Joe Biden is determined to appease Iran, and the appeasement has already commenced. Its public manifestation centers now on Yemen, and the Houthi rebels there.
The Houthis have long received considerable Iranian financial and military support, including in recent years cruise missiles and drones. They have used Iranian weaponry not just against the government of Yemen, but also against Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Iran’s arch enemies and allies of the U.S.
Thus, as John Bolton says, the Houthis are a threat to the oil-producing Gulf monarchies. As is Iran, of course.
In effect, Iran is trying to encircle its Arab enemies, chief among them Saudi Arabia, by installing a friendly regime in their backyard. Among the Arabian Peninsula states, Yemen is the poorest and most notably the only one without oil. Armed conflict and political hostility are the rule, not the exception, there.
The Trump administration recognized the threat posed by the Houthis, but didn’t do much about it. According to Bolton, direct U.S. involvement in the Yemen conflict ended with the 2018 suspension of in-flight refueling of Saudi air operations in Yemen. And Trump didn’t designate the Houthis as terrorists until his last day in office.
Team Biden may wish Trump had done more. That way, the new administration could more dramatically signal its willingness to back Iranian interests and sell out Saudi Arabia.
As it is, Biden must settle for small gestures. Thus, he announced last week, in his first presidential foreign-policy address, that “we are ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.” (Emphasis added)
But, as noted above, there is no direct American support for offensive operations in that war. We do sell arms to Saudi Arabia and the UAE but for general use, as I understand it, not for use in Yemen.
It’s not clear which of these sales will be deemed “relevant” to the war in Yemen and thus cancelled. Bolton worries that Biden’s phrasing calls into question the separate U.S. campaign against Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, which threatens both Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
Biden is also removing the Houthis’ terrorist designation. But that simply restores the status quo as of January 18.
Accordingly, Biden’s gestures aren’t even table stakes for sitting down with Iran. At best, they may be the fee you pay to get in the room where the table is.
By paying that fee so eagerly, Biden invites Iran to raise the table stakes and to insist that the U.S. pay a very high price once the real game begins. As Bolton says:
Biden’s decision to inhibit the Saudis and placate the Houthis will not contribute to peace, but will instead inspire the latter to further stiffen their position. Biden is following Obama’s utterly erroneous notion that appeasing Iran will induce it to engage in more civilized behavior on nuclear and other issues, and that Yemen’s Arab neighbors are the real threats to regional peace and security.
In fact, Tehran and its allies will be delighted that the Biden administration’s giveaways have begun, and you can anticipate the mullahs to ramp up their bloody and destabilizing mischief throughout the region and the world.
Nor can Biden’s Yemen policy be justified on humanitarian grounds. Bolton explodes that notion:
Listing the Houthi as terrorists, for example, was not an obstacle to the distribution of food or medical assistance, or to peacefully resolving the conflict. The obstacle is that the Houthis are terrorists, seeking, with Iran, tactical advantage over their local enemies while reducing the external support they can call upon.
At a bare minimum, U.S. pressure to bring peace and save civilian lives should be applied in an even-handed, not one-sided, manner. Doing that, however, might offend the terribly sensitive mullahs Biden is assiduously courting.
Iran has Biden right where it wants him. The losers are the Yemeni people. And, ultimately, the United States.
Unfortunately, Biden seems quite comfortable being in that position.