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U.S. Foreign Policy and the Yemen Crisis


On Feb. 4, 2021, President Biden announced the end of U.S. support for the Saudi-led operations in Yemen. However, this was only for the offensive operations of the conflict. 


The U.S. continues to maintain and support Saudi warplanes in addition to selling weapons and missiles to the Kingdom in the name of providing support for defending Saudi Arabia from the attacks of the insurgent Houthi group. 


This policy approach is fundamentally flawed as the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen is, by definition, offensive. Failing to distinguish between offensive and defensive operations is just another political game to prolong the U.S. support for the nefarious military intervention of Saudi Arabia that has caused massive civilian casualties and the current humanitarian crisis in Yemen. 


I believe that as long as the U.S. supports the Kingdom’s intervention in Yemen, either through materials with missile sales and maintaining warplanes, or rhetorically by supporting Saudis, it will be involved in the Yemen war. The U.S. will be a responsible actor for the death of thousands of civilians and the ongoing humanitarian crisis that has resulted in the starvation of millions of Yemeni civilians. 


Upon request of intervention from Yemen’s president-in-exile Mansour Hadi, Saudi Arabia initiated the war on Yemen. The United Nations passed the shameful Resolution 2216, legitimizing Saudi bombardment and blockades. 


Between March 2015 and July 2021, Saudi Arabia conducted a minimum of 23,250 air strikes that killed at least 18,000 civilians. The Houthis are continuously retaliating to Saudi attacks, and it is common sense that if Saudi air raids were to stop, the Houthis would have little reason to provoke the powerful Kingdom. 


This does not mean that the Saudi is the only guilty party in this war. The Houthis in particular and other insurgent groups have done their part in pushing Yemen to a disaster that has left innocent civilians in extreme poverty with severe food insecurity, among other issues. 


However, it is hard to be sympathetic towards Saudi Arabia which was the first to start the air strikes. It is important to note that almost all the major offensive attacks are conducted by the Kingdom. 


The U.S. defensive support for Saudi Arabia not only encourages the Kingdom to continue its operations in Yemen but will also cause strong anti-Americanism in Yemen and possibly in the Middle East. This deteriorating relationship will essentially remove all the incentives for negotiations. 


The U.S. is a major international actor, and in this case, it is the single most powerful entity involved in this war. Without U.S. contractors’ maintenance help as well as American arms sales, Saudi warplanes would be essentially grounded and the Yemeni ports would be released from blockades. This would open ways to end starvation and hunger in Yemen. 


The Saudi Kingdom does not hold the military capacity to prolong the war without the support of the U.S. Nonetheless, the longer the U.S. continues to back the Saudi-led intervention, the longer the war will continue.


Some argue that American involvement in the war is necessary because the Houthis are an Iran-backed organization that has engaged in terrorist activity. But further conflict is not the answer, especially because Iran agreed to rescind support from the Houthis as part of the China-brokered deal to resume diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. The violence will stop, or at least greatly diminish, if the United States stops supporting Saudi Arabia’s offensive operations. 


The U.S. will lose its international image as a true protector of human rights because of its involvement in a war that continues to escalate and cause death and starvation among millions of innocent Yemeni people. 


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author. 


Sayyed Hadi Razmjo was a Foreign Policy & Defense intern for ONC during the Spring 2022 semester. 


Sources:

Nissenbaum, Dion, Summer Said, and Benoit Falcon. “Iran Agrees to Stop Arming Houthis in Yemen as Part of Pact With Saudi Arabia.” The Wall Street Journal, 16 March. 2023, https://www.wsj.com/articles/iran-agrees-to-stop-arming-houthis-in-yemen-as-part-of-pact-with-saudi-arabia-6413dbc1

Sheline, Annelle R., and Bruce Riedel. “Biden's Broken Promise on Yemen.” Brookings, 16 Sept. 2021, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/09/16/bidens-broken-promise-on-yemen/

Sirota, Sara, and Austin Ahlman. “Now in Power, Key Anti-War Democrats Soften on Saudi War in Yemen.” The Intercept, 10 Dec. 2021, https://theintercept.com/2021/12/10/saudi-arabia-arms-sale-yemen-war-democrats/

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