Pompeo’s Risible Yemen Lies

Originally appeared on The American Conservative.

Pompeo once again defended the indefensible war on Yemen and U.S. support for it in typical dishonest fashion:

Airplanes flying through King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh are at risk, and the United States has an obligation to protect our citizens,” Pompeo said at The Hill’s Newsmaker Series event, referencing rebel missile attacks that have hit the airport.

“So the support we’re providing to the Saudis as they attempt to engage these dangerous missiles systems is in America’s best interest.”

The earlier administration line was that the US was helping the Saudis to defend themselves, and now they are expanding on that misleading claim by saying that it has something to do with defending Americans that happen to be traveling in Saudi Arabia. The US is obviously not obliged to assist governments that start a war against their neighbor just because retaliatory strikes could potentially put Americans at risk. If the danger is so great, the responsible thing would be to advise US citizens to avoid those countries if at all possible. The more important point is that Pompeo’s argument is circular: he insists that we should keep backing a war that actually creates the threat that he claims to be guarding against. If not for the Saudi coalition bombing campaign against Yemen’s cities and villages, there would be no missile attacks on Riyadh or anywhere else. It is disingenuous at best to suggest that US support for Saudi and Emirati aggression in Yemen is intended to protect American citizens when there would no threat to them or Saudi Arabia if the bombing campaign halted. There is no legitimate reason to be supporting the Saudi coalition war, and so administration officials have to scramble to come up with weak excuses that fall apart under the slightest scrutiny.

Pompeo also continues to lie about the origins and nature of the conflict:

On the Yemen civil war, Pompeo placed blame solely on Iran, saying the war is “Iranian led” and that Tehran has “chosen to direct” the Houthis not to withdraw from the port of Hodeidah as agreed to last year.

The Houthis and Saleh were responsible for overthrowing Hadi, but the Houthis seized Sanaa against Iranian advice. Whatever assistance Iran has provided, they don’t tell the Houthis what to do and the Houthis don’t necessarily listen to them when they offer advice. Iran isn’t responsible for starting the conflict in Yemen, nor is it responsible for escalating it. The administration’s monomaniacal need to pin everything in the region on Iran is discrediting and shows how warped their view of Yemen’s conflict is by Saudi propaganda. The Saudis and Emiratis bear substantial responsibility for escalating and prolonging the war, and the US shares in that responsibility because our government has been aiding them every step of the way. Pompeo can’t articulate a valid defense for this disgraceful policy, whose human costs are already staggering and continue to grow, and so he is reduced to shouting “Iran!” to distract attention from our government’s culpability for creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.

Pompeo had the gall to say that Iranian hard-liners were pleased with the Senate passage of the antiwar resolution:

The people who were happiest when that resolution passed were Qasem Soleimani and the ayatollah,” Pompeo said, referring to the commander of Iran’s Quds Force. “There’s no doubt about that. When they see the United States shrink away from this challenge that puts United States citizens at risk, they think they’ve achieved a victory.”

War supporters frequently accuse their domestic opponents of encouraging and helping adversaries to deflect attention from the war’s costs and their own failures. It is always a scurrilous lie, and this case is no different. The Saudi coalition war on Yemen has done nothing to hurt Iran, not least because Iran’s involvement is still quite limited. Nothing could please Iranian hard-liners more than keeping the Saudis and Emiratis bogged down in an unwinnable war in Yemen for years, and the Trump administration’s determination to encourage the Saudis and Emiratis in their destructive folly is one of the many gifts that they have given to those hard-liners. They would not have found the passage of S.J.Res. 7 to be welcome news, because it showed that US support for the war might be waning and the coalition might not be able to count on American backing indefinitely. Continuing the war is a disaster for Yemen and its people, but it is also a significant drain on Saudi and Emirati resources and an ongoing embarrassment to both governments. The sooner that the US convinces the Saudis and Emiratis to give up on their failed war, the better it will be for them. By indulging the Saudi coalition in their worst instincts and supporting them unconditionally, the Trump administration is encouraging them to keep fighting a costly war that they won’t win.

There is no honest case for continued illegal US involvement in the war on Yemen, and for that reason Pompeo and other administration officials have to lie to Congress and the public whenever they try to defend this policy. If there were actually vital US interests at stake in this conflict, they would not have to resort to such deceit. There aren’t any, so that is what the administration does. Congress must not let up its pressure on the administration, and all of the Democratic presidential candidates should make our involvement in this atrocious war a major issue in the campaign. Trump and his officials have no good arguments to defend what they have done for the last two years on Yemen. The president and Pompeo should be forced to answer publicly for their actions and words, and they should be hounded by journalists whenever they give dishonest or misleading answers.

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.

6 thoughts on “Pompeo’s Risible Yemen Lies”

  1. Pompeo is as bad as John Bolton. Both are the return to power of the Cheney ideas.

Comments are closed.