How to End Yemen’s Forever War
How to End Yemen’s Forever War
Op-Ed / United States 2 minutes

How to End Yemen’s Forever War

Washington Can Help Broker a Lasting Peace

In April 2022, the opposing sides in Yemen's devastating civil war achieved a rare breakthrough. After eight brutal years of conflict, they signed on to a UN brokered truce that significantly curtailed the fighting that had driven an already impoverished country into a massive humanitarian crisis. Although it was unclear whether the two-month truce would even last that long, some observers allowed themselves to hope that it could be a first step toward a broader peace process. In the best-case scenario, they believed, it might even lead to a political settlement for a conflict that has pitted Houthi rebels, who control large parts of the country and are backed by Iran, against the internationally recognized Yemeni government and an allied Saudi-led coalition that, for much of the war, received logistics, intelligence support, and weaponry from Washington. But the twice-extended truce agreement lapsed on October 2, and the Houthis have resumed their intermittent attacks on Yemen's oil-exporting infrastructure. It is now unclear whether Yemen's fragile respite from full-blown conflict will hold.

For U.S. President Joe Biden, the war in Yemen is both a tragic legacy and an uncomfortable loose end. When Biden came into office, he made no secret of his desire to swiftly disentangle the United States militarily from the conflict, then approaching its seventh year, but he also committed his administration to work toward the war's resolution. This strategy was in part born of regret. Many of his foreign policy hands, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, were serving under President Barack Obama when, in March 2015, his administration agreed to support Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their war against the Houthi insurgency. Already in 2018, many of those same U.S. officials - including one of us - issued a public statement acknowledging the war's terrible costs for the Yemeni people and noting that the United States had never intended to hand the Saudi-led coalition a "blank check." In March 2021, two former Obama officials - again one of us, along with Robert Malley (who is now serving in the Biden administration as the U.S. special envoy to Iran) - wrote an article for Foreign Affairs anticipating the road map for ending the war that the administration would try to follow.

But it is easier to help start a war than to help end one. Although the administration moved quickly to withdraw its backing for the Saudi war effort and support a brokered peace, the truce's lapse shows the far-reaching challenges that would-be peacemakers face in Yemen. Whether the current impasse will lead to a dramatic new escalation by either side is unclear, but if it does, there is no obvious path to peace, and there is little Washington can do to create one. For whatever positive impact the Biden administration's efforts have had - and they have had one - the United States has neared the end of what its waning influence over the Saudis and Emiratis can achieve, and it does not have the leverage needed to bring the Houthis to the table.

The full article can be read on the Foreign Affairs' website.



Chief of Policy
Program Director, U.S.

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