmire. The tangible result has been tens of thousands of deaths and what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 8 million people on the brink of famine and more than 1 million infected with cholera.

It is long past time to end U.S. support for this misbegotten and unwinnable war. There is a clear path out: A U.N. mediator has called the various parties to Geneva early next month to discuss a peace process. Among the first steps would be a cease-fire, along with the transfer to U.N. control of the Houthi-held port of Hodeida, through which flows 70 percent of Yemen’s food and aid supplies. U.N. sources say the Houthis, who have the support of Iran, are ready to strike these accords, but the Saudi and UAE regimes have been resistant.

The U.S. allies will accept a peace process only if it is clear that they will not have Washington’s support for more war. Because President Trump remains in thrall to the Saudi princes, it’s fortunate that Congress has applied some pressure. Amendments added to the defense authorization bill that Mr. Trump signed this week require the Pentagon to investigate whether U.S.-backed air operations resulted in violations of human rights. The bill conditions further military support on a State Department certification that the Saudi coalition is working to prevent civilian deaths. The Dahyan bombing should make such certification unthinkable.

The Dahyan incident that the Editorial refers to is an incident that occurred on August 9th in which Saudi-led forces struck a target in northern Yemen that ended up being a bus packed with civilians. As a result of this attack, at least 54 people, including 40 children were killed and it became apparent that there was no terrorist or enemy threat in the area at the time the attack took place. It has since been confirmed that the bomb used in this attack was manufactured in the United States. This is only the latest example of the Saudis and their coalition having unleashed horrible attacks on Yemeni civilians that they claimed to have believed were enemy positions and, as has been the case in the past, it’s an attack that was carried out with implicit American approval and, of course, with American approval. Indeed, while President Trump likes to claim, largely falsely, that he has changed American foreign policy from what it was under President Obama. Indeed, with respect to Saudi Arabia Trump has been pushing the United States closer to the Saudi regime and to its unjust policies in Yemen.

Daniel Larison, who has been one of the few people providing extensive coverage of what’s happening in Yemen, comments:

The Trump administration will ignore the Post‘s call to end the war just as they are ignoring the conditions set by Congress on U.S. military assistance to the coalition. Congress will have to do much more than that if they are going to force the administration to cut off the Saudis and their allies. Challenging the president on war powers is the only sure way to do this. It is essential that members of Congress recognize that U.S. support for the war on Yemen is both abhorrent and illegal, and they must put a stop to it. The Senate failed both the U.S. and Yemen when they blew their chance to do this earlier this year, and they should make up for that failure now.

No U.S. interests have been served through involvement in this war. On the contrary, the war has undermined U.S. security, bolstered Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and made our government complicit in numerous war crimes. U.S. participation in the war has been a shameful, ugly affair that will go down as one of the worst policies in modern U.S. history. Our government has spent the last three years helping cruel despotic regimes devastate and starve a poor country whose people did nothing to us and posed no threat to anyone. Many tens of thousands of Yemenis have already perished, and millions more lives are at risk from starvation and disease as long as the war drags on. The U.S. has it in its power to put an end to it, but our government has to be willing to anger and alienate the reckless clients that it has supported up until now.

I’m not sure that I agree with Larison that it is within our power to end the war on Yemen. Even if we stopped supporting the Saudis tomorrow and stopped supplying them with the weapons they are using to fight that war, which is admittedly unlikely, there’s every indication that they would continue fighting and that they would simply find other sources to purchase their weapons from, such as the French or the English, or even the Russians and Chinese. As ill-conceived an idea as it might be, the Saudi leadership has its entire credibility tied up in this war at this point, withdrawing absent total victory is going to cause problems at home notwithstanding the fact that total victory is basically an impossible goal at this point.

American support for the Yemeni war is, as Larison has said elsewhere, a prime example of everything wrong with American foreign policy. In the beginning, it was motivated by both blind allegiance to the idea that we ought to back so-called allies even when we don’t have an obligation to do so and by the idea that the Saudi war on Yemen was in some sense a proxy war against Iran. In the first case, it has resulted in the refusal of both the Obama and Trump Administrations to hold our supposed friends in Saudi Arabia accountable for the numerous human rights violations they and their allies were committing in the name of that war from the beginning. At the same time, the war was and is seen by many inside both Administrations, and many outside analysts as a way of engaging against Iran given the fact that the Houthi rebels that are the primary target of the war are loosely allied with Iran. While the United States is not directly involved in the conflict, our support for the Saudis and their allies from the United Arab Emirates is as close to involvement as one can get without actually putting American boots on the ground. From the beginning it was a war of choice started by the Saudis and our involvement, albeit on the sidelines, has also been a conscious choice notwithstanding the fact that there are no American interests implicated in the conflict and that, arguably, American interests are being harmed the longer the war is allowed to continue and the deeper Yemen is plunged into the kind of chaos that will inevitably turn it into the same kind of breeding ground for terrorists that we saw in pre-9/11 Afghanistan and more recently in Syria and Libya.

At some point down the line, I’m afraid, we are going to pay a price for turning a blind eye to the war crimes and human rights violations that the Saudis and Emiratis are committing with our full support in their war on Yemen. What that price will be is unclear at this point, but it could include everything from the establishment of an Iranian-backed beachfront on the Arabian Peninsula to a breeding ground for a whole new generation of terrorists that will direct their aim at the United States and other Western targets. At that point, we’ll wonder why they’re so mad at us, and most people won’t even realize that it was our own support for this genocidal war that created a new generation of enemies.

Photo via The Hill

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    1) We are committed to treating Iran as the Great Satan and the Saudis are the only other game in the Persian Gulf.
    2) We need Saudi bases to allow Israeli jets to refuel if/when they attack Iran.
    3) Ditto our planes.
    4) Ditch the KSA? When they’re pouring money into Trump properties? Come come, there are priorities!

    The culture of the Arab middle east has never produced a competent military force in the post WW2 era. Top-heavy, princeling-led conventional forces composed largely of illiterate or mercenary enlisted ranks does not work in the 20th century. Works for guerrilla warfare, does not work for hi-tech, American-style conventional warfare.

    We need to get it through our heads that our military is made possible not just by the clever engineers at defense firms, but by an educated and free people. Our approach to fighting cannot be grafted onto people who have been trained from birth never to question an order or show initiative.

  2. Kathy says:

    I wonder how often the Saudis have threatened to cut oil production. regardless of other producers, when the Magic Kingdom cuts production, the price of oil goes up.

  3. Mister Bluster says:

    At some point down the line, I’m afraid, we are going to pay a price for turning a blind eye to the war crimes and human rights violations that the Saudis and Emiratis are committing with our full support in their war on Yemen.

    We’ve been down that road before and haven’t learned a goddamn thing.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    It was time two years ago. We should never have supported Saudi adventurism.

  5. Dave,

    I agree 100%

  6. Scott F. says:

    Amen, Doug!!

    Ongoing US support for the Saudis in Yemen is appalling. Almost equally appalling is the US public’s willful blindness to the humanitarian crisis taking place there. Thank God for Daniel Larison for his almost singular voice calling out this travesty.

  7. Slugger says:

    The Saudis are not allies. They sell us stuff. The price of oil has varied from $100 to $40 per barrel in recent memory. These large swings look more like manipulation than an orderly playing out of the supply/demand curve. They let us use the blood of our soldiers in Iraq, Syria, and other places. We bomb Yemen and Libya for them. The USA produces enough oil for domestic needs. If the Saudis stop selling oil, then their income goes away. We should act like a customer vis-a-vis the Sauds. Why are we supplicants with Osama bin Laden’s cousins. Let’s see some deal making from the greatest deal maker in the world.

  8. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    1-) Saudi Arabia is a US Ally in the sense that they are one of the largest buyers of American equipment and there are some informal defense obligations. There are also joint military training and exercises.

    2-) Saudi Arabia does what Trump wants NATO and the Pacific to do – they spend a lot of money with “defense”. Yemen is not the worst thing that can come from this bromance (People forget that were pretty close from a Saudi or a Israeli war against Iran).