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Huthi War Good for the US?

Robert Haddick of Small Wars Journal recently argued in his weekly column for Foreign Policy that Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Huthi conflict was good news for the US. The thrust of his argument seems to be that Saudi Arabia’s direct involvement in the war (it has always been involved) will lead to further militarization of the Gulf and a strong Sunni/GCC alliance against Iranian encroachment throughout the Arab world.

As Haddick writes:

Any real challenge (to) Iranian ambitions will require Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states to balance Iranian power.” My parenthetical, as I believe this is what he is saying, but it is missing in the on-line version.

Not surprisingly to those of you who read this blog on a regular basis I strongly disagree with Haddick that the further escalation of the Huthi conflict is good for the US. To be fair, we are coming at this from different perspectives. But still, I believe that his view makes a number of incredibly dangerous assumptions. First he seems to believe that an alliance forged to combat the Huthis (or if you believe the rhetoric, which I do not, Iran’s proxy soldiers) would survive the conflict and endure to further challenge any sort of alleged Iranian meddling. I am not so sure the GCC could or would do this. Not to mention that the argument that this is proxy war shows a stunning disregard for the local history of the Sa’dah conflict.

He also seems to assume that the more regional powers that get involved in the conflict the more likely it is that there can be a military solution to the Huthi conflict. I do not believe this to be the case. I do not think that any combination of regional powers can bomb their way out of the Sa’dah conflict. As I have argued before, I believe that Saudi’s direct involvement in the war will prolong it rather than shorten it.

I am also unsure what evidence there is to support the idea, as Haddick argues, that Iran is actively looking to set up an enclave on Saudi’s southern border. Certainly this is what the Yemeni government’s rhetoric has suggested, but a visit to the Huthis’ website or the most recent interview that ‘Abd al-Malik al-Huthi gave would suggest otherwise.

I tend to believe that Saudi Arabia got involved not because of the threat of a refugee crisis but rather because it saw its future and was frightened. The attack on Muhammad bin Nayif, which was launched from Yemen, was, I think, a stunning attack for the royal family. Combine that with the Huthis crossing into Saudi Arabia and I think Saudis got spooked by what they saw as Yemen’s problems of the moment becoming their problems of the future.

None of this, I believe, is good for the US.

Fighting the phantom of an Iranian presence in northern Yemen is only going to further undermine stability in a country where the US is desperately looking for ways to do the opposite. Chasing ghosts and rumors in the mountains of northern Yemen is no way to construct a foreign policy. Even the hint of US support for the alliance that Haddick mentions would, I believe, be disastrous. US policy has never been good in Yemen – in one piece I wrote recent US policy towards Yemen has been marked by a frightening mixture of ignorance and arrogance, and I still believe that to be true – but pursuing such a short term benefit would have incredibly dire long term costs.


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