A panel of American and Middle Eastern experts addressed the U.S.’ interests in and support for the now four-year war in Yemen at a conference entitled “Saudi Arabia and UAE: Regional Adventures and U.S. Interests,” on November 30 in Washington, D.C. They concluded that ending the war in Yemen depends upon the U.S. stopping its supply of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the two countries leading the coalition military intervention.
The conference included three panel discussions addressing hot button issues including Saudi/Emirati involvement in the war in Yemen, money laundering and terrorism funding, and human rights and domestic policy.
Organized by Frontiers of Freedom, an NGO that promotes freedom, peace, and democracy in the U.S. Congress, the conference included three panel discussions addressing hot button issues including Saudi/Emirati involvement in the war in Yemen, money laundering and terrorism funding, and human rights and domestic policy.
Speaking on the Yemen panel, Bruce Fein, a former Associate Deputy Attorney General under President Ronald Reagan who served in other prominent positions with the Department of Justice, and an expert on American constitutional law, civil liberties, and international law, suggested that the support provided by the American president in the war in Yemen represents a flagrant violation of the U.S. Constitution because it is not based upon any declaration of war or authorization from Congress.
“The coalition’s crimes against the Yemeni people are considered war crimes,” he said. The U.S. is “complicit in these crimes” as a result of the support it provides to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, he asserted.
Fein also highlighted that the current U.S. administration does not differ from its predecessors in its use of lies and false pretexts to justify support for the Saudi-UAE led coalition in Yemen. He said that the U.S. should never have become involved in the war.
Jeffrey “J.D.” Gordon, a former Pentagon spokesman, and former national security and foreign policy adviser to President Trump, noted this was not the first time that Saudi Arabia had fought a proxy war in Yemen.
Focussing on the historical background of the war in Yemen, Gordon stressed that Yemen has had more than 19 wars since 1934. Saudi Arabia has apparently intervened in four of them. The most notable instance occurred in the 1960s, when Saudi forces launched an intervention against Egypt, resulting in the deaths of 26,000 Egyptian soldiers. Saudi Arabia also participated in another proxy war against the Soviet Union in the 1970s, Gordon said.
Backing off from his initial support for backing Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and the war in Yemen as a means of defeating the Iranian-backed Houthis, Gordon suggested that it is time for the U.S. government to “reconsider” its involvement in this war, given the length of the war and the improbability of anyone “winning” it, and especially given the ongoing humanitarian crisis caused by the intervening parties. He stressed the need to work jointly with Saudi Arabia and the UAE to find a way out of the war, ultimately calling on Congress to exert pressure on the U.S. administration to devise an exit strategy.
Nabeel Khoury, a senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Hariri Center for the Middle East, said the serious humanitarian disaster caused by the war in Yemen is the worst in modern history—even worse than World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. He said former President Barack Obama had made a grave mistake when he decided to provide support to the Saudi-UAE-led coalition in Yemen.
Khoury also countered the groundless Saudi justifications for its intervention, that it is combatting the expansion of Iran in Yemen, in particular by crushing the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who are by the way, Yemeni citizens. Khoury emphasized the absence of any Iranian soldier on the ground in Yemen.
“Most wars are caused by arrogance and stupidity,” he asserted. “Yemen is no exception.” He said that the real reason for the war in Yemen is “the arrogance of Mohammed bin Salman, who seeks to remove Iranian influence from all parts of the Middle East.”
The US needs to “distinguish between Saudi Arabia as an ally and the Crown Prince and the course he is taking the kingdom on,” he said. Adding a colorful analogy, he said: “Before you put someone on a bike, you give them training wheels. And MbS has had no training.”
Khoury accused Saudi Arabia of supporting extremist groups, such as al Qaeda, in Yemen. He also said that the UAE is not trying to eliminate Iranian influence; rather, its primary focus is exerting additional control over ports and economic zones. The UAE now controls more than ten ports in southern Yemen, and Gordon predicts that the UAE’s influence there will divide the country even further.
He went on to explain that the war in Yemen is not in line with the strategic objectives of the U.S. in the region, including the elimination of al Qaeda, which has, in fact, strengthened its influence even in areas controlled by the UAE.
Khoury expressly called on Washington to reconsider the support it is providing Mohammed bin Salman and to remember that the U.S. is allied with the Saudi state and not the crown prince. He predicted that replacing the Saudi crown prince would likely bring an end to the war in Yemen. However, as long as the US continues to support the Saudi-UAE-led military coalition in Yemen, Washington will remain a partner in the war crimes being committed against Yemeni civilians.