A degree of normalcy has returned to Yemen’s biggest seaport, Hodeidah, thanks to a cease-fire among the country’s warring factions that has held since December 2018. But beyond the port’s outskirts, a vicious fight between Houthi insurgents and a Saudi-led military coalition rages on. The death toll keeps climbing; malnutrition and hunger are rampant. Yemen’s humanitarian crisis, the United Nations warned in February, is the worst in the world today.
In Washington, a growing chorus of analysts and politicians has called on the United States to step up, withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi war effort, and turn the UN-brokered cease-fire into a lasting peace. Doing so, they argue, is the only morally and strategically defensible course of action. But of all the options before the United States, this one is the least likely to stop the killing, the dying, and the complications for U.S. interests.
The Saudi-led intervention may have exacerbated the situation in Yemen, but it did not start the war. Getting the Saudis to pull out will no more end the bloodshed in Yemen than getting the United States to abstain from the civil war in Syria halted the violence there. Nor will a Saudi withdrawal lead to a negotiated settlement. Instead, the fighting will go on, and innocent Yemenis will continue to die until one side—most likely the Houthis—have won.
True peace in Yemen will remain elusive unless both sides accept that they have nothing to gain from more fighting. We are not there yet. To get there will require not cutting off U.S. support for Saudi Arabia but threatening to double down on it unless the Houthis honor their commitments to the UN and are ready to disgorge most of their initial conquests. If Washington is serious about ending the war, it must come to terms with this uncomfortable fact.
HOW IT ENDS
Historically, civil wars like Yemen’s end either when one side wins a decisive military victory or a
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