Biden Cuts Support for Saudi War in Yemen, But It Should Only Be the First Step

“The Biden administration’s decision to pull the United States out of Yemen’s six-year-long civil war was a highly prudent act. But it’s merely a first step. Washington’s Middle East policy must be anchored in restraint and humbleness. This simply won’t happen until U.S. policy makers realign the U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship with the realities of the world today—not on how the world looked during the Cold War.”

Biden will reverse Trump’s decision to label Yemen’s Houthis as terrorists

“The Biden administration plans to remove Yemen’s Houthi rebels from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations list as soon as Friday, reversing a last-minute move by the Trump administration and reinforcing President Joe Biden’s new approach to the conflict in Yemen.

In mid-January, just days before Biden would be sworn into office, then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced President Trump’s intent to designate the Iran-backed Houthi movement in Yemen as a “foreign terrorist organization.”

The Houthis, formally known as Ansar Allah, are an armed rebel group of Zaydi Shia (a minority sect within Shia Islam) who have been fighting a civil war against Yemen’s Saudi-backed government since 2014. That civil war morphed into an international one in March 2015, when Saudi Arabia and several of its allies in the Gulf decided to intervene militarily in the civil war, waging war against the Houthis. Meanwhile, Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional foe, has backed the Houthis.

Critics said the move was an attempt by Pompeo to both hurt Iran by punishing one of its proxies and box in the incoming Biden administration as he headed out the door, but Pompeo seems to truly believe the decision was the right one.”

“President Joe Biden said the US would seek an elusive diplomatic settlement to the conflict, which would require the Houthis to strike a deal with Saudi Arabia, regional players, and possibly the US.

The Biden administration then moved quickly to revoke the FTO label: It’d be bad politics for the US to negotiate with a terrorist group.

But there’s another reason to do so, too: It could help Yemen’s most vulnerable. The war has killed about 233,000 people, mostly from indirect causes such as lack of food, water, and health services, while another roughly 24 million Yemenis require assistance to stay alive and fend off diseases like cholera.

Trump’s labeling of the Houthi rebels as terrorists made providing that assistance harder. Simply put, for aid groups to deliver assistance, they would have to negotiate with Houthi members who control a lot of Yemen’s territory. But US law essentially says no aid organization can do deals with terrorists, even if it’s to provide life-saving support to those in need

There’s a workaround if the US provides waivers to certain aid teams, but the Trump administration rushed its decision before working on and implementing an effective plan.”

““This decision has nothing to do with our view of the Houthis and their reprehensible conduct, including attacks against civilians and the kidnapping of American citizens,” a State Department official told me on the condition of anonymity.

“Our action is due entirely to the humanitarian consequences of this last-minute designation from the prior administration, which the United Nations and humanitarian organizations have since made clear would accelerate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis,” the official said, adding that the US remains committed to protecting Saudi Arabia from further Houthi attacks.

Activist and humanitarian groups praised the administration’s decision.”

Why labeling Yemen’s Houthis as terrorists could hurt millions of people

“The Trump administration announced its intent to designate the Iran-backed Houthi movement in Yemen as a “foreign terrorist organization” — a move that could exacerbate one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.”

“The Houthis, formally known as Ansar Allah, are an armed rebel group of Zaydi Shia (a minority sect within Shia Islam) who have been fighting a civil war against Yemen’s Saudi-backed government since 2014. That civil war morphed into an international one in March 2015, when Saudi Arabia and several of its allies in the Gulf decided to intervene militarily in the civil war, waging war against the Houthis. Meanwhile, Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional foe, has backed the Houthis.
Both sides have launched numerous attacks and committed atrocities. The Saudi-led coalition, for example, killed around 30 children on a bus in 2019. The Houthis, meanwhile, launched missiles at an airport and airbase in Saudi Arabia in 2019, and at Saudi oil stations last year.

In his statement, Pompeo said the new terrorism designation is “intended to hold Ansarallah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping.””

“Since 2015, the US has supported the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen against the Houthis. It has helped coalition forces push back on Iran, the Houthis’ main supplier for weapons and funds. Until November 2018, the US refueled Saudi warplanes that dropped bombs on Yemen — many of which killed civilians, including children. Now the US mostly helps the Saudis gather intelligence.

The entire war has been a disaster. The United Nations estimated in December that about 233,000 people have died since fighting began, mostly from indirect causes such as lack of food, water, health services, and more. Meanwhile, another roughly 24 million Yemenis require assistance to stay alive and fend off diseases like cholera.”

“One way those in need get help is through humanitarian organizations. The Houthis control Yemen’s north, and it’s impossible for those organizations to operate there without the Houthis’ approval.

If the US follows through on designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization, then it will be harder for those groups to offer support for fear of possible prosecution by the US government.

As a result, “humanitarian assistance is likely going to be dramatically scaled back,” said Scott Paul, the humanitarian policy lead at Oxfam. He added that the designation will likely scare off foreign businesses, investors, and banks, thus further decimating Yemen’s reeling economy. “Services will become less available, goods more expensive, and people’s ability to pay less possible,” Scott told me.

One way humanitarian groups have gotten around this predicament before is by asking the US government to provide waivers for them. Basically, the waivers say, “As long as you ensure you’re not helping the designated terrorist, you can continue operating as you have been.”

But Pompeo’s Sunday statement suggests the US hasn’t designed those waivers yet. “The United States recognizes concerns that these designations will have an impact on the humanitarian situation in Yemen,” he said. “We are planning to put in place measures to reduce their impact on certain humanitarian activity and imports into Yemen.””

““While the Houthis share much blame, alongside the Saudi/UAE-led coalition, for horrific human rights violations in Yemen, the designations do nothing to address these concerns,” reads the current letter, which is scheduled for release later this week or early next week. “They will, however, prevent the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance to millions of innocent people, greatly hurt the prospects for a negotiated settlement to the conflict, and further undermine U.S. national security interests in the region.”

Altogether, the real losers of the FTO designation won’t be the Houthis. It’ll be the millions of Yemenis already struggling to stay alive because of the war the US participated in.”