In a recent interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria discussing the war in Yemen, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted that “the Saudis have been engaged productively in trying to bring this war to an end.” He criticized the Houthi rebels, known formally as Ansar Allah, who “continue to hold out” by not agreeing to negotiate. His statements reflect the official U.S. stance, yet they betray either a lack of information or a refusal to accept the reality on the ground: The Houthis have defeated the Saudis.
When Saudi Arabia’s then-Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman launched Operation Decisive Storm against the Houthis in March 2015, he assumed the military operation would bring an easy victory that would help confirm his eventual promotion to crown prince and future king.
Instead, it became a public relations debacle, as Saudi Arabia not only publicly brutalized a desperate and impoverished population but also proved incapable of defeating a “ragtag” group of rebels despite billions of dollars of U.S. military hardware. The Saudis’ recent willingness to negotiate a cease-fire reflects their weakened position.
Yet the reason the Saudis feel ready to engage and the Houthis do not lies in the terms of the negotiation. Blinken failed to acknowledge that the Saudis’ cease-fire proposal, as well as the terms offered by U.S. Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking in March, impose harsh terms on the Houthis. The U.S. and Saudi claim that they are pursuing peace is less than honest, because the plans they’ve offered the Houthis could encourage them to keep fighting rather than accept a truce.
To end a war, the victors usually dictate terms to the losers. Imposing maximalist demands on the victors is futile: They will simply continue fighting.
Read the full article in Foreign Policy.