The Saudi campaign in Yemen is empowering al Qaeda AP

As Donald Trump continues to tell off Hispanic-language reporters and Kylie Jenner snaps more frivolous selfies, it seems no one is interested in one of the worst humanitarian crises of the year: the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen. There, Saudi Arabia is waging war against a rebel group called the Houthis, who it believes are being aided by Iran.

For the amateurish but well-equipped Saudi military, that’s meant blasting apart untold numbers of civilians, to the point that Riyadh has been accused of war crimes by Human Rights Watch. It’s also meant erecting a blockade to prevent the Houthis from being resupplied, a move that’s left millions in arid and indigent Yemen dying of hunger and thirst.

Neoconservatives, take note: this is what real isolationism looks like.

The United States is helping this boneheaded campaign by providing the Saudis with intelligence and fuel. The humanitarian crisis thus far hasn’t chastened American leaders, so how about the fact that the bombing is empowering our enemies? The Saudis have recently made progress in the Yemeni port city of Aden, but as they’ve pushed forward, so too has al Qaeda. The AFP reports:

As authorities work to reassert control over Aden, the capital of formerly independent South Yemen, Al-Qaeda has moved into the gap.

The jihadist group’s militants, already in control of other parts of southern Yemen, are reported to have taken up positions in several strategic parts of the city.

But experts say that while Saudi Arabia may turn eventually to tackling Al-Qaeda in its southern neighbour, Riyadh’s focus now is purely on stopping the Huthis.

Allowing al Qaeda a nesting ground in a key city like Yemen is a slap in the face to Saudi Arabia’s American backers. And this isn’t just happening in Aden. As I wrote in the National Interest earlier this month:

Throughout all this, there’s one region of Yemen that’s been left almost entirely unmolested by the Saudis: Hadramawt Governorate, in the eastern hinterlands. There, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has set up shop with relatively little resistance, seizing the capital city of Al Mukalla and the local airport. It’s used Hadramawt as a base of operations from which to plan attacks on the Houthis and, presumably, given AQAP’s extensive terrorism résumé, the United States.

The Saudis, as always, are interested first and foremost in shadowboxing the Iranians; the looming Sunni jihadist menaces of al Qaeda and ISIS are America’s problem. That’s fine: Saudi Arabia is a sovereign country and free to carry out its own foreign policy, no matter how counterproductive it might be.

But the United States shouldn’t lend its approval to an operation that’s blatantly availing our enemies, nor should it continue to grant Saudi Arabia favorite child status in the Middle East. Charles Krauthammer likes to bleat about how American actions are making our Saudi allies “nervous”; perhaps the Saudis should be more concerned about making us nervous. We might have forgotten, but we’re the superpower in this equation, and it was our sweetheart deals that built the Saudi military now clearing a path for our enemies.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has long been regarded by experts as the terrorist group most determined to attack the American homeland. Now, thanks to Saudi actions, they’ve gained a new foothold in Aden, where reports allege they’ve already blended in with the civilian population, making them more difficult to target. Bruce Riedel, who’s been following the Yemen conflict closely, tells the Daily Beast: “The United States wants Saudi and UAE support for the Iran nuclear deal, and the price is to back them in their war against Yemen.” That sounds more like a ransom than a price, payment of which should be strictly out of the question.

Matt Purple About the author:
Matt Purple is the Deputy Editor for Rare Politics. Follow him on Twitter @MattPurple
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