Will the Saudi Strikes Lead to Another Endless War?

The U.S.’s unwavering commitment to Saudi Arabia, in light of vices like the Yemeni Civil War and the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, has made the...

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Two weeks ago, cruise missiles struck one of Saudi Arabia’s most productive crude oil facilities, rendering the location inoperable and dealing a blow to the country’s dominant oil industry. Though Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen took full responsibility for the attack, the technological and strategic sophistication of the strike raised international concerns that one of the kingdom’s neighbors, Iran, was actually responsible for the attack. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia—strained ever since the former’s Islamic Revolution in 1979 ushered in an aggressively expansionist and religious government—have now reached a boiling point, drawing the attention of other major powers. Though Iran has denied involvement and the Houthi rebels, who rely on Iranian support in their prolonged struggle against the Saudi-backed Yemeni government, have claimed responsibility, both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have pointed fingers at Iran for the attack. This incident has followed a chain of recent escalatory actions in the region, such as the shooting down of an unmanned U.S. drone and several seizures of oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.

The alleged role of the Houthi rebels in the attack is part of a larger picture regarding power struggles in the region, specifically concerning the Yemen War. The Houthi rebels and pro-Hadi forces are backed by Iran and Saudi Arabia, respectively. The situation in Yemen is viewed as an extension of the Saudi-Iran proxy conflict and has drawn international ire for the civilian casualties and humanitarian crisis the civil war has created; thousands of civilians have been cut off from critical infrastructure and services like clean water, electricity, health care, and food.

This source of friction is compounded by the continued U.S. military presence in the region. They have provided logistical support to Saudi-backed forces in addition to continuing arms sales to Saudi Arabia that directly fund the Yemen war. Furthermore, the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal—an Obama-era agreement which removed sanctions on the beleaguered country in exchange for a halt to its nuclear program—did no favors for stability in the region.

Now with the announcement of a deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia in response to the oil facility drone attacks, the U.S. finds itself on the verge of being drawn back into the Middle East once more. The characterization of the deployment as “defensive” in nature is reminiscent of the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, an action which led to the First Gulf War. The situation risks a repeat of history with U.S. intervention and subsequent destabilization in the Middle East. It also puts another question on the table, specifically about the U.S.’s unwavering commitment to Saudi Arabia even in the face of events such as the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and the continuation of the Yemen war. U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia have been vital in maintaining Saudi Arabia’s ability to continue its violation of international law. The Senate has already passed a resolution to block new arms sales to Saudi Arabia, sponsored by Democratic senator Bob Menendez. But even though the resolution cut across partisan lines—which was also co-sponsored by Republican senators Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul—it was unfortunately not enough to override Trump’s veto.

Nevertheless, the U.S. should take concrete steps to re-evaluate its commitment to Saudi Arabia and seek to resolve the Yemen war before civilian deaths and suffering increase even more. The renegotiation of the U.S.-Saudi alliance should entail clear conditions upon which the two must agree on before continuing their cooperation.

The U.S. and Saudi Arabia may have concluded that the true perpetrator of the drone strikes was Iran, but the evidence has not conclusively proved the exact location of the launch site. There’s little incentive for Iran to so overtly sabotage Saudi’s oil fields, considering their desire to avoid a damaging military conflict. This moment proves a decisive point in the U.S.’s foreign policy regarding the Middle East. Its presence as a supposed stabilizing force must be called into question, and the U.S. should renegotiate with Iran on diplomatic terms instead of its current hardline antagonistic attitude that has imposed sanction after sanction on Iran. Inter-state cooperation is in the interest of all involved parties, and returning to the negotiation table with Iran and reforming our alliance with Saudi Arabia are starting point issues.

America’s role in prolonging and worsening the effects of the war in Yemen must also be addressed. The U.S. currently employs end-use monitoring in all of its arms sales to foreign governments as a means of overseeing the use of these weapons post-sale and ensuring that they are not employed in a way that could be characterized as a dangerous misuse or a threat to U.S. security. The expansion of this oversight of weapons that cause humanitarian crises like that of the Yemen War would be an important step in ensuring that U.S. weapons are not used to perpetuate such conflicts of terrible violence. Furthermore, conditioning our arms sales to other nations could create the checks needed to regulate the use of U.S.-sold arms and prevent future instances of humanitarian disasters like the situation in Yemen. These steps pave the way for more sweeping possibilities of change in the region.