Lack of US vision delays settlement in Yemen

The US administration needs to use its big stick again and force the Houthis to implement Resolution 2451.
Friday 18/01/2019
Soldiers inspect the scene of a Houthi drone attack at a Yemeni government military parade at al-Anad air base in Lahij province, January 10. (Reuters)
Iran’s shadow. Soldiers inspect the scene of a Houthi drone attack at a Yemeni government military parade at al-Anad air base in Lahij province, January 10. (Reuters)

The United States does not have a clear idea for settling the conflict in Yemen. This was confirmed by American officials consistently calling for a solution to the crisis in Yemen without providing suggestions for solutions.

Statements by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his tour of Arab countries, specifically those made in Saudi Arabia, reinforce the impression of lack of US vision regarding a political solution in Yemen.

He agreed with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz on the need to de-escalate the military conflict and support the agreement reached in December in Sweden and Pompeo said the Houthis were not observing that agreement.

Last October, it was a sudden US awakening that drove the political negotiations in Yemen after US Defence Secretary James Matisse called for a halt to the war within 30 days. The United States followed with a series of pressure moves on the Yemeni parties, resorting to what could be described as “big-stick policy” when it threatened to classify the militias in Yemen as terrorist groups.

The Houthis heeded the warning and decided to take part in what the United Nations called “confidence-building measures.” The fragile consultations in Sweden resulted in an agreement and UN Security Council Resolution 2451, authorising deployment in Yemen of a UN monitoring team, was passed.

The United States’ concern with Yemen does not go beyond US obsession with fighting terrorism, especially considering that Yemen has represented a viper’s nest for terrorist groups.

In 1994, the Yemeni regime resorted to its allies, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform party, to recruit hundreds of the so-called Arab Afghans to fight in southern Yemen. The Unity government between Ali Salem al-Beidh and Ali Abdullah Saleh had disintegrated due to sharp differences between them so the former regime invited terrorist groups that later turned into trans-border organisations. The former regime used these groups to blackmail Saudi Arabia.

These groups metamorphosed into more sinister and dangerous organisations after the creation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The different US administrations viewed Yemen only through this lens, which has become inadequate after the dramatic developments that followed the Houthi coup in September 2014 and the rebels’ undermining of the political transition created by the Gulf initiative.

When Saudi cities became targets for Iran-made ballistic missiles, the United States understood the threat to the region but still could not develop a vision for a solution in Yemen. The biggest irony in that situation was the United States declaring Lebanese Hezbollah a terrorist organisation while the Houthi militias were not so classified even though there was no doubt about their connection to the Iranian regime.

The US administration needs to use its big stick again and force the Houthis to implement Resolution 2451 in the context of creating hope and opportunity for a political settlement.

This settlement would lead to the establishment of a national unity government that must address the gaps in the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference, amend the constitution accordingly and give southern Yemen the right to self-determination.

These are political issues that can be addressed before presidential and parliamentary elections that will end the crisis. Without breaking the deadlock in the implementation of the agreement reached in Sweden and with the continuing intransigence of the Houthis, it will be impossible to reach the desired political horizon.

The United States’ approaches to the Yemeni crisis remain limited and narrow, in addition to such approaches being a sign of America’s inability to achieve its strategic objectives vis-a-vis the Iranian regime. The inability of the White House to create conditions for a settlement in Yemen means that the United States will not achieve successes in the more complex situations of Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.