On January 11, 2021 former Secretary of State Mike announced that the United States will label Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization.
This policy went into effect on January 19 and represented a broader anti-Iran push pursued by the Trump administration, as opposed to the more balanced approach that his predecessor Barack Obama pursued with Iran. The Houthis are viewed as an Iranian-backed proxy group that the Shitte regional power is using to expand its influence and put its bitter rival Saudi Arabia on its toes.
Many foreign policy watchdogs have warned that this new designation could stifle efforts to bring private aid to the country which is experiencing a humanitarian crisis. Pompeo also announced that Houthi leaders Abdul Malik al-Houthi, Abd al-Khaliq Badr al-Din al-Houthi, and Abdullah Yahya al Hakim will be designated as terrorist leaders.
“These designations will provide additional tools to confront terrorist activity and terrorism by Ansarallah,” Pompeo declared, referring to the group also known as the Houthis.
NBC News reported that the Trump administration initially debated whether to label the Houthis as a terrorist group. There were some concerns about the humanitarian impact of such a policy change.
According to research by the International Rescue Committee, 80 percent of Yemen’s population requires humanitarian aid and approximately 17,000 people are living under famine-like conditions.
Reuters reported that humanitarian aid agencies have to work with the Houthis to have aid delivered. The Houthis are largely in control of Northern Yemen.
After the civil war in Yemen kicked off in 2014, when the Houthi rebels gained control of the capital of Sanaa, the conflict turned into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The former has intervened to prop up the Yemeni government while the latter has gradually provided military aid and resources to Shiite allies in the Houthis. For the past 40 years, Saudi Arabia has been engaged in a Cold War of sorts with Iran in trying to be the leading voice of the Islamic world.
This is clearly a Middle Eastern geopolitical conflict that the U.S. should extricate itself from. There are plenty of actors from the United Arab Emirates to Israel who could balance things out and reach a settlement to make sure the situation in Yemen does not deteriorate. The U.S. is overstretched and should stay out of this conflict. There are plenty of developed Gulf Arab nations and Israel who possess resources to police their own spheres of influence without the U.S. holding their hands.
On a more curious note, the Biden administration is surprisingly considering cutting off U.S. military assistance to Saudi Arabia in the Yemeni conflict. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the labeling of the Houthis as a terrorist organization has been counterproductive and that continued military assistance to Saudi Arabia has not led to any peace in the region.
This is a welcome change. It’s sad that the Trump administration did not put any America First nationalists in its foreign policy team and instead relied on rabid hawks. The Biden administration is not dovish. A political cynic would view such a move as a way for it to withdraw resources from one war front and shift it to another. America First needs a proper institutional infrastructure that produces solid restrainers that can become staff in future presidential administrations.