The Ridiculous Hawkish Arguments for Supporting the War on Yemen

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

James Jay Carafano must assume that his audience doesn’t know anything about the war on Yemen:

Instead of turning our back on Yemen, the U.S. should focus on ending the war.

If US support for the Saudi-led coalition were withdrawn, that would go a long way towards ending the war by making it much more difficult for the coalition to continue waging it. Carafano frames stopping US support for wrecking Yemen as “turning our back on Yemen,” which is about as misleading as can be. The US has been turning its back on the civilian population of Yemen for the last three years by aiding and abetting the governments that have been bombing and starving them. He notably omits any mention of the coalition’s commission of numerous war crimes against the civilian population. The plight of the civilian population created by the coalition blockade is likewise nowhere to be found. If the US were no longer enabling coalition war crimes and collective punishment, that would be the first time in years that our government would be seriously paying attention to the plight of the people of Yemen.

Carafano writes:

America is there for a reason: to keep the region from falling apart. The collapse of any friendly regime there is bad for us.

The first part of this is debatable, but when applied to Yemen it is clearly not true. US involvement in the Saudi-led war has been contributing to the country’s fragmentation. The war is causing the country’s devastation and division, and by supporting it the US is encouraging those outcomes. There is no “friendly regime” in Yemen to be defended. The Hadi government has no legitimacy in the eyes of most Yemenis and has virtually no support anywhere in the country, and the coalition’s goal of reimposing him on Yemen will never be reached.

Helping the Saudis and their allies to pummel and starve a country that has done nothing to us is what is bad for the US In addition to making ourselves complicit in terrible crimes and famine, US support for this war has created conditions in which Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the local ISIS affiliate have been flourishing. Backing the Saudi-led war on Yemen is harmful to US interests and a shameful blot on our national reputation.

Carafano gets something else profoundly wrong:

The greatest threats to Middle East stability and security are Iran and transnational Islamist terrorists groups, principally the Islamic State group and al-Qaida. And it is precisely these forces that are fueling the Yemen war.

That is undoubtedly what the Saudis and Emiratis would have us believe, but it is simply not true. In Yemen, these are not the greatest threats to security and stability. Iran’s involvement has been and remains limited, and it is a gross exaggeration to say that their involvement is what is “fueling the Yemen war” when the coalition’s role in keeping the war going is a hundred times greater. Jihadist groups are benefiting from the instability and upheaval created by the war, but they are not the driving forces behind it. AQAP and ISIS are exploiting the situation for their own ends, but the war continues because the coalition insists on continuing it. The longer that the US provides them with military assistance, the longer it will be before they acknowledge that their intervention has failed.

Carafano makes another misleading statement:

If Congress forces the administration to abandon our allies, Tehran, Islamic State group and al-Qaida would feel emboldened and likely double-down on expanding the war.

There is no reason to think any of this is true. First, these governments aren’t really our allies, and calling them that creates the impression that we owe them something when we do not. AQAP and ISIS have gained strength since the coalition intervened because the Saudi-led war has diverted attention and resources away from combating them. When the Saudi-led war ends, those groups should have a harder time operating. Cutting off US support does not risk “expanding the war” at all. On the contrary, it will pressure the coalition governments to curtail their interference in Yemen and create an opening for a diplomatic solution. It is telling that hawkish defenses of US involvement in this war rely on thoroughly misrepresenting the nature of the conflict.

The US absolutely should “drive the other players toward a peaceful political settlement.” The first step in doing that is to stop being a party to the war and to end our military backing for the governments that have done so much damage to the country.

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.