Last week, on February 5, 2021, The Biden administration decided to remove the Houthi rebels in Yemen from the Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist lists.
Due to suspected ties with Iran, the Houthis were the target of the previous administration. Trump was incredibly hawkish on Iran, despite his rhetoric concerning endless wars.
Since the Yemeni Civil War kicked off in 2015, the Houthi rebels have made impressive gains in terms of the territories they control. According to NBC News, the Houthis control roughly 80 percent of Yemen’s territory.
“Secretary [Antony] Blinken has been clear about undertaking an expeditious review of the designations of Ansarallah given the profound implications for the people of Yemen, home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe,” a State Department official said on February 5. “After a comprehensive review, we can confirm that the Secretary intends to revoke the Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially Designated Global Terrorist designations of Ansarallah.”
This change in policy came 24 hours following the Biden administration’s announcement to cease American support for Saudi Arabia’s offensive operations against the Houthis in Yemen. This announcement also included a temporary halt on arms sales to the Saudis.
“We are committed to helping Saudi Arabia defend its territory against further such attacks,” the State Department official said last week. “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.”
Although this reversal of Trump policy is a solid development, the Biden administration seems committed to protecting Saudi Arabia.
Frankly, the U.S will need to rethink its overall political strategy abroad. Saudi Arabia is one of the countries with some of the highest levels of defense spending on the planet, as evidenced by its 5th place ranking according to Statista. In 2019, Saudi Arabia spent $61.9 billion on national defense. The U.S. simply cannot be holding every nation’s hand when they are more than capable of handling their own defense functions.
In all likelihood, the U.S. will continue maintaining a close relationship with Saudi Arabia, which could potentially entangle it in unnecessary conflicts in the region. Saudi Arabia is in a proxy war with Iran which is not of any concern for the U.S. Saudi Arabia should clean up its own backyard and team up with other Gulf states and Israel to build a balancing coalition against Iran.
With the U.S. becoming more energy independent and making a pivot towards East Asia, the Middle East is no longer of particular relevance for American interests. A rational policy would involve the U.S. completely withdrawing its resources from the Middle East and bringing troops back to defend our border.