To address its strategic concerns, US needs to back the peace process

In recent weeks, the introduction of legislation in both houses of Congress to invoke the War Powers Resolution, as well as the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, have drawn considerable attention to the US administration’s unwavering support for Saudi Arabia, especially in regards to its involvement in Yemen. Before it was blocked on November 14 (and again in early December), [1] H.Con.Res.138 had garnered the support of over 80 House members. [2] On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Joint Resolution 54 passed with an unprecedented 56 votes in favor of removing the US from hostilities in Yemen. [3]

The proposed legislation has helped to garner public acknowledgement in Congress and the media of how America’s actions have exacerbated Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. However, there remains strong hesitation, primarily among Republicans, to support a full withdrawal of US assistance to the Saudi-led coalition. President Trump appears to be predominantly focused on the importance of maintaining strong relations with Saudi Arabia in order to secure billions of dollars in arms sales, which Trump portrays as a crucial part of the US economy. [4] [5]

Other voices in Washington have focused on the possible threat to US national security, fearing that Iran will gain a strategic advantage should the US remove itself from the conflict in Yemen. Without continued support to the Saudi-led coalition, these critics believe that Iranian influence will significantly expand across the country and perpetuate instability in the region. [6]

These advocates for the status quo fail to recognize, however, that current US geopolitical interests regarding Iran are only being harmed by this campaign. The US is complicit in the perpetuation of violence and instability in Yemen, not to mention thousands of civilian deaths, all of which feeds the anti-American narratives of non-state actors like the Houthis and al-Qaeda, as well as Iran. The fact remains that neither the current conflict nor the wider challenge of Iranian expansion can be solved by endlessly bombing and starving Yemen.

Instead, the solution to these challenges depends on all parties (possibly including Iran) sitting down to develop a plan for a sustainable political settlement. UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths recently mediated  talks in Sweden that resulted in agreements on a limited ceasefire and the release of prisoners. [7] Earlier this fall, UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt visited Tehran, where he met with several Iranian diplomats including Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, in an effort to discuss bringing an end to the fighting within Yemen. [8] What is significant about these international diplomatic efforts to end the conflict is the absence of the US. Secretaries Mattis and Pompeo both recently issued statements calling a ceasefire, but placed the onus for such an action squarely on the Houthis. [9] President Trump later undercut those modest efforts with his own statement absolving Saudi Arabia of responsibility for its conduct in both the war and the peace process (as well as for the Saudi regime’s premeditated murder of Jamal Khashoggi). [10] Most recently, the US has delayed a UN Security Council draft resolution which aimed to implement a limited ceasefire and increase humanitarian aid to Yemen. While human rights groups have called the draft disappointing in its limitations and lack of criticism of Saudi Arabia, it is apparently still too bold for the US to support. [11] The Trump administration seems to have effectively removed itself from the possibility of playing a constructive role in the peace process, and assumed the posture of a spoiler instead.

A final consideration for the arguments against pulling US support for the coalition is the misconception that this would strengthen AQAP. National security concerns regarding the ability to continue America’s war on terror would not be affected under H.Con.Res.138 or S.J.Res.54, both of which feature an exception for operations authorized by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. [12] In reality, the current campaign has directly emboldened AQAP. In August, the Associated Press reported that coalition-backed militias have been recruiting former and current al-Qaeda members as well as cutting deals with various AQAP leaders to secure more anti-Houthi partners. [13] Furthermore, the general state of instability has given AQAP and the Islamic state more space to recruit and operate, resulting in an increase in new members and attacks on both pro-government and Houthi forces. The dynamics of the conflict, in which the Yemeni government and its coalition backers have given free reign to any armed group willing to fight the Houthis, including those with Jihadi inclinations, have also created a milieu from which new threats to US interests and allies could easily arise. [14]

If the US is truly concerned about protecting its interests abroad and counterbalancing Iranian influence, it should seek the better strategy and back UN and European efforts to diplomatically bring an end to the conflict. Instead, the administration’s continued support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates signals an unwillingness to forgo the economic benefits of selling arms to members of a coalition plagued by controversy and corruption, at great risk to the Yemeni people and regional security.


[1] U.S. Congress, House, Manage our Wolves Act, HR 6784, 115thCong., 2ndsess., engrossed in House November 16, 2018,

[2] “H.Con.Res. 138: Directing the President Pursuant to Section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution to Remove United States Armed Forces from Hostilities in the Republic of Yemen That Have Not Been Authorized by Congress.,”, accessed November 18, 2018,

[3] U.S. Congress, Senate, A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress,S.J. Res. 54, 115thCong., 2ndsess., introduced in Senate February 28, 2018,

[4] Andy McDonald, “Trump Calls Saudi Arabia a ‘Spectacular Ally’ Despite CIA’s Khashoggi Findings,” The Huffington Post, November 17, 2018,

[5] William Hartung, Trends in Major U.S. Arms Sales in 2017: A Comparison of the Obama and Trump Administrations, report, Trend Report (Security Assistance Monitor, March 2018)

[6] Benny Avni, “US Must Be Careful Not to Hand Yemen to Iran,” New York Post, November 15, 2018,

[7] Patrick Wintour and Bethan McKernan, “Yemen: Ceasefire Agreed to for Port City of Hodeidah,” The Guardian, December 13, 2018,

[8] James Landale, “What is Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt Doing in Iran?,” BBC, November 20, 2018,

[9] Ryan Browne, “Mattis and Pompeo call for Yemen ceasefire ‘within 30 Days’,” CNN, October 31, 2018,

[10] The White House, November 20, 2018, “Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia,”   

[11] Michelle Kosinski, “US ‘slams the breaks’ on UN Yemen ceasefire resolution,” CNN, November 27, 2018,

[12] U.S. Congress, House, Directing the President pursuant to section 5(c) of the War Powers Resolution to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress, H Res. 138, 115thCong., 2ndsess., introduced in House September 26, 2018,

[13] Maggie Michael, Trish Wilson, and Lee Keath, “Yemen: U.S. Allies Spin Deals with Al-Qaida in War on Rebels,” Pulitzer Center, August 6, 2018,

[14] Ibid.