What is the possible upside for supporting Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen?

This seems almost Pit-level stupidity and cruelty, but lets keep it GD, what do we hope to gain by actively supporting Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen?

Even if the the whole “100,000s of civilians dying by war and starvation”, isn’t a problem for you. Doing anything except spending all of America’s diplomatic and economic power trying to stop the war is still monumentally stupid. Both Al Qiada and ISIS (the terrorist networks we’ve spent trillions of dollars, and thousands of American lives, fighting since 9/11) only exist because of wars like the one in Yemen. If it wasn’t for the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the civil war that followed, the Iraq war and the Syrian civil war, those terrorist groups would not exist, period. If you were to formulate up the perfect theoretical place to grow the next wave of Al Qaida/ISIS terrorism you would come up with Yemen Civil War, lots of hideous stuff happening to Muslim civilians (check), break down in national government control (check), foreign jihadists* (check), “apostate” religious sects to attack (check), etc. A few drone strikes aren’t going to make change that, stopping the war will.

Yet instead of doing everything possible (diplomatically and economically) to end the war, the US is instead actively supporting one side in the war. We are actively supporting the Saudi military (that are supporting the Yemeni government against Houthi rebels), in the process making an already hideous situation far far worse (and more perfectly suited to jihadist terrorist groups). I realize doing everything might not actually be enough to end the conflict, but that still doesn’t excuse doing less than nothing and actually making the conflict worst and longer.

So I assume the counter argument would be that we are “combating” Iran by backing Saudi Arabia (the ol’ “enemy of my enemy” thing, or technically the “my friend against the friend of my enemy”). Yes the Houthis are clearly in Iran’s camp, and have an Iranian style Islamist government (sort of). And yes, Iran are “bad” (for some definition of “bad”) that is not just neocon propaganda. Iran do clearly sponsor terrorist groups.

But what is the strategic advantage to Iran in some remote desert tribes in the poorest country in the middle east? Iran are not Al Qiada, they don’t need remote desert training camps to train their militias. And regardless of how many bombs Saudi Arabia drops, that ship has sailed, the Houthis aren’t going to stop being in Iran’s camp (and the Saudis are certainly not going to bring an end to the war militarily, even with US support, something the Russians could claim in Syria, for all the appalling nature of their intervention there).

The worst that will happen (if the Saudis back off because of US pressure), would be the Houthis control a larger part of Yemen . Is that such a terrible thing that it’s worth killing 100000s over, and strengthening our real enemies? The argument that it is particularly galling, as the same neocons (like John Bolton) who are making it thought it was perfectly fine to depose Saddam Hussein and give Iran massive influence over one of the most strategic countries in the Middle East.


The assumption is that the best way to ‘end’ a war is for one side to win it. I can’t imagine how else you might resolve it.

Well, there you go. The Yemeni government (backed by people who are ostensibly our allies) is fighting rebels (backed by our enemies).

I can only assume the logic is, “Fīat jūstitia ruat cælum.”

Yep, this is very much the logic that drives our government. It is better to destroy a country than allow our enemies to have it. Is this acceptable logic? I don’t really know. The alternative is a strategy of appeasement. If we let the “bad guys” win today (ostensibly for the sale of stability and humanitarian concern) we send the message that anyone can get whatever they want by threatening chaos and war. If the cost of war is unacceptably high, then the winner will be whoever is willing to pay the cost. I don’t see how this is fundamentally different from surrendering chunks of Europe to Hitler for the sake of avoiding war (again, for concerns of stability and humanitarianism) and we all know how well that worked out.

(To be clear: I don’t truly care about Yemen one way or the other. They can butcher each other for all I care. I’m just articulating the argument that drives the government’s decision)

Then you don’t know much about civil wars. Its is very common for civil wars to end in negotiated settlements without an clear victor (I’d say far more common than one side winning outright). E.g. Bosnia, Lebanon, and countless African civil wars.

NO ONE (even Saudi Arabia themselves) is claiming the Yemeni government has a chance of actually defeating the Houthis completely and ending the war militarily. This all about making sure the Houthis don’t gain too much territory.

Yeah the old “great game” bullsh*t. But that is just a meaningless catchphrase. What actual concrete difference will it make to the strategic situation for our enemies and allies, if the houthis have a few more square miles of territory when the war finishes? And how does that remotely make up for the war lasting longer?

Firstly completely invalid analogy, civil wars are not comparable to invasions of neighboring countries (if it were a valid comparison, we’d be intervening directly not just paying our allies to recruit child soldiers to fight on our behalf). Pulling out the “but Neville Chamberlain” card every time you want to something aggressive and stupid militarily does not convince anyone.

Secondly we do have a “Hitler”. Al Qaeda and ISIS do exist, they are as bad as everyone makes out, and they do pose a direct threat to the US (and we are decade and half into a war with them all over the globe). Whatever you think about “the war on terror” and how its been carried out, there is no denying that the Yemeni Civil War is the best thing that could possibly happen to our enemies in that war right now.

As a cold hard strategic consideration, ignoring the massive humanitarian concerns, actively lengthening and worsening the war in Yemen is the stupidest possible thing to do.

Well, based on comments from the POTUS, $110 Billion* in weapons sales.

Every smart bomb that blows up a bus load of school children is money in the bank for Lockheed Martin.

  • yes I realize that this is a heavily inflated figure but its not clear whether or not Trump, who is in charge of our relations to Saudi Arabia, knows that.

Building on what Buck Godot suggested, it further solidifies a relationship with a key ally in the Middle East, which helps with oil sales and weapons sales, which in turn creates American jobs. So the main upside is “economic”. Aside from the weapons that are destroyed (i.e. bombs/missiles) which the Saudis will need more of, don’t forget the spare parts, training, and logistics, etc. for all those military vehicles that will continue on for those defense companies that provide those products and services long after the US military has moved on to the next generation vehicles/weapons/services that might otherwise result in those product lines dying.

But as **Buck Godot ** points out the actual value of those Saudi arms contracts is far lower than the amounts discussed. Certainly a tiny tiny fraction of the total US military budget. If the US wanted to keep those production lines open they could do so without strengthening the very people who the entire US military (or a large part of it) has been focused on defeating since 9/11.

As you said, it’s a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. If Saudi Arabia does not win, then it gives an Iranian client de facto control of the Red Sea and thereby the Suez Canal. This is undesirable for us since we like to make it a point to antagonize Iran. American ships coming through the Bab al Mandeb Strait could be interdicted or attacked. 4.7 million barrels of oil traverse the Strait every day. Iran could shut down shipping through the Strait and destabilize oil prices in retaliation for US or Israeli geopolitical moves. These are things that the US probably does not want to occur. Ideally, we would want a stable Yemen allied with us and in this particular conflict, the path towards that would seem to be to support the Saudis.

So write a letter to John Bolton. I don’t give a fuck either way.

Where are you getting your casualty figures from? Save the Children?

Yes, who got their (conservative) figures from the UN. I guess the super accurate world famous “Fox News statistical analysis of dead brown people we don’t care about” system, would have been preferable.
56,000 people have died in the war itself
Over 85,000 children alone have died in the famine, so far.

So yes. 100,000s of people will die because of this war. A large chunk of them because of the Saudi intervention.

This pretty much answers the OP. From the US perspective supporting the Saudis on this is probably the best of bad options.

If that is the sum total of the strategic advantage gained that is spectacularly paltry and still incredibly dumb for the US.

The Red Sea coast is the heart of the Houthis territory, they are are going to finish this war in control of that coast, no matter what the Saudis do. senoy has a point it’s just possible the Saudi intervention might have prevented them from gaining the part the coast most close to the Bab al Mandeb. So we are saying that 100,000s of deaths and the obvious strengthening of Al Qeada is worth it to stop a few miles of coastline being controlled by a tribal militia, in case of a future war with Iran?

We are in an actual real war with Al Qeada and ISIS, and they are not allied with the Houthis (in fact the same cities that are being leveled by US bombs dropped by the Saudis have been attacked by ISIS). You are talking about possible hypothetical attacks on shipping from Yemen in some future war versus very real actual attacks on shipping, from Yemen, that have actually happened (again note the Sudan connection, the same country our buddies the Saudis are paying for child soldiers).

So it is not the best of bad options. It is STILL the worst, dumbest, possible bad option.

The Houthis have already lost over half of the coast and already pose far less threat to international shipping than they did 2 years ago. You’re right that attacks on shipping have happened. The Houthis have already attacked shipping through the strait and it had to be closed for a short time in 2016 which spiked oil prices and led to a fear that it could have a knock on the global economy. That’s what we’re talking about and why we supported the Saudis entering the war and seizing Perim Island and then the rest of the southern coast.

Well, that’s your opinion and you are certainly entitled to it. It’s a great opinion for a message board poster who wants to show how silly all that real politic and international folderol is, but not so much when you are actually a superpower and have to consider the bigger picture. You asked for the upside to supporting them in your OP and you were given several that actual world powers have to consider. Allowing Iran to gain further control in the region, or Iranian allies to do so is not something the US is willing to do. Helping an ally in the region is…especially if that help is basically in the form of selling said ally stuff and giving them intelligence. In addition to those two, frankly obvious benefits you also have the strategic location of Yemen to consider. WE don’t get a lot of our oil from the ME anymore, but many (most actually) of our allies do, so anything that might increase the threat to trade in the region by giving a strategic position away to folks who aren’t friendly to the US or our allies is going to be a further reason to give what (little IMHO) support we do to the Saudi’s in their war. Frankly, as with Trump’s stupid pull out of Syria, we are getting a lot of bang for the buck wrt getting in Iran’s way, and while the human cost is ghastly, that war would happen anyway with the only difference being that the faction supported by the Iranian’s would be doing a lot better. I’m not sanguine that this would be a huge benefit wrt the human cost either in the short run or the long run. YMMV of course. Obviously it does.