Gerald Feierstein makes a very weak case for designating the Houthis as terrorists. First, he acknowledges that he previously opposed the designation when the Trump administration did it, but now claims that it is worth doing:
The letter, which was ultimately signed by nearly 100 former U.S. diplomats and military officers, argued that a designation would do little harm to the Houthis but would endanger the well-being of millions of innocent Yemeni civilians. Unfortunately, things have changed. The past year has demonstrated that the Houthis will not return to the negotiating table until they accept that there is no alternative to a political resolution.
There may have been some changes in the military situation over the last year, but nothing has changed as far as the effects of the designation are concerned. It is still true that a designation would do little harm to the Houthis but would endanger millions of innocent Yemeni lives, so how can a designation be any more justified now than it was then? Put bluntly, why is it somehow acceptable to cause a massive famine in the name of “leverage” now when it was not in 2021?
There is something particularly perverse about the debate over designating the Houthis. For almost seven years, the US has aided and abetted the Saudi coalition as it bombs and starves the people of Yemen, and during that time none of the coalition’s members has faced any penalties for their myriad war crimes. The Saudi coalition has plunged Yemen into the abyss of mass starvation, and they have done this with US backing and protection. The US refuses to use the influence it has with the Saudi coalition to rein in their many abuses, but for the sake of creating supposed “leverage” with the Houthis there is serious consideration of a policy that would cause even more starvation and deprivation than the coalition’s intervention has already caused. Everyone knows in advance that terrorism sanctions won’t alter the Houthis’ behavior or compel them to negotiate. The whole of Yemen – and not just the parts that the Houthis control – will suffer terribly if the designation goes through.
Feierstein says that it is “imperative” that the US and U.N. “do more to end the suffering,” but he is calling for a terrorism designation that will drastically increase the suffering for tens of millions of people. We are already seeing the economic collapse in Afghanistan that comes when a country is effectively cut off from the outside world. The same will happen to Yemen if the US does this, and it will be our policy that kills huge numbers of people.
Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.