Agreement is difficult to come by in Washington let alone the Middle East, but on one issue there is consensus: Yemen has become a humanitarian nightmare. The UN has labeled Yemen to be “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
“As the conflict enters its fourth year,” Secretary-General António Guterres declared more than six months ago, “more than 22 million people – three-quarters of the population – need humanitarian aid and protection.” Famine threatens 14 million. Cholera is epidemic.
Many in Washington blame Saudi Arabia. On October 31, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for a ceasefire within 30 days so that peace talks can convene. On November 10, Mattis announced a cessation of U.S. refueling support for Saudi aircraft operating over Yemen and, the following day, 30 Obama administration national security officials published a letterdemanding “a suspension of all U.S. support for the campaign in Yemen” due to “the Saudi leadership’s prosecution of the war.” It is a demand with which many Republicans agree.
The murder by Saudi agents of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi six weeks ago has only heightened broad bipartisan unease with Saudi Arabia and its ambitious but erratic Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Of course, Saudi Arabia is not alone responsible for the Yemen tragedy. Iran exploited local grievances to co-opt the Houthi movement to Tehran’s own aims. “The Houthi group is a similar copy to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and this group will come into action against enemies of Islam,” Ali Shirazi, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s representative to elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Qods Force, acknowledged in January 2015, adding, “The Islamic republic directly supports the Houthis in Yemen.”
Houthi rebels seized the Yemeni capital Sana’a in September 2014, and ousted the UN-recognized Yemeni government. The Houthis have embraced the most hateful elements of Iranian extremism; their slogan reads, “Death to America, death to Israel, and a curse on the Jews.” They have impeded aid to the government-controlled city of Taiz, and launched Iran–provided missiles at Riyadh’s international airport among other targets. Still, Saudi Arabia appears responsible for most of the civilian casualties because of the imprecision of its bombardment.
It is unfortunate that as the White House and international community are increasingly inclined toward a diplomatic settlement, the State Department undercuts the U.S. position by locating its embassy to Yemen in Saudi Arabia.
Certainly, against the backdrop of Houthi violence and Saudi bombardment, it made sense for the State Department to shutter its embassy in Sana’a. And, it was also logical to reopen the embassy outside Yemen. After all, there was no severance in relations, and embassies are loci for policy coordination. Not only does the embassy continue to interact with Yemeni government representatives, but the embassy must also distribute aid, gather intelligence, help coordinate counterterrorism, issue visas, and provide American citizen services.
Locating the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia (currently in Jeddah, but it will soon move to Riyadh), however, undercuts U.S. diplomatic effectiveness. It gives Saudi authorities veto power over Yemeni access to U.S. diplomats, and it associates the United States too much Riyadh at a time when Saudi efforts in Yemen do more harm than good.
You can read the full article on the Hill here