Stop Pushing Yemen Deeper Into Famine

From The American Conservative:

The U.N. made another appeal to the Trump administration not to designate the Houthis as a terrorist organization. The head of the World Food Program met with Pompeo to warn of the devastating effect that the designation would have on the population:

In recent weeks, officials from the United Nations and aid groups have issued increasingly urgent warnings about the potential designation, saying it could dramatically worsen already dire conditions in Yemen by reducing the amount of lifesaving aid and commercial imports moving into the country.

The people of Yemen are already facing famine. Some parts of Yemen are experiencing famine-like conditions right now. Tens of thousands will soon be in this condition, and that is before we take the effects of this possible designation into account:

The International Rescue Committee is extremely concerned by the findings of the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) that classified parts of Yemen as experiencing ‘famine like conditions’, with over 47,000 people projected to fall into this category in the next 6 months. Food insecurity and hunger had increased by 60% since April of this year, and in October of this year, child malnutrition was recorded as the highest it has ever been in some areas.

Taking any action that would disrupt humanitarian aid or block economic activity in Houthi-controlled territory amounts to a death sentence for tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of people. Designating the Houthis is exactly the wrong thing to be doing in Yemen right now, and it will cause enormous harm for no good reason. To do this now is to knowingly hasten and worsen the man-made famine that our government’s support for the war has helped to create.

Stephen Snyder also reports on the humanitarian disaster that would follow from a designation:

If the United States labels the Houthis as an FTO, many aid activities in Yemen will stop.

“Designation would make it generally illegal for anyone to transact with Ansar Allah armed group [the Houthis] or the government they control in Sana’a,” said Scott Paul, humanitarian policy lead for Oxfam America. “And depending on how it’s designated, it might also prohibit the provision of any form of support, anything as small as a slice of pizza at a training.”

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Back to the Brink of War Again?

From The American Conservative:

Last week, I said that there was still a danger that the U.S. or Israel might launch an attack on Iranian targets before the new administration takes over. Axios reports yesterday that Israel is preparing for a possible U.S. attack on Iran:

The Israel Defense Forces have in recent weeks been instructed to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. will conduct a military strike against Iran before President Trump leaves office, senior Israeli officials tell me.

This report comes just a few days after news that the president had recently asked for military options for just such an attack. Earlier this week, the administration announced that it was sending a number of B-52s to the region on short notice. Last week, there was also a statement from an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader that a U.S. attack could lead to “full-fledged war.” We have to assume that an attack is being seriously considered.

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Yemenis Are Being Starved to Death

From The American Conservative:

The U.N. Secretary-General warned last week that Yemen faces the worst famine in decades:

Like most modern famines, the famine in Yemen is entirely man-made. It is the result of the Saudi coalition’s military intervention and economic war against the country. The U.S. has been supporting the Saudi coalition in these policies for more than five and a half years. Yemen suffers from the world’s worst humanitarian crisis because of the predictable and predicted consequences of waging a senseless war in this country, and the US shares culpability for the enormous harm done to innocent civilians from the Saudi coalition’s bombing and blockade. The humanitarian crisis has worsened this year as international donations have dried up and the Trump administration has suspended aid funding to the part of Yemen where most of the people live in a destructive bid to pressure the Houthis.

As I noted last week, the administration is considering a terrorist designation for the Houthis that will cause even more harm to a population that is already struggling with widespread starvation and disease. A bipartisan group of senators has warned against issuing the designation because of the devastating effects that it would have on the people of Yemen. Sens. Murphy, Young, and Coons released this statement yesterday:

We are concerned about the adverse consequences of designating the entire Houthi movement in Yemen as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. We have reason to believe that this designation would further destabilize the country, which is already the home of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, make it harder to negotiate a peace agreement, and stop the important work of the many NGOs providing lifesaving assistance in the country. This designation would almost certainly prevent the critical delivery of food, medical supplies, and other items necessary to combat both COVID-19 and famine. Yemen remains the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, one that on occasion has been exacerbated by ill-advised policies in recent years. Creating new, additional obstacles to the delivery of food and medical aid – during a global pandemic – is not in the best interest of the United States, our regional allies and partners, or the people of Yemen.

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Designating the Houthis Is Another Senseless Attack on Yemeni Civilians

From The American Conservative:

The Trump administration is preparing to go through with the terrible idea of designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization:

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.

