Why is the US Getting Involved in Yemen?

Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t see the compelling US interest here. “Compelling” in terms of being compelling enough to get dragged into what could end up being a pretty broad war.

Not to specifically endorse the Houthis, but the fact is that - much like in the case of Syria - you need to look at the Houthis in the context of all the other major players in that country, some of whom are just as bad or worse, e.g. al-Qaeda of Yemen.

I apreciate that the US doesn’t like the Houthis’ links to Iran, but that hardly seems like a legitimate reason to get involved in a war, especially given reports that Wikileaks revealed US skepticism over the extent of Iranian links to the Houthis (see e.g. https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09SANAA2186_a.html#efmAjaAmV).

What I’m wondering is whether this is mostly an attempt to curry favor with the Saudis, who are really worked up about Iran and feel betrayed by the US nuclear negotiations with Iran, and perhaps this is an attempt to balance things out and reassure them by offering some limited support in their battle against what they see as Iranian proxies.

But perhaps I’m missing something.

Yemen, of late, has become the new Afghanistan. A failed state that harbors terrorists plotting attacks against The West. We had a good relationship with the government, which let us fly drones to our heart’s content over there. We don’t want it to become an even worse failed state + a state that doesn’t let us drone, drone, drone. Additionally, we are all about stability, and the Houthis = instability. But yeah, them being Shiites and at least loosely tied to Iran (allegedly) is also bad.

n.b: Not endorsing those policies, just explaining them.

Arabian peninsula political stability and oil.

I’ll be interested if any posters can defend the administration’s policy, but this strikes me as a clear violation of the “don’t do stupid stuff” policy that I thought I had voted for (twice).

  1. As I understand it the Houthis have had grievances for decades and are not mere Iranian pawns, as neocon commentary would suggest (more here).
  2. The Houthis and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are mortal enemies, so if anything we should be in support of the Houthis, right?
  3. Saudi Arabia clearly has an interest in derailing Western diplomacy with Iran because they benefit from Iran being a pariah state. Sucking us into a conflict that stands a good chance of getting us into direct confrontation with Iran plays into Saudi interests but clearly runs contrary to our own. The Saudis know that Obama is under intense domestic pressure not to appear soft on Iran, so they’re seizing an opportunity to extract diplomatic cover from the US despite our military leadership thinking their intervention is a bad idea.

Every time Obama does something really smart on foreign policy, he goes and messes it up with something like this. He handles the Syria chemical weapons crisis well–then he goes and declares a US commitment to “destroy” ISIS. He pulls off a potential diplomatic breakthrough with Iran, then he lets a troublesome client like Saudi Arabia rope him into this burgeoning fiasco in Yemen. I just wish we could expect a little more consistency.

Not to be flip, but one has to simply look at a map to see what large oil producing nation is just north of Yemen to see the US (and probably more other industrialized nations that rely on oil) interest in this.

Actually, you’d be wiser to look at the Houthis in the context of what the other regional powers are either aligned or opposed to them to understand what’s going on…especially you’d have to look at what Saudi thinks of them and whether THEY see them as a threat (obviously they do or they wouldn’t have put together a coalition and started military operations against them).

The Houthis’ are aligned with Iran, Syria and Hezbolla, according to that Wiki link I gave earlier and they are right next to Saudi…and are obviously perceived as enough of a threat by the Saudi government to take military action. The US involvement at this point is pretty minimal from what I understand (unless it’s me that’s missing something).

Since, again, this seems to be more a Saudi show with the US providing intel (afaik) I don’t see it as an attempt by the US to curry anything, merely to support stability and a key regional ally who has a very large percentage of the worlds oil reserves in it’s borders. If Iran is pissed at that, well, that’s a shame I guess…perhaps they should choose more wisely themselves which splinter group they decide to throw their weight behind.

How is throwing our weight behind Saudi Arabia’s armed intervention in a neighboring country’s domestic conflict “supporting stability?” Presumably the idea is that decisively wiping out anti-Hadi forces (viz the Houthis) would return the country to some kind of stable equilibrium, but it seems more likely to me that foreign intervention will only increase the stakes for all parties involved, deepen the schisms in the country similar to what occurred in Vietnam, and put stability even further out of reach.

We are supporting the status quo. We are also, as I said, supporting a key regional ally who obviously feels threatened by developments on their southern border. How is that NOT ‘supporting stability’ from our perspective? How would allowing what was basically a coup supported by powers regionally unfriendly to us AND to our regional allies to stand be making the region stable? This has nothing to do with Vietnam, so that’s just you throwing something out for emotional impact.

Aden sits uncomfortably close to major world shipping lanes. You want Iran to get even more influence?

This is how the USA got sucked into Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. The American people showed good sense last year, when they flooded their rep’s phone lines with protests against intervening in Syria. as i recall, Sen. McCain was all for bombing Assad’s forces.
Now of course, Assad is under assault by ISIS, and we are now his defacto ally. I am all for letting the saudis sort this one out. Yemen has been unstable for years, because it is a tribal/clan based society. Getting into a war there would lead to…more war. We should have learned some lessons from our previous attemps at “nation building”-when there was no nation, you cannot build one.

