Sunday, December 2, 2018

Will the Senate Get Involved in the Yemen War?

America’s fearless senators are about to vote on a resolution that would, if implemented, end American support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Eli Lake explains that it’s an empty gesture, since the House of Representatives is highly unlikely to go along. And yet, it tells us something about the political acumen and foreign policy qualifications of some of our more hysterically self-righteous senators… on both sides of the aisle.
Lake games out what would happen if we cease supporting Saudi Arabia’s war against Iranian proxies:

Which brings us back to the Yemen resolution itself. It is a blunt instrument that fails to consider what happens when the U.S. leaves. If America withdraws altogether from the Yemen conflict, it’s unlikely the Saudis would immediately stop fighting. They consider the Iranian presence in Yemen, and in particular Iran’s shipment of missiles to its Houthi clients, as a direct threat to Riyadh.

And while it’s difficult in the short term for the Saudis to replace the U.S. as their chief supplier of weapons, in the longer term a U.S. withdrawal would drive them into the arms of the Chinese and Russians. The Saudis have already signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with China and the Russians have offered to sell Riyadh S-400 anti-aircraft systems.

That alone would undermine U.S. security in the region, because Saudi Arabia’s current air defenses are guided by an American radar system deployed in the Mideast.
Still, let’s suppose an end to American support would force Saudi Arabia to stop fighting. Would this make the terms for peace better or worse for American interests? What incentive would Iran have at that point to leave Yemen?

The result of the foolish resolution: we would be sending Saudi Arabia to Moscow and Beijing, the better to buy military equipment from a more trustworthy ally. What do you think it meant that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was so chummy with Vladimir Putin in Buenos Aires?

And besides, undermining the Saudi position in Yemen would count as a victory for Iran. Why are these senators so hellbent on giving Iran a strategic victory in Yemen? And why are they so blind to the fact that, in war, if you disarm one side, you are favoring the other.

But, Lindsey Graham is outraged. Does that count as foreign policy? Do the senators have something else in mind? Lake imagines what they might be thinking:

They must know that it’s a nervy ploy to move forward with a sure-to-be bruising floor debate over the U.S.-Saudi alliance in order to spur the president to take a tougher rhetorical line on Khashoggi. They also must know that there is no chance the House of Representatives will adopt a similar measure in the remaining days of this Congress.

In that sense, this debate is even more craven politics than it appears: It’s a chance for senators to vote to end U.S. support for the Saudis in Yemen without having to face the consequences of such a policy.

Lake concludes that the American alliance with Saudi Arabia is simply too important. If we punish it, we will eventually be punishing ourselves:

It’s important to remember why the U.S. is aligned at the moment with Saudi Arabia: It is on the American side in a regional war against Iran.

That does not mean the crown prince has permission to send hit teams abroad to murder his critics. If the Senate wanted to be clear about that, it could easily have passed a resolution saying so. Threatening to cut off U.S. support for a war against Iran’s proxies in Yemen punishes America for the crime of its ally.

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