Joe Biden has been remarkably considerate. The American President has signalled his intent to delete the Houthi rebels of Yemen from the State Department’s list of what it calls “foreign terrorist organizations”.
This reverses an 11th-hour decision of the Trump administration not the least because Biden had resolved on 4 February that the United States would be terminating its support for a Saudi led coalition’s offensive operations in Yemen. Aid groups have already expressed their misgivings, saying that the gesture in favour of the Houthis will almost certainly worsen the dire humanitarian situation in the country.
Since 2015, the crisis in Yemen represents a war without end. While the imperative of peace is generally conceded after six years of relentless strife, whether or not Biden’s gesture will hasten the end to a festering conflict must remain an open question.
There are red herrings across Biden’s trail; the Houthis are as much a player in the Arab world’s game theory as is Saudi Arabia. And the President must be acutely aware of the geostrategic contretemps. It bears recall that the State Department added the rebel group to a list of official terrorist groups on the day before Donald Trump left office despite an outcry from humanitarian organizations that said it would make it harder to get food, medical assistance and other basic goods to people in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen, a direly fractious country.
The Trump administration defended the move as part of a “broad pressure campaign” against Iran, which backs the Houthis against Yemeni forces supported by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other regional powers. “We have formally notified Congress of the Secretary’s intent to revoke these designations,” is the official version of the State Department.
“This decision has nothing to do with our view of the Houthis and their reprehensible conduct, including attacks against civilians and the kidnapping of American citizens. We are committed to helping Saudi Arabia defend its territory against further such attacks.
Our action is due entirely to the humanitarian consequences of this last-minute designation from the prior administration, which the United Nations and humanitarian organizations have since made clear would accelerate the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
On Saturday, the Houthis responded officially: “The American administration backing down from this designation is a positive thing and a good thing. The decision was wrong in the first place.”