Why the U.S. Must Support the Saudis in Yemen

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives advanced a resolution to end American support for the Saudi-led war against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. A similar resolution is making its way through the Senate. To Evelyn Gordon, this effort is wrongheaded on both strategic and moral grounds:

On the strategic side, let’s start with the fact that [the Houthis,] an organization whose official slogan is “God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse the Jews, Victory to Islam” isn’t one Americans should want ruling anything, much less a country whose location enables it to dominate a strategic waterway vital to the global oil industry. And without the Saudi-led coalition, the Houthis would long since have taken over Yemen. In other countries, like Syria and Lebanon, Iranian military and financial aid has repeatedly enabled its proxies to overwhelm the opposition; that this hasn’t yet happened in Yemen is only because there, unlike in Syria and Lebanon, the Saudi coalition has provided its local allies with substantial assistance, including airstrikes.

Second, empowering allies is always better than empowering enemies. Granted, Saudi Arabia is a highly imperfect ally, but it is at least nominally in America’s camp. Iran, by contrast, has been America’s avowed enemy since 1979, and its proxies have been responsible for hundreds, if not thousands, of American deaths in Lebanon and Iraq. . . .

Still, how can America possibly support a coalition that’s committing gross human-rights violations in Yemen? The answer is easy: horrible as Riyadh’s behavior is, the Houthis are worse. Thus, by ending support for the Saudi coalition, America would empower an even greater evil.

A perfect example is the issue of child soldiers. The New York Times ran a front-page story last month accusing the Saudis of using Sudanese child soldiers in Yemen. Though it didn’t provide many hard numbers, it implied that there could well be several thousand such soldiers. This is incontrovertibly bad. But what the Times carefully concealed from its readers is that the Saudis’ use of child soldiers pales in comparison to the Houthis’. . . . The Houthis openly admit to employing a whopping 18,000 child soldiers. Moreover, while the Saudis are taking boys aged fourteen to seventeen, the Houthis are using children as young as ten. And while the Saudis are recruiting their impoverished volunteers, . . . the Houthis . . . kidnap children outright. . . . [N]ational policy-makers’ job is to gather accurate information and then, if there are no good options, choose the lesser evil. In Yemen, the lesser evil is clearly backing the Saudi coalition.

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

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations