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GTB: Yemen: Can Things Get Any Worse?

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Yemen remains a tragic poster child for a failing state. Beset by humanitarian catastrophe, the intervention of foreign powers with their own interests, and ongoing internal conflicts, functional governance and political and economic reform have become virtually impossible. Now add to this miserable situation the Emirati/Saudi-backed coalition offensive against the port of Hodeidah.

What are the implications of this latest development? What are the chances of a UN-brokered political agreement among Yemen’s various parties? What is the role of the United States and the international community? And what of Iran’s role in the wake of the U.S. decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal?

In our latest Ground Truth Briefing, four veteran observers of Yemen, its neighborhood, and U.S. policy in the region addressed these and related questions.

 

Selected Quotes

 

Aaron David Miller

“Hodeidah is an opportunity and a catastrophe. This week, the coalition, largely directed by the Emiratis, began with the hopes [that this] is going to be the final battle for the liberation of Hodeidah, which is…clearly a critical piece of the Yemen story.”

Amb. Gerald Feierstein

“The difference that I’ve always pointed out between Yemen and Syria is that Yemen was never anybody’s client state. It wasn’t ours, it wasn’t the Russians’, and, therefore, we had opportunities to bring together the international community on a common footing that simply doesn’t exist in Syria.”

"[The first thing to do] is get the port operational again and ensure the coalition has made pledges about what their intentions are if they have control of the port – and that is that they will expedite not only humanitarian, but also commercial shipping coming into the port. We have to make sure – and we have to use our influence and leverage with the coalition to make sure – that they follow up on that.”

“We also need to ensure that the Hodeidah operation marks an end, or at least a pause, in military operations to give [the UN special envoy for Yemen] time to explore whether or not, indeed, there is a political way forward... There needs to be a real concerted effort on the part of the [Arab Coalition] to give space for a political process.”

Sama'a Al-Hamdani

“Right now, we have not just a war in Hodeidah; we have a war of misinformation. For the past three days, there has been a lot of misinformation coming out of reliable sources about who’s winning what, but we are able to identify, as of this morning, that the Arab coalition and the Yemeni government managed to secure Hodeidah’s airport.”

“It’s easy to see that the Houthis are being choked and [the Saudi-led coalition is] exhausting them, but the scary thing is that the speech of Abdul-Malek al-Houthi, who is the head of the Houthi movement, shows that he is willing to take this fight to death.”

“What’s important right now, and what the international community and the U.S. should be putting huge emphasis on, is that the war should stay within Hodeidah – that the capture of the port should suffice as a victory. There is no need to escalate the war further and cause more bloodshed to an already devastated Yemen."

“The reality is, on the ground, [that] Yemen is fractured, and there are many new political players who are coming to the seat who are demanding a new mode of governance that the Yemeni government and the Arab coalition and the Houthis all seem to ignore. And I think the important and new reality on the ground is that Yemenis will have to face once this war is over.”

David Ottaway

"This activity here in Washington strikes me as very likely being supported by the United Arab Emirates, which is, of course, Saudi Arabia's key ally in the war. I, therefore, am beginning to believe that the Saudis and Emiratis may have a different vision for what the future of Yemen should be – whether it should remain united or be redivided in two. At this point, I see all of these indicators that the United Arab Emirates is supporting the secessionists and helping them now mount a political campaign all the way here to Washington, D.C.”

"If and when the Houthis are defeated, there may well be another war between the pro-independence groups in the South and the groups in the North that want to maintain unity of the country – which I think, at this point, the Saudis are still very much in favor of.”

Peter Salisbury

"The humanitarian situation, as in any context, is an offshoot of the collapse in the economy, and it’s important to note here that the collapse in Yemen’s economy hasn’t just come about because of the war. Yemen was the poorest country in the Middle East and North Africa in 2014 and had been for some time."

“The reality is that in war, the economy will get a lot worse, and one of the biggest problems in Yemen today... is not so much that things aren’t getting in at all, it’s that the prices of basic good are well out of the reach of the average Yemeni – particularly, it has to be said, in areas controlled by the [Houthis].”

"The coalition has briefed that they think the operation, which started on the twelfth of June, will take about five to six weeks in total for them to be in a position where they are able to enable more aid to come into the country. I would argue that a more reasonable estimate for the total control of the city and port would be two to three months – and that may be somewhat optimistic."

Speakers

Moderator

Speakers

  • Ambassador Gerald Feierstein

    Former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen and Senior Fellow, Director of Gulf Affairs, Middle East Institute
  • Sama'a Al-Hamdani

    Fellow, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University; consultant at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center
  • David Ottaway

    David Ottaway

    Middle East Fellow
    Middle East specialist and former Washington Post Correspondent
  • Peter Salisbury

    Freelance journalist and analyst based in Sanaa, Yemen