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Why the US Must Not Support Azerbaijan’s War

From The American Conservative:

Eldar Mamedov warns against the push to get the U.S. to side with Azerbaijan in their attack on Karabakh and Armenia:

As fierce fighting between Armenia and Azerbaijan continues into a second month, neoconservatives in Washington are pushing the United States to side with Azerbaijan. Their rationale – involving Iran and Israel, as so many of Washington’s priorities in the Middle East do – is facile, naïve and dangerous to the region’s minorities.

The U.S. has no vital interests in this conflict, so it would be a serious mistake to take sides in it. If the U.S. were to tilt towards anyone in the conflict, it ought to be towards the Armenian side that came under attack, but neutrality is the wisest course. The best thing that the U.S. can do is to use whatever influence it still has with Turkey and Azerbaijan to halt the offensive, and to support Russian mediation efforts that have the best chance of succeeding in stopping the fighting. Armenian and Azerbaijani civilians will pay the heaviest price if the war is not stopped, and preventing further attacks on civilians should be the focus of U.S. diplomatic efforts. Azerbaijan is not an ally of the United States, and our government has no obligations to assist or defend them. While Turkey is formally an ally, they are acting as a regional arsonist and the U.S. should be reining them in rather than helping them.

The death toll from the conflict is already in the thousands, many of them civilians killed by indiscriminate use of missiles and shelling. Both governments have launched unacceptable, illegal attacks on civilian areas, and the U.S. should warn both governments against further such attacks. There are credible reports of war crimes being committed against Armenian prisoners of war by their Azerbaijani captors. Ethnic cleansing of Armenians in parts of Karabakh has already been carried out by Azerbaijani forces:

Siding with Azerbaijan makes no sense for American interests. It is being promoted by Iran hawks that hope to use this conflict as part of their fixation on destabilizing the Iranian government and potentially breaking up Iran’s territorial integrity. Michael Doran is one of the leading hawkish cheerleaders for Azerbaijan, and he has been making the case for siding with Baku explicitly for quite some time. In the quoted tweet, he is promoting Azerbaijan on account of its supposed diversity and tolerance:

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How Strategic Empathy Makes for Wiser Foreign Policy

From The American Conservative:

Anatol Lieven explains how strategic empathy is supposed to work:

This kind of empathy has very valuable consequences for foreign policy. It makes for an accurate assessment of another state establishment’s goals based on its own thoughts, rather than a picture of those goals generated by one’s own fears and hopes; above all, it permits one to identify the difference between the vital and secondary interests of a rival country as that country’s rulers see them.

A vital interest is one on which a state will not compromise unless faced with irresistible military or economic pressure. Otherwise, it will resist to the very limit of its ability, including, if necessary, by war. A statesman who sets out to challenge another state’s vital interests must therefore be sure not only that his or her country possesses this overwhelming power, but that it is prepared actually to use it.

American policymakers are notoriously bad at understanding how other governments perceive things and the reasons why they act in the way that they do, and we have seen on many occasions how this failure to understand the other side’s thinking has led us into one crisis after another. Our leaders often fail to grasp that they are threatening another country’s perceived vital interests, because they frequently deny that the other government has any legitimate interests at all. Instead of trying to see an issue from the other side, our leaders will often insist that there is only one acceptable way of seeing it and it is invariably the same as ours. If the other government responds angrily to this approach, they are then deemed hostile and “revisionist” rather than a normal state reacting as any other state would. Practicing this kind of empathy does not mean agreeing that the other government is right, but it does mean acknowledging what their actual position is rather than projecting one onto them.

H.R. McMaster likes to talk a lot about practicing strategic empathy, but in fact he refuses to understand how other governments see the world. He prefers instead to imagine that they are all driven to achieve ideological, expansionist goals just as he is, and then he warns about the aggressive intentions that he has imputed to them. This is exactly the opposite of what Lieven is talking about, and it is nothing more than reading his own hawkish inclinations into everyone else’s worldview. If McMaster were willing to see things as the Russian government or Chinese government did, he would understand that they perceive aggressive U.S. foreign policy since the end of the Cold War as a threat, and at least some of their conduct over this same period has been in reaction to American overreaching. But McMaster doesn’t understand this at all. Instead, he insists that the behavior of other states has nothing to do with US actions whatsoever, because to admit this would be to acknowledge that an interventionist foreign policy can create more problems than it solves.

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