Yesterday’s vote was a bipartisan exercise in virtue signaling and abdication of strategic concern for American interests.
It was a coming together of different errant types: Trump-loathing Democrats, who relish taking a shot at one of the President’s foreign allies; pro-Iran and pro-Islamist Democrats, who can’t forgive the Saudis for opposing these enemies in the region; politicians with a newfound hatred for Saudis that may or may not coincide with sudden, new Qatari investment into their states; and, finally, neoconservative Republicans who believe you only get a decent virtue signal if it costs you something—in this case, your strategic position against Iran.
What all these types have in common is, not a single one addressed the larger strategic concerns that Trump pretty plainly outlined in November. It’s actually worse—the American people have been let down by both the vapidness of so many of their elected officials and the hyper-partisan media.
Basic, key facts about what is happening in Yemen have just been ignored: for example, how the war began as an Islamist rebellion against the legitimate, GCC-supported government; the role of Iran in supporting the Houthi rebels, and supplying deadly missiles that target the heart of Saudi territory; the true reasons for the ongoing humanitarian disaster; and—most alarmingly, what’s at stake for the United States if an Iranian proxy force controls Yemen’s crucial ports and shipping lanes. On-the-ground, humanitarian NGOs have tried to tell their stories of Houthi brutality but have been ignored, as activist reporters from pro-Qatar outlets invert the truth about what’s happening there. Jamal Khashoggi turned out to be more relevant to the Yemen debate in the American Senate than any strategic concern. That’s highly irresponsible.
In September 2018, SSG President Jim Hanson wrote about the importance of the GCC’s efforts in Yemen. He noted that,
There is a vital US interest at stake here: ensuring the free flow of shipping through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. Iran already sits astride the Straits of Hormuz and has claimed recently they control traffic through it. Iranian proxy forces firing Iranian missiles are seeking to control this second vital piece of terrain on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Such control could give Iran the ability to use anti-ship missiles to threaten or shut down both major routes for oil to leave the region.
That is an intolerable prospect for the United States and our allies and the reason we are supporting Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their effort to defeat the Houthis in Yemen. Additionally the Saudis share a border with Yemen and the Houthis have been shooting missiles they have been given by Iran into civilian areas including the international airport in Riyadh. The need to ensure Iran doesn’t complete this expansion by proxy is an important one and justifies US support for the efforts by our allies to stop them.
None of these vital concerns have been addressed; rather, the American people are being treated to posturing and virtue signaling from the loudest voices in the US Senate and the mainstream media. Regardless, the Security Studies Group (SSG) will continue to provide strategic national security insight, information and messaging about the Middle East to journalists, the American people, and their elected representatives.
The US-Saudi relationship is strong because it makes sense—we have interests and adversaries in common. I’m grateful we have an administration that sees this clearly, wading through countless hours of slanted and activist media coverage to get to what’s actually important. More and more, too, Republicans and grassroots conservatives in this country are agreeing with President Trump on this, so it’s only a matter of time until many of these senators realize how far they are outside their party’s mainstream with regard to their recent attacks on the US-Saudi relationship.