Why Lies About the War on Yemen Matter

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Tony Badran takes another crack at justifyingTrump’s subservience to Saudi Arabia. Inevitably, this means telling lots of lies about Iran and Yemen:

The lead paragraph of Trump’s statement identifies Iran’s destructive regional role, and correctly assigns to it, in the first line, responsibility for the extended war in Yemen. “The country of Iran,” the first paragraph begins, “is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen.”

Right at the outset, the president sets a tone of strategic clarity.

Strategic clarity appears to have the same relationship to sound strategy that “moral clarity” has to morality. “Moral clarity” usually means whitewashing and excusing the crimes of the governments and people on one’s own “side” while criticizing only adversaries in the harshest terms. Strategic clarity involves letting hostility to one state overwhelm all other considerations and justify supporting any actor or policy, no matter how senseless and bad for U.S. interests it may be, simply because it expresses hostility towards the hated regime. Trump “sets a tone of strategic clarity” because he leads off with a false accusation against Iran to defend a relationship with a reckless client that has involved the US in an indefensible war. The war doesn’t even have much to do with Iran, but the small connection that does exist is blown out of all proportion to distract from the fact that the Saudi relationship is now a huge liability. Take it as a given that these “clarity” phrases have the opposite meaning from what the words usually mean.

Faulting Iran for the war on Yemen is flagrantly dishonest, and it is also a good example of foreign policy malpractice. Letting the Saudis and Emiratis off the hook for creating the disaster in Yemen amounts to giving up any leverage the US has with them, and blaming their regional rival is nothing less than swallowing their propaganda whole. That suits ideological Iran hawks just fine, but it puts the US in a horrible position of being both accomplice and shill for despotic war criminals as they destroy and starve an entire country. That is what Trump has repeatedly chosen to be, but no one should pretend that this is anything other than a disgrace and a major foreign policy failure.

Badran is just getting started with his terrible analysis:

Having led with Iran’s responsibility for the war in Yemen, this second paragraph accurately explains the Saudi campaign against the Iranian-backed forces as defensive in nature: “Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave.”

Yes, Trump followed up one lie about Iran’s responsibility for the war with another lie about Saudi Arabia’s peaceable intentions. How remarkable. Badran forgot to mention the next lie about the Saudi desire to help the people of Yemen. Everything the president said about Yemen in his pro-Saudi declaration was obviously false, and Badran is making a point of cheering on the president’s lying. He adds to it by going on to say that “the war in Yemen was foisted on Saudi Arabia by Iran and its proxies.” It is common for apologists of aggressor states to claim that the aggressors were “forced” to attack, but those claims are always false. The Saudis and their allies chose to intervene on the side of the deposed government, and they initiated hostilities against Yemen without just cause. Iran was nowhere to be found in any of this, and their government had even advised the Houthis against seizing the capital in 2014. Nothing was forced on the Saudis and their allies, and they deserve the lion’s share of the responsibility for exacerbating Yemen’s suffering.

Defenders of the war on Yemen and the U.S.-Saudi relationship more broadly have great difficulty justifying either one on the merits. The first is indefensible, and the second is becoming increasingly toxic for good reason. That is why all defenses of both the war and the Saudi relationship rely so heavily on distortions and outright fabrications. If their defenders acknowledged the truth about these things, their arguments would collapse. Lies about the war on Yemen matter because they give cover to heinous abuses by the Saudi and Emirati governments, they misrepresent the real causes of the war, and therefore they make it that much harder to bring the war to a close. By constantly and dishonestly inserting Iran into a story in which it is barely involved, Yemen war supporters seek to increase hostility towards Iran in the hopes of fomenting yet another war in the region. Members of Congress should ignore what the war supporters are trying to sell them, and the Senate should make sure that they do the right thing by voting for final passage of S.J.Res. 54 this week.

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.

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