Yes, Retain the U.S. Alliance with the Saudis—but Don’t Let Them Off Easy

Nov. 26 2018

Last week the president issued America’s official reaction to the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Ankara. He made clear that this crime, awful as it was, is not sufficient reason to override the strategic reasons for the U.S.-Saudi alliance. Elliott Abrams admires the administration’s commitment to Realpolitik, but only up to a point:

The problem with this analysis [presented by the Trump administration] is not that it is wrong, but that it posits only two options: abandoning Saudi Arabia or embracing it. A tougher Realpolitik approach would promote a third option: use this moment to push the Saudis to do some things we think they need to do that would benefit both the kingdom and the United States. . . .

[I]f the Trump administration’s view is that we should not break with Saudi Arabia (a view I share), then the next step is not to embrace Saudi Arabia but rather [to] specify to the Saudis what they need to do so that they will not be seen as “a repressive throwback to a dark age of the past” [as Richard Nixon put it long ago to a Chinese leader, urging him be more attentive to human rights]. Send the Saudi foreign minister to fix things with Canada. Figure out a way to release the blogger Raif Badawi and the female Saudi protesters who appear to have been badly abused since their arrests. Reunite the Gulf Cooperation Council, [which has been riven by a dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar]. . . .

The pure Realpolitik approach is not the one I favor, because I believe the moral element in U.S. foreign policy is critical to its success and to our international standing. But if the administration has decided on a realist approach, go all the way with it: demand a price in Saudi actions for the support we give.

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More about: Donald Trump, Human Rights, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

“Ending the War in Yemen” Would Lead to More Bloodshed and Threaten Global Trade

Dec. 13 2018

A bipartisan movement is afloat in Congress to end American support for the Saudi-led coalition currently fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. With frustration at Riyadh over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, reports of impending famine and a cholera outbreak in Yemen, and mounting casualties, Congress could go so far as to cut all funding for U.S. involvement in the war. But to do so would be a grave mistake, argues Mohammed Khalid Alyahya:

Unfortunately, calls to “stop the Yemen war,” though morally satisfying, are fundamentally misguided. . . . A precipitous disengagement by the Saudi-led coalition . . . would have calamitous consequences for Yemen, the Middle East, and the world at large. The urgency to end the war reduces that conflict, and its drivers, to a morality play, with the coalition of Arab states cast as the bloodthirsty villain killing and starving Yemeni civilians. The assumption seems to be that if the coalition’s military operations are brought to a halt, all will be well in Yemen. . . .

[But] if the Saudi-led coalition were to cease operations, Iran’s long arm, the Houthis, would march on areas [previously controlled by the Yemeni government] and exact a bloody toll on the populations of such cities as Aden and Marib with the same ruthlessness with which they [treated] Sanaa and Taiz during the past three years. The rebels have ruled Sanaa, kidnapping, executing, disappearing, systematically torturing, and assassinating detractors. In Taiz, they fire mortars indiscriminately at the civilian population and snipers shoot at children to force residents into submission.

[Moreover], an abrupt termination of the war would leave Iran in control of Yemen [and] deal a serious blow to the global economy. Iran would have the ability to obstruct trade and oil flows from both the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab el-Mandeb strait. . . . About 24 percent of the world’s petroleum and petroleum products passes through these two waterways, and Iran already has the capability to disrupt oil flows from Hormuz and threatened to do so this year. Should Iran acquire that capability in Bab el-Mandeb by establishing a foothold in the Gulf of Aden, even if it chose not to utilize this capability oil prices and insurance costs would surge.

Allowing Tehran to control two of the most strategic choke points for the global energy market is simply not an option for the international community. There is every reason to believe that Iran would launch attacks on maritime traffic. The Houthis have mounted multiple attacks on commercial and military vessels over the past several years, and Iran has supplied its Yemeni proxy with drone boats, conventional aerial drones, and ballistic missiles.

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More about: Iran, Oil, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen