By Bonnie Kristian
President Trump’s decision to veto the bipartisan bill to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen came as no surprise. The White House signaled Trump’s intent to reject the legislation in advance of its passage on Capitol Hill, and the president refused to meet with allied lawmakers, like Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee, who supported the measure.
But shuttering U.S. involvement in Yemen’s conflict would, in a single move, accomplish multiple positives for American foreign policy. It allow the president to take an important step toward fulfilling his promises to end our country’s participation in “endless wars;” avoid grave unintended consequences for U.S. security; respect the will of the American people; and maybe even open a path to resolution of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
Trump has touted his willingness to chart a new course for American foreign policy, but his administration’s record rarely matches his rhetoric. After campaigning on his opposition to our long-running wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and pledging complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria, Trump has yet to produce an end to the American role in any of these conflicts. “Great nations do not fight endless wars,” he declared in this year’s State of the Union address, but given a chance by Congress to extract the United States from the war in Yemen, Trump declined to follow through.
Prolonging American intervention in Yemen reckless given that participation in this conflict offers the United States plenty of risk and no reward. Trump’s National Security Strategy, published last year, described his administration’s approach to matters of war and peace as one of “principled realism,” prescribing a renewed focus on defense of core U.S. interests—but there are no core U.S. interests at stake in Yemen.
This is a small and deeply poor nation beset by civil war, in which the Houthi rebels opposed by the U.S.-backed Saudi-led coalition have distinctly local aims. Their success or victory will have little to no effect on American security. Ending our involvement is in the U.S. interest, while continuing it puts us at risk, as the Saudi-led intervention has fostered conditions in which al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a newer branch of the terrorist organization that aims to execute attacks in the West, has thrived.
Most Americans may not be aware of this hazard, but they know enough to recognize this is not a conflict in which our country should be involved. Polling data on Yemen is sparse, but a survey late last year found just “13 percent of Americans say they want to lawmakers maintain or increase arms sales” to Saudi Arabia and other U.S. partners in the Yemen intervention. Of “those who had an opinion on the conflict, the survey found 75 percent of Americans oppose U.S. involvement in the war.” That is a striking level of agreement in this era of political fracture, especially on an issue most in Washington have until recently kept studiously out of sight.
And perhaps the most compelling case for American extrication from Yemen’s civil war is that it could help bring the conflict to an end. A negotiated solution is what Yemen needs for what is fundamentally a political dispute with horrific consequences for the Yemeni people. Every day this war continues is another day added to the most acute humanitarian emergency on the planet.
The right policy for the United States leads the way toward diplomatic resolution instead of enabling the Saudi coalition’s indiscriminate destruction. Encouragingly, a study released this month by the International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan think tank, suggests this may be Saudi Arabia’s aim, too—and ending U.S. military support could give Riyadh an excuse to end its bombing campaign and push for peace talks in earnest. If that report is correct, the urgency of a shift in U.S. strategy here becomes greater still.
Trump’s decision to veto the Yemen bill lost him an easy political win and the chance to execute a significant and necessary shift in U.S. foreign policy with relative ease. But it is not too late to make that change directly from the Oval Office, which is exactly where this misadventure began under the previous administration. The president can end U.S. support for the Saudi coalition any time he wants, ceasing America’s participation in Yemen’s misery.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities and contributing editor at The Week. Her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, CNN, Politico, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, The Hill, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.
This piece was originally published by The Los Angeles Times on April 18, 2019. Read more HERE.