September 22, 2018
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Chaos will erupt in the Middle East if US leaves Yemen

Jon Gambrell | AP
Jon Gambrell | AP
Yemeni militiamen allied to the country's internationally recognized government prepare to climb a mountain in the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen, Feb. 2, 2018. Yemen's conflict, which began as a civil war in 2014 and escalated into a regional proxy fight, drags on today. Winning the hardscrabble terrain takes time and costs dearly, only exacerbating the country's humanitarian crises and making a war that's seen over 10,000 people killed last that much longer.
By James Jay Carafano, Tribune News Service

Three years ago this month, a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf nations waded into Yemen’s civil war. The U.S. is aiding the coalition, supplying special forces and sharing intelligence with our Saudi and UAE allies.

For some Americans, that’s too much. On Feb. 28, Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah; Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont; and Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, introduced a joint resolution invoking the War Powers Act. The goal: to yank all U.S. military support from the conflict.

Legal scholars debate the constitutionality of the War Powers Act. Still, even if the Hill could tell the president to pull out of Yemen, it should not. If America walks away, it will only bring more war, not peace.

America is there for a reason: to keep the region from falling apart. The collapse of any friendly regime there is bad for us.

The greatest threats to Middle East stability and security are Iran and transnational Islamist terrorists groups, principally the Islamic State group and al-Qaida. And it is precisely these forces that are fueling the Yemen war.

If Congress forces the administration to abandon our allies, Tehran, Islamic State group and al-Qaida would feel emboldened and likely double-down on expanding the war.

Meanwhile, Washington would lose its ability to influence how Saudi Arabia and the UAE conduct coalition operations. Without our mitigating presence, the carnage of this vicious war would only increase.

And Russia would be tempted to further complicate the situation. Moscow has already vetoed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to hold Iran accountable for providing Yemen’s rebels with the long-range missiles recently fired at the Saudi capital.

Putin would interpret an American withdrawal as a green light for additional Russian meddling — the type that Moscow has brought to the Syrian civil war.

Instead of turning our back on Yemen, the U.S. should focus on ending the war. The longer the conflict persists, the more the chaos benefits terrorist groups in the region and the more the main rebel group, the Houthis, becomes dependent on Iran.

There are no easy answers. Just ask American Enterprise Institute analyst Katherine Zimmerman, who follows the issue as closely as anyone. Her assessment: “The [Saudi-led] coalition’s efforts to end the war militarily have been unsuccessful and will likely continue to fail.”

There is no clear military solution. There is no clear political resolution either. Yemen’s political landscape remains hopelessly fractured. Any settlement talks that exclude key stakeholders are likely to go nowhere.

A new U.N. envoy, Martin Griffiths, is expected to try to launch another round of negotiations. But for now, at least, too many key actors seem unwilling to engage in serious peace talks.

Rather than pull out, the U.S. should continue to use its presence and influence to establish the conditions that will allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid and the start of real peace negotiations that put the people of Yemen first.

U.S. military activities contribute to both those goals, particularly by supporting counterterrorism operations against the Islamic State group and al-Qaida.

In addition to continuing that support, the U.S. should work to diminish Iranian meddling — not just by disrupting its aid to the Houthis, but by broadly attacking Tehran’s foreign escapades throughout the region.

Pressing the regime overall will strain its capacity to support the rebels in Yemen — and that may lead to all sides in the conflict coming to the peace table sooner rather than later.

If Congress wants to see an end to the humanitarian suffering in Yemen, then writing off the current U.S. role there ought to be the last thing lawmakers think about.

The U.S. cannot be a bystander. In fact, it may be the only actor with sufficient influence to drive the other players toward a peaceful political settlement in Yemen.

James Jay Carafano is director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation. A 25-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Carafano is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and a holds a Ph.D in diplomatic history from Georgetown University.

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