How does Saudi intervention make it more likely that Yemen will return to whatever stability existed prior to the Houthis chasing Pres. Hadi out? All it does is add fuel to the fire, internationalize the conflict, worsen the humanitarian crisis, and drag the US into the fight. It is also not clear to me what is so privileged about the “status quo.” We supported Pres. Saleh for years, and he’s a key ally of the Houthis. The Houthis are enemies of al-Qaeda. Why is it so vitally important from the US perspective that Pres. Hadi be reinstated?

If you believe that Saudi Arabia is making a grave mistake by getting themselves mired in a domestic Yemeni conflict, then goading them into this intervention is not “supporting” them any more than someone who encourages his drinking buddy to get into a bar fight with someone who dissed his girlfriend.

Moreover AFAICT our main interest in Yemen is undermining AQ’s activities there. From my earlier link:

Supporting our clients doesn’t mean subordinating US interests to theirs, particularly when the relationship is so pathological to begin with.

You’re welcome to both your assessment and the gratuitous rudeness, but I’m hardly the first to have made the comparison.

We’ve been fighting a war in Yemen for years. After closing our base in response to the Houthi takeover, we’re less active there now than we have been at any time during the current administration.

Let’s not panic. At the moment, our “involvement” in this civil war is limited to blocking arms shipments from Iran.

There seems to be no question that the conflict in Yemen is an impediment to our counter-terrorism efforts there, at least near-term. (From WaPo.) The issue I have is that both the Houthis and the deposed president are opposed to al-Qaeda, and to that extent we should not be taking sides in a conflict whose outcome is unknown and beyond our control.

The Saudis are engaged in a US-backed air campaign against the Houthis, which could (in the “ideal scenario”) result in the total roll-back of the Houthis and reinstatement of a US-friendly regime; but it could also prove ineffective in containing them. Indeed, it could very well end up increasing domestic support for the Houthis by allowing them to re-frame the conflict as one between indigenous freedom fighters vs foreign interventionists. Well, what happens if the Houthis end up winning or proving so resilient as to be effectively unbeatable (as seems more likely to me than the ideal scenario of a clean Saudi success)? What are the chances of the Houthis as victors cooperating with the US on what we really care about in Yemen, after we’ve actively worked behind the scenes to thwart them?

This intervention may or may not accrue to the Saudis long-term benefit, but I fail to see how it does to ours.

Unfortunately, as long as oil plays such a crucial role in the modern economy, we have a strategic interest in not allowing any radical anti-western regime to be established in the region.

The reason it’s so unfortunate is because it’s an extremely difficult policy to carry out. It forces us to get involved in local conflicts that no sane person would want to be involved with. And trying to keep the region stable requires us to work with loathsome regimes and maintain American garrisons.

Oil? Its not the 1950’s. A significant portion of world trade passed through and near the Gulf of Aden. This includes almost all Europe/Far East Trade and a significant amout of Americas/Far East Trade as well.

Here is a map for reference.

Its an extremely strategic waterway and it is in the interests of some very major powers that it remains open.

Are you under the impression we stopped using oil at some point in the last sixty years?

Yes, there’s a lot of world trade going through the Gulf of Aden. Do you want to guess what the main product being carried is?

By what? Ships? Tonnage? Value?

Excuse the cynicism ( or perhaps complacency - tomato/tomahto ), but I’m not seeing it.

Why would a Houthis government be so threatening? They’re not going to overthrow or seriously threaten Saudi Arabia - they have no constituency there. The Twelver Shi’a of SA are NOT the Fiver Shi’a of Yemen and live nowhere near the Yemeni border. They may try to readjust the border slightly to gain more access to the relatively minor oil fields in the region, but SA’s rights there are no firmer than Yemen’s.

I see no reason why they would be interested in threatening the Red Sea shipping lanes if left unmolested. Iranian proxies? Hardly. Iranian allies of convenience? Probably. But I see neither Iran interested in molesting shipping lanes nor a Zaydi Yemeni government interested in doing it for them even if they were. Push them into a corner? Then it could happen.

Saudi Arabia has very long-standing and not entirely benevolent history of intervening in northern Yemen. The Iran thing is really a side-issue. Though I doubt that a Houthis government will be particularly charming, they’re going to end up spending most of their time trying to suppress jihadist-salafists. Yemen will undoubtedly descend into a hellhole of even greater anarchy and quite possibly will be de facto partitioned. But I see no way the U.S. could practically prevent that and given that lack of ability to achieve anything good, brutal realpolitik would suggest just letting two unfriendly factions beat the shit out of each other.

Why would Yemen under the Houthis threaten the flow of commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden? What am I missing here? Couldn’t the same argument have been made when President Saleh was under threat of being deposed, in order to justify a major foreign intervention in that country?

Oops Ninja’ed

Iranian control of the Gulf of Aden directly or through proxies would give them the capability to close the shipping lanes either totally or in a targeted way. It would then give them greater diplomatic clout and space.

In IR you look at capabilities not intentions.

Plus, FWIW, I think the Shia/Sunni split is a rather poor way to describe the Yemen conflict, last time the Saudis supported the Shia groups.