Yemen: Taking stock of Arab-American relations

Eyad Abu Shakra
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US President Joe Biden reassured us that the re-considering of the Houthis as a terrorist group is “being studied” following their attack on Abu Dhabi airport.

This is a step in the right direction, despite the fact that the new Democrat administration in Washington removed the Houthi rebels from the terrorist list very shortly after assuming power, in line with the Democrats’ stance towards Iran and its Arab followers for years.


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In contrast to its diplomacy and smooth talking, most of Washington’s actual actions and positions – under both the Republican and Democratic administrations – since 2003 have been based on considering Tehran as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Although Paul Bremer, (the military ruler of Iraq after the invasion and occupation), boasted of bringing an end to over a thousand years of Sunni rule of Iraq, the Arab region today lives with the reality of Washington’s “acceptance” of Iranian expansion westward toward the Mediterranean and south toward Yemen and the Red Sea, not to mention its efforts to turn the Arabian Gulf into a “Persian lake”... and Washington’s tacit blessing of Iran’s acquisition of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, northern Yemen and Gaza.

We do not know exactly when the decision to remove the Houthis from the terrorist list was first made, nor what the rationale is behind it, but given the succession of events, the following logical conclusions can be drawn:

1. Within the Democratic Party, as well as within Washington’s lobbies and think tanks, there is asent iment of automatic hostility towards GCC nations – specifically Saudi Arabia – without necessarily being allied with Iran. This always leads to mistrust of GCC intentions on the one hand, and to ignoring the presence of any hostile intentions on the other side; in the case of Yemen: the Iranian regime.

2. There is an active, organized Iranian lobby in Washington and Western decision-making capitals. It may not be, from an organizational point of view, part of the media and security system affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, but due to nationalistic and patriotic considerations, it remains invested in Iran’s position as a leader in the Middle East. Accordingly, this lobby does not mind – at least for now – for the mullahs and their Revolutionary Guards to get the upper hand on Iran’s regional rivals.

3. American financial interest networks are less concerned over traditional “friendships” and are always ready to blackmail an ally over a friend. This is what we have seen numerous times in Washington’s relations, even with its European and Atlantic allies.

4. It is natural that the calculations of the United States as a superpower, regarding the details of local and regional issues, differ fundamentally from the calculations of each country directly concerned with these issues. From this point of view, and even if we accept the integrity of Washington’s intentions regarding the Gulf’s dealings with the Yemeni issue, we find many in Washington who view the Gulf confrontation of the Houthi rebellion as an “aggressive attack”, rather than what it really is: a defensive measure supported by international legitimacy resolutions to confront an aggressive faction that is the pride of Tehran and a key player in its expansionist scheme.

5. Joe Biden’s administration inherited its “Middle East staff” almost entirely from Barack Obama’s administration. It is known that the Obama administration adopted new “understandings” in its dealings with Middle Eastern issues... from Iran to Israel, passing through political Islam and other economic, political and security core issues. These “understandings” have accompanied the development of the Russian and Chinese challenges in the region, as well as Tehran’s acceleration of its occupations throughout the region, and the increasing and somewhat confused Turkish presence.

In the end, we must be convinced then, that continuing to bet on “friendships” that do not exist is a policy that lacks realism and pragmatism. Sooner or later, options and alternatives must be evaluated, if there is a need or possibility to do so. In this context, we can look at two recently published reviews about the Biden administration’s Middle Eastern policies.

The first was a report by the Brookings Institute, written by an academic researcher and an intelligence expert who represented a completely hostile view of the Gulf position, and considered the Houthis a “victim of foreign aggression” against Yemen that Washington must oppose and reject. They end their biased reading with an alleged “comparison” of the Yemeni and Afghan situations, claiming that “the Yemeni situation is similar to the Afghan one.” Although the Taliban, like the Houthis, are permanent violators of human rights, they are – the report claims – fighting against an invading foreign power. Hence, the two authors urge President Biden to adopt the same withdrawal approach that he did in Afghanistan, ignoring the Iranian expansionist push (sectarian, military, terrorist and narcotics) at the levels of the Gulf, the Levant, and the Red Sea.

The second reading was a report by Stephen Cook published in Foreign Policy. It came across as a critical, but objective – and less hostile – analysis of the motivations of the Biden administration’s handling of regional files in the Middle East.

In his analysis, Cook chose the term “relentless pragmatism” to describe Biden’s strategy in the region. He stressed that the administration has a strategy in the Middle East, but it is “relentless” in its pragmatism, especially in Syria and Yemen.

Regarding Syria, Cook suggested that Biden concluded that “reducing tension” is the best way to serve the American strategic goals, out of “a tacit conviction that Bashar al-Assad has won and that nothing can be done.” He then adds that Biden’s strategy, in its “relentless pragmatism,” now links Washington’s interests to “fighting terrorism, preventing the proliferation of weapons, ensuring Israel’s security... and promoting human rights by ensuring access to relief!”

As for Yemen, Cook presents the Biden administration’s calculations and justifications, and the ambiguous talk about defining what does and does not constitute “legitimate defense”. He then addresses the future of stability in the Arabian Peninsula, and the strategic threat to navigation in the Bab al-Mandab strait and the Red Sea if the Houthis were to succeed, especially given their ties with Iran. He concludes by saying that there is “neither enlightenment nor heroism” in this Biden strategy “because, for the most part, foreign policy involves making morally questionable decisions.”

This bleak picture coming from Washington sheds light on the reality of the nuclear negotiations with Iran... eschewing the truth and presenting us with illusions and myths as real and moral facts and policies.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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The dispute over Yemen

The Houthi militia on a hot plate

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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