President Joe Biden recently called the political crisis in Yemen a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.” This catastrophe, however, is one of his own making.
On February 5, 2021, President Biden rescinded a Trump-era designation of the Yemeni Houthi rebels as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). He argued that the importance of humanitarian aid to the thousands starving would be implicated by the designation. However, by feeding children for a day, Biden has prolonged the bloody battles for tomorrow.
The current struggle has its roots in a centuries-old conflict, first as a religious dispute between Sunni Muslims and an offshoot of Shia known as the Zaydi. The Saudis, Egyptians, and Zaydis traded territory in Yemen for years, finally ending with a Zaydi republican government in 1978. In the 1990s, the Houthis began to contend with this Saudi-backed government as their leader, Hussein al Houthi, rallied against state corruption.
Today, strained religious relationships between the Saudis and the Houthis are aggravated by the ever-present struggle between Iran and Saudi Arabia for dominance in energy and military power. This is where Biden’s action has muddied the water even further.
First, the new policy stinks of hypocrisy as the Biden administration struggles to explain how a terrorist organization can’t be labeled as such. In December, Houthi militants detonated a bomb that killed 22 civilians and government officials arriving in the city of Aden. Additional examples abound, including the siege of Marib currently ongoing despite the new policy and a drone attack on a civilian aircraft inside Saudi Arabian territory.
Ultimately, the policy change has lasting impacts on the “war on terror.” The Houthi-held territory serves as a breeding ground for terrorists threatening Saudi Arabia and America. AQAP, an off-shoot of al-Qaeda, holds large swathes of the territory where it trains thousands of militants. Its precursor most notably staged the USS Cole attack in 2000 that killed 17 American soldiers.
The simultaneous halt of U.S. arms to the Saudis along with the United Arab Emirates could set a new precedent for U.S.-Arab diplomatic relations. On one side of the Arabian peninsula, the U.A.E. is a critical anti-Iran partner in the protection of oil shipping through the Strait of Hormuz. On the other, Saudi coalition forces fighting against the Houthi rebels protect sea lanes at Bab el Mandeb strategically leading to the Suez Canal.
A decline in support for Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. may jeopardize the U.S. energy supply especially in the wake of Biden’s recent order to suspend the Keystone Pipeline. More importantly, allowing Iranian influence in the area to expand would pose a significant threat to U.S. shipping and counterterrorism efforts.
Should Biden wish to achieve peace, stability, and further U.S. strategic interests in the area, shunning our allies and caving to the demands of terrorists is not the way to go. The new policy trades the future for a foreign policy crisis today.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.