Why Obama needs to get out of Yemen fast

Fred Kaplan writes: There may be no messier spot on the planet than Yemen, and too many nations — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Gulf states, Iran, and the United States, too — are making it still messier by cramming it into the framework of the most divisive regional politics and then hoping, against all reason and history, that bombing its cities will settle its problems.

The Saudi air force commenced bombing on March 25 — and has since been joined by the United Arab Emirates, with the United States providing logistics and intelligence — in an attempt to oust Houthi rebels, who have taken over the Yemeni capital of Sana after ousting President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. The Houthis are Shiite and have reportedly received some arms from Iran; Hadi is Sunni and thus was viewed as a “stabilizing” force — a bulwark against Iranian incursions — on Saudi Arabia’s southern border.

But in fact, this framework distorts the true picture — it’s a Procrustean bed that chops off the root causes, and plausible ways out, of Yemen’s conflicts — and we should abandon our role as enabler as quickly as possible. President Obama seems to be doing just that, pressuring the Saudis to halt the bombing. They briefly complied, putting out the cover story that they’d accomplished their military objectives — but soon after resumed the airstrikes.

The Saudi ambassador to Washington said on Wednesday that his country would continue to stop Houthi advances in Yemen, but this suggests that the Houthis are alien invaders. In fact, they are, and have been for centuries, the dominant tribe of northern Yemen, which was an independent state until 1990, when it merged with southern Yemen to form the Republic of Yemen. The north had been, and still was, predominantly Shiite (mainly Houthi); the south was, and is, predominantly Sunni. And after unification, the southern Sunnis ruled, marginalizing the northern Shiites — thus almost inevitably siring revolt, especially since Yemen, the poorest of all the Arab countries, has few resources to share in the first place. [Continue reading…]

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