The Trump administration is preparing to designate Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi insurgents a terrorist organization before leaving office in January, fueling fears the move will disrupt international aid efforts and upend United Nations-brokered peace efforts between the Shiite movement and the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, according to several diplomatic sources.
Designating the Houthis is a mistake on the merits. But it will make it more difficult to reach a negotiated settlement to end the war. It will make an already catastrophic humanitarian crisis even worse. All of this was true when it was being floated earlier this year, and it is still true today. On top of all that, there is good reason to believe that this decision is being made as a last-minute gift to the Saudis. It is also another attempt to tie the hands of the next administration:
“They have been contemplating this for a while, but Pompeo wants this fast-tracked,” said one diplomatic source. “It’s part of the scorched-earth policy the sour grapes in the White House are taking.”
The Trump administration’s Yemen policy has been a disgrace for the last four years, so it isn’t really surprising that they would do the wrong thing on their way out the door. This is just about the worst thing they could do after having already suspended U.S. aid to Houthi-controlled territory, which is where roughly 80% of the population resides. The U.N. special envoy has urged the U.S. not to do this, as have several of our allies and the Secretary-General of the UN Even the Pentagon and experts at the State Department are against doing this:
The US Department of Defense and career experts in the State Department are said to be against the move. A coalition of international charities, meanwhile, are preparing a joint statement anticipating the designation, comparing the potential impacts to the famine in Somalia after the US designated al-Shabab as a terrorist group in 2008.
The expected designation has already prompted evacuations of American UN staff and Americans working for other organizations from northern Yemen:
American staffers for the United Nations and some workers at nongovernmental organizations have been relocated out of northern Yemen in anticipation of the Trump administration’s possible terrorist designation for the Iran-backed Houthi rebels that is likely to complicate aid deliveries and further exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in the war-torn country.