Peter Salisbury connects the Trump administration’s farcical certification with the coalition’s Hodeidah offensive:
The U.S., by certifying that the Saudis and Emiratis are meeting the requirements laid out in the National Defense Authorization Act without any caveats, has sent the wrong message at exactly the wrong moment, namely that the coalition can continue to act with impunity as it advances on Hodeida.
Salisbury is absolutely right about this. Certifying that the coalition is making progress in reducing harm to Yemeni civilians when the exact opposite has been happening tells the coalition that they can do what they like without having to fear any consequences from Washington. It lets the Saudis and Emiratis know that they aren’t going to lose the administration’s support no matter how many massacres they commit. They probably already assumed this was the case, but this makes it more certain.
Then again, signaling the coalition that it can act with impunity has been the message coming from the Trump administration for the last year and a half. The White House and Pentagon went to the mat to prevent the Senate from voting to cut off military assistance this spring, they green-lit the start of the Hodeidah offensive at the start of the summer, and Pompeo and Mattis lied on their behalf to keep refueling of coalition planes going in the fall. If you want a lesson in how to throw away all leverage and do the bidding of your clients, just copy what the Trump administration has done with the Saudis and Emiratis in Yemen.
The coalition also needs to be reined in. The U.S. is best suited to do this. Unfortunately, by certifying the National Defense Authorization Act as he did, Pompeo gave away the leverage Congress had handed him. The certification requirement proved too weak to restrain a Trump administration intent on giving the Saudis and Emiratis considerable slack. Congressman Ro Khanna has said that he is willing to lead an effort to force a vote on the U.S.’s involvement in intelligence-sharing and in-air refuelling that is crucial to the coalition’s operations. Should the Democratic Party take control of the House after the November elections, it could make more stringent legislation a reality. If the UAE and Saudi Arabia are not careful, they could find their alliance with the U.S. – and their campaign in Yemen – constrained as a result of new Congressionally-imposed restrictions. And if the now likely offensive on Hodeida proceeds, the U.S. will shoulder the blame for its failure to use its considerable influence to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe [bold mine-DL]. That is a result that Washington can and should want to avoid.
The Trump administration has never wanted to rein in the Saudi coalition. One of the first things that the administration was to end the limited restrictions that the Obama administration had imposed as they were on their way out, and they have made a point of giving the coalition free rein ever since. It is not a coincidence that civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes have risen over this same period of time. U.S. officials spend far more of their time concocting implausible defenses for U.S. military assistance than they spend on pressuring the coalition to stop attacks on civilian targets. It is up to Congress to do what the administration refuses to do before the Hodeidah offensive causes massive loss of innocent life.