Why Yemen is a war worth fighting
The war in Yemen has proved to be one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the 21st century.
In September 2014, Houthi militants took control of Sana’a and seized the presidential palace from the control of President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The United Nations estimates that since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed, 3.5 million internally displaced and 14 million lack sufficient food.
International norms of warfare have been flouted by the Houthi rebels time and again. Families across Yemen bury children who are dying en masse from starvation and malnutrition. The world has produced another dark regional conflict that visits death and violence on an impoverished civilian population.
The international community has spoken clearly and forcefully about the crisis in Yemen. On April 14th, 2015, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2216 demanding that Houthi forces cease hostilities, withdraw from all illegally seized territory and restore governing control to the legitimate government of Yemen.
Human decency and compassion demand both that the Houthis accept the resolutions and a broader international effort to end the Yemen conflict. What may be less evident are the fundamental principles at risk in this war. Hadi has insisted that any peace negotiations be preceded by the full implementation of this resolution. He is right.
Ousted authoritarian strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh lost his claim to governance in November 2011 when he transferred power to Hadi amid a Houthi-backed rebellion against his 33-year rule. Saleh’s alliance with the Houthis is nothing more than a brazen power grab aimed at restoring his rule, no matter the cost to the Yemeni people.
The rule of law is the cornerstone of a peaceful society and the violent actions taken by the rebels and forces loyal to Saleh undermine any chance of stable government or political resolution. The United States has a moral obligation of fidelity to the principle of the rule of law. It served as a supporter of the region’s stability and global order for most of the 20th century and well into the current era.
By supporting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, the United States sends a clear message that it will defend Yemen and its people from a minority of lawless rebels who seek to subvert power through coercion and force.
The Yemeni people deserve a government that exists by the will of the people, absent domestic insurrection or outsider meddling. The coalition’s goal to restore peace and order in the country is a vital commitment to these principles.
Resolution 2216 demands that neighbouring countries halt arms exports to Houthi commanders and their subordinates. The Houthi rebels have been trained, advised, supplied and supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
This should hardly come as a surprise to observers of Iranian military and geopolitical doctrine.
Tehran wishes to impose its strict form of theocratic government on Shia countries and assert political dominance across the Middle East. In November, Iranian Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Mohammad Bagheri said his country would, in all likelihood, set up military bases in Yemen, Syria and other Arab countries.
IRGC General Hossein Salami has said: “It is now time for the Islamic conquests. After the liberation of Aleppo, Bahrain’s hopes will be realised and Yemen will be happy with the defeat of the enemies of Islam.”
Yemen’s integrity as a state has been dangerously corroded by the forces of factionalism and outsider interference. The results have been devastating for the country and the region.
Houthi militants have fired on Saudi civilian centres and US warships in the Arabian Sea.
If Yemen is to live in peace, a genuine political process is needed that brings together the disparate factions of the country but this cannot include Tehran-sponsored militants.
Support for the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen guarantees the United States’ role as a defender of the international order and backer of a truly inclusive peace process.
Yemen is worth fighting for because it represents standing up for peaceful transfers of power, change through political processes and the rule of law.