Joe Biden’s Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has announced that the US will lift the designation of Yemen’s Houthi rebels as terrorists. The controversial decision comes after months of pressure from leftists, though conservatives have been quick to condemn it, with former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling it a ‘gift to the Iranians’.
The Houthis, who are backed by the Iranians and have often been accused of violating international law, now control a large area of Yemen, but a Saudi-led coalition is fighting back against them. State Department spokesperson Ned Price was quick to try and justify the move, claiming it has ‘profound, steep, and precarious humanitarian implications for the people of Yemen’. Yet many would point out that the Houthis are responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians, using weapons which come directly from Iran, and the move will give them more power and more opportunities to continue their violent rebellion.
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Biden’s lack of support for Saudi Arabia and its coalition will undoubtedly upset many in the Middle East. After all, the Kingdom has consistently been one of the US’ strongest and most loyal allies and is the source of much of the world’s oil. Under Pompeo, the US-Saudi bond was strengthened as the Trump administration went to great lengths to support the Kingdom and prevent Yemen from becoming an Iranian puppet state. If Yemen were to fall, it would be catastrophic for Saudi Arabia, which it shares a border with the war-torn state, as a Houthi regime could affect both its oil supply and the safety of millions of Saudi citizens.
Whilst to many it may seem unreasonable, this latest move by the State Department is not unexpected. The Biden administration has so far been unwilling to follow traditional US foreign policy practices, and has been accused of damaging traditional alliances which were strengthened during Donald Trump’s time in office. One example of this is Biden’s attitude towards Israel, a long-time ally of the United States.
Under Former President Trump, Israel’s position in the world was strengthened, with the peace agreements the former administration made between Israel and Arab states often regarded as one of Trump’s biggest achievements. Trump called Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, on his second day in office, and worked to build a constructive relationship with the country from the beginning of his presidency. Biden, however, is yet to even call Netanyahu, and is expected to distance himself from both Israel and America’s other major partner in the Middle east, Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Kingdom is sure to be devastated by Joe Biden’s latest move. To the Saudis, a Houthi takeover of Yemen is the equivalent to what a Chinese-supported takeover in Mexico would be to the US. Yet, as violence in Yemen spirals out of control, and the Houthis continue to have the upper hand against the coalition, Biden has decided to step back and allow the Iranians to threaten one of his most loyal allies. To the Saudis, this is a huge betrayal.