The War in Yemen Has Been Politicised For All The Wrong Reasons

Since 2015, the manifold war in Yemen has raged while a subsequent humanitarian disaster described by the United Nations as “the worst in the world”, continues with no signs of abatement. All the while, the US political class under both the administrations of Barack Obama and Donald Trump have largely ignored the crisis. Likewise, since 2015, the United States has continually armed Saudi Arabia, a country whose tactical goals have largely been stalemated in much of Yemen, but whose contribution to the humanitarian crisis has been labelled by some as negligent, while others have described it as intentional.

While the US is a long standing ally of Saudi Arabia, the dramatic murder by Saudi operatives of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi has led some in the US to reconsider their position vis-a-vis Saudi participation in the Yemen conflict. Recently, the US Senate approved a motion to cut military support to Riyadh in respect of the war in Yemen. Yet this act by the Senate may ultimately go nowhere as the White House will likely veto any Congressional action demanding a cessation of arms shipments to Riyadh regarding Yemen.

According to Timothy Lenderking, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Arabian Gulf Affairs,

“Obviously there are pressures in our system … to either withdraw from the conflict or discontinue our support of the coalition, which we are strongly opposed to on the administration side.

We do believe that the support for the coalition is necessary. It sends a wrong message if we discontinue our support”.

Thus, while Washington has in fact ceased refuelling some Saudi led coalition aircraft over Yemen, the statement from Lenderking indicates that the Trump administration is not willing to go further in respect of putting the breaks on the Saudi led intervention in Yemen. This development is in fact fully consistent with Trump’s attempts to downplay the importance of the Khashoggi murder to US interests in the region.

While some peace-activists had cheered the recent move by the US Senate to acknowledge the crisis in Yemen in the wake for the intensification of the Turko-Saudi row after the murder of Khashoggi, it cannot be stressed enough that solving the crisis in Yemen is far more multifaceted than proclaiming either a dogmatic pro-Saudi coalition position or an equally dogmatic anti-Saudi coalition stance.

Since the 2017 assassination of Yemen’s long serving former President Ali Abdullah Saleh by the Ansar Allah movement – a man was preparing to engage in peace talks with Riyadh, there are few political figures left in the impoverished state who are capable of re-uniting a land that itself was divided between North and South during most of the Cold War era.

Even among the Saudi led coalition, Riyadh’s ally the UAE has lost faith in the internationally recognised (except in Iran and Syria) President of Yemen, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. While thanks to Saudi support, Hadi remains in office, he hardly has any power. This is especially true given the fact that Abu Dhabi has thrown its weight behind the Southern Transitional Council (STC) – an organised political movement that seeks to restore the borders of the former South Yemen.

Seeing as that the STC holds de-facto control over much of the former South Yemen, including its capital of Aden from where President Hadi putatively rules and given that the former North Yemen is now largely under the de-facto control of the Ansar Allah Movement (aka The Houthis) along with some remaining Saleh loyalists, it is clear that Yemen is de-facto two nations once again. While the dispute between the UAE and Saudi Arabia over supporting the STC vs. President Hadi is largely a benign dispute, the Saudi vs. Houthi military stalemate in the north continues to exacerbate a humanitarian crisis that requires a genuine peace process in order to solve.

Put simply, America hypothetically cutting off supplies to Riyadh to virtue signal over Jamal Khashoggi’s tragic murder is not going to solve anything in the region, not least because Riyadh can easily obtain weapons from elsewhere.

It would appear therefore that the only viable solution would be to organise a peace conference aimed at recognising the largely peaceful rule of the STC in the South while agreeing to a ceasefire in the north that is able to satisfy Saudi Arabia’s security concerns (whether they are justified or otherwise) while also stopping short of alienating Iran – the only political patron of the Houthis.

This is of course a tall order – so tall that it helps to contextualise the lack of geopolitical movement in respect of even attempting a peace conference on Yemen. That being said, domestic US squabbles over arms to Riyadh within the context of the war in Yemen represent little more than domestic political grandstanding among a class of American politicians who are largely ignorant of the true battle lines in Yemen and what it would take to genuinely de-esclate the tensions therein.

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