January 17, 2024


U.S. and British warplanes, ships and submarines launched dozens of air strikes across Yemen against Houthi forces in retaliation for months of attacks on Red Sea shipping that the Iran-backed fighters cast as a response to the war in Gaza… The Houthis, who have controlled most of Yemen for nearly a decade, said five fighters were killed in 73 air strikes. They vowed to retaliate and continue their attacks on shipping.” Reuters

Here’s our previous coverage of the situation. The Flip Side

Many on both sides support the strikes as a necessary response to the Houthis’ unprovoked attacks:

“The U.S.-led airstrikes against targets in the Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen represent a new level of American involvement in the Middle East upheaval that began Oct. 7. Some regional analysts are already warning that the action plays into the Houthis’ hands, and risks igniting a wider Middle East conflagration, without much chance of having their intended effect: to deter further Houthi attacks on international shipping…

“Precisely the opposite is true. The Houthis already escalated the regional conflict, by using the pretext of Israel’s war with Hamas to launch unprovoked attacks against commercial ships traversing the Red Sea. The United States and its coalition allies — Britain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Bahrain — had little choice but to mount a strong response.”

Editorial Board, Washington Post

Mr. Biden had to respond if he wanted his warnings to have any force. The Houthis have now paid a price for their piracy, and they say five of their own died in the attacks. Now we’ll see whether the U.S. strikes will restore America’s vanishing deterrence in the region. The strategy of warnings without military follow-through had failed…

“Any use of force carries the risk of escalation, but the Houthis and Iran started this exchange, and the failure of Mr. Biden to respond for weeks has produced its own escalation. Tehran is testing America’s will, and on Thursday they were met with strength. Americans, and anyone who wants a more tranquil world, should hope this is the beginning of [a] new resolve by the Biden Administration.”

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“[The Houthis] have justified their attacks on ships in the Red Sea as retaliation to Israel’s killings of civilians in Gaza. U.S. officials say many of the ships attacked had nothing to do with Israel and weren’t steaming to or from Israeli ports… Another sign that the Houthi justification is false: The militias started militarizing islands in the Red Sea before Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack…

“However, since Oct. 7, the Houthis have played up the anti-Israeli angle and have portrayed their fight as God’s quest for liberation of Mecca and Jerusalem. [Middle East Institute fellow Nadwa Dawