The war in Yemen has been a disaster for U.S. interests, for Saudi interests, and above all for the Yemeni people. It has sparked the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophe: tens of thousands of civilians have been killed and 14 million people are at risk of starvation. It has been a strategic blunder as well, producing the exact results the Saudi-led military campaign was designed to prevent. The Houthis are more militarily sophisticated and better able to strike beyond Yemen’s borders than they were at the start of the war; Iranian influence has expanded; and the relationship between the Houthis and Lebanon’s Hezbollah has only deepened. Although the United Arab Emirates has waged an effective battle against al Qaeda in Yemen, terrorism remains a grave threat.
For three and a half years, Saudi Arabia has insisted, with diminishing credibility, that military victory was imminent; and for just as long, the United States and other powers have largely turned a blind eye to the intervention’s consequences. But the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October has focused the world’s attention on the kingdom’s reckless conduct—including its disastrous war in Yemen.
However belatedly, in October 2018, Mike Pompeo, U.S. secretary of state, and James Mattis, U.S. secretary of defense, both called for an end to the fighting and publicly expressed support for peace talks proposed by the United Nations. But to bring a complex war such as Yemen’s to a cease-fire through talks will take time, during which the country’s agony and the strategic crisis in the Gulf will only deepen.
There is only one expeditious way for Saudi Arabia to end this counterproductive war, and that is to stop its military campaign unilaterally and challenge the Houthis to respond in kind. Doing so will not end all of the fighting inside Yemen. But it will create the conditions necessary for peace talks to gain traction and
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