Trump's New Iran Policy is Misguided

A policy analysis by Jay Solomon of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy describes how President Trump places Yemen “front and center” in his new strategy to counter Iran. The Trump administration’s plan focuses on limiting Iran’s regional influence, which it exerts by providing weapons and training to militias in other countries. Regarding Yemen, Trump is concerned about Iranian weapon transfers to the Houthis, the increasing danger the Houthis pose to neighboring countries, and Iran’s ability to threaten energy trade routes in the Red Sea. Since the Houthis have already fired missiles into Saudi Arabia, Trump views the Houthi threat as imminent, and his plan to counter the group includes further assisting the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, especially through intelligence and logistics support, reducing conditions on arms transfers to the coalition, and guarding the Red Sea against Iranian hostilities more forcefully.


Solomon’s analysis includes concerns that some Trump administration officials hold about the recently-announced strategy. This plan could escalate regional tensions with Iran and possibly embolden their support of militant groups, including the Houthis, across the Middle East, rather than pressuring them into backing down. Other officials want US involvement in Yemen to minimize civilian deaths and encourage negotiations for peace; however, Trump’s combative stance towards Iran has damaged the efforts for talks between the different groups in the conflict.


Writing in The American Conservative, Daniel Larison expands the critique of Trump’s Iran strategy. He argues that the Trump administration exaggerates Iran’s role in Yemen, and that an approach to the conflict in Yemen that is focused on Iran ignores the more pressing problems of human rights violations by the Saudi-led coalition and the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Trump’s stance toward Iran takes Saudi Arabia’s debunked claims of heavy Iranian assistance to the Houthis for granted. Larison believes that the Trump administration should question its support for Saudi-led coalition, whose blockade and bombing campaign have created the horrible conditions in Yemen. To overlook these human rights violations in favor of escalating hostilities with Iran when their influence in the conflict is “negligible” is “shameful.”  


Furthermore, as Kate Kizer explained in March in a piece in Just Security, trying to combat Iran by intervening in Yemen will backfire. Iran has little leverage over the Houthi organization, and Iran’s limited ties to the Houthis, mostly taking the form of arms and missile smuggling, means that defeating the Houthis will not decrease Iran’s regional power. Increasing US military involvement to combat the Houthis will do little against Iran; rather, it will heighten the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and fuel a prolonged war to which there is no military solution.


The YPP opposes US military escalation in Yemen, and rejects the idea that the US can or should confront Iran in Yemen. The main effect of any escalation will be to devastate Yemen further and prolong a war that has produced the largest cholera outbreak in history and the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Trump’s obsession with Iran has been demonstrated in his unconditional support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen despite copious evidence of its human rights violations and disregard for human life. His plan to increase the US Navy’s presence in the Red Sea is dangerous, and his view of the Houthis as an Iranian proxy whose defeat will spell Iran’s demise is misguided.


Ongoing support for the Saudi-led coalition could result in US complicity in the crimes and human rights violations committed by the coalition in Yemen. Trump is unlikely to back down from his anti-Iran rhetoric and plan; Congress must take the lead and limit US military intervention in Yemen by passing House Concurrent Resolution 81, which would remove US forces from the conflict in Yemen under the War Powers Act. If Congress doesn’t act soon, it risks conceding the power over foreign military intervention to Trump, who has proven his short-sightedness in the realm of foreign policy and conflict.