Operation Decisive Failure

A front page story in today’s Washington Post highlights that the failure of the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition campaign in Yemen is already becoming apparent:

Two weeks into a Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, airstrikes appear to have accelerated the country’s fragmentation into warring tribes and militias while doing little to accomplish the goal of returning the ousted Yemeni president to power, analysts and residents say.

Foreign Policy makes similar points:

Through its backing of Saudi Arabia—with bombs, intelligence, refueling, and search-and-rescue capabilities—and Riyadh’s military intervention in Yemen, the United States is effectively at war with the impoverished land that occupies the southwestern heel of the Arabian Peninsula. That war is going spectacularly badly.

None of this should be surprising. Yemen’s history is replete with tribal conflict and failed invasions, as I highlighted yesterday in the New York Times. Yemeni insurgencies have defeated the British, the Egyptians, and the Saudis in the last 50 years alone.

As I discuss in the op-ed, neither bombing nor a ground invasion can solve Yemen’s domestic problems, most of which are economic:

The Houthis have long felt marginalized by Yemen’s political processes, and argue that corruption and a lack of representation mean that they don’t experience any benefits from economic development or Yemen’s natural resources.

It’s becoming increasingly obvious that there is no clear path to victory in Yemen. A stable resolution of the conflict is less likely by the day, and the degenerating situation is actually counterproductive for U.S. interests in the region:

Yemen has the potential to become the next Syria, spiraling into sectarian violence, with money and arms from abroad fueling the conflict. If Arab airstrikes continue, Yemen is likely to become a failed state. Tragically, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula would be the one beneficiary, as the terrorist group enjoys a respite from drone strikes, counterterrorism campaigns and Houthi attacks.

So what should the United States do? Push for a political solution now, while it’s still possible to reach one:

The United States should encourage a political settlement, focused not on reinstalling a figurehead, but on creating a durable political process that addresses the grievances of Yemen’s regional groups. A two-sector federalized state, which the Houthis have supported in the past, could provide such a framework.

There appears to have been little attempt by U.S. leaders to discourage the Gulf states from engaging in military action in Yemen, even though such actions run counter to American interests. And with every day the military campaign in Yemen continues, it becomes less likely that a political settlement can be reached. U.S. leaders need to step back from this ill-advised military campaign and engage on Yemen diplomatically, before it’s too late.