The imaginary Debate
Over at Foreign Policy, Marc Lynch, whom I greatly respect, suggests that I am wrong to suggest that US should rely on the Saudis in Yemen. (Full quote below) And in fact, I agree, I would be wrong if that is what I argued in this post. My apologies to Lynch and others who believed my sloppy writing argued for just that.
My point instead was not that the US should rely on the Saudis and work through them in Yemen – I agree with Lynch that not only would that be a mistake but it would actually make a bad situation worse – but rather that the US must get Saudi Arabia to acquiesce to its demands in Yemen. That is, that it convinces Saudi Arabia not to undermine what the US is doing in Yemen. Because while the US has limited influence and leverage in Yemen it has much greater influence in Saudi Arabia.
Here is Lynch:
Many smart people have proposed that the U.S. rely on the Saudis to play a pacifying, stabilizing role. This would be a mistake. The Saudis have a long history of meddling in Yemeni affairs. It never goes well. Yemenis deeply mistrust their larger and wealthier neighbor. The recent Saudi military incursion against the Houthis has not exactly pleased Arab or Yemeni public opinion — and has been a major story in the Arab press for months now, even if largely ignored in the U.S. The Saudis have also unleashed a massive propaganda campaign in support of their intervention which ties the Houthis to Iran as part of a wider regional agenda — a dangeorus reinvigoration of the Sunni-Shia tensions which reverberated through the region in the mid-2000s. What’s more, the Saudis hardly need to be convinced that defeating AQAP is in their interest — the main reason that APAQ is in Yemen now is that the Saudis ruthlessly destroyed the al-Qaeda organization inside Saudi Arabia after 2003, and many of its members fled to Yemen to regroup. Inviting more Saudi interventions into Yemen is a recipe for disaster.
Here is me (emphasis added):
Bring in Saudi Arabia: The US must work behind the scenes to convince Saudi Arabia that US goals of destroying al-Qaeda in Yemen and stabilizing the country are in Saudi Arabia’s best interest. This will not be easy, but it is essential. Without at least the tacit acceptance of Saudi Arabia anything the US attempts to do in the country can be subverted. Saudi Arabia is by far the most powerful foreign actor within Yemen, but it is not a monolithic one. Towards this end the US must draw Saudi Arabia out of the al-Huthi conflict in the north and use its considerable influence in San‘a and throughout the tribal regions in the north to help end active fighting in Sa‘dah as an initial step towards a cease-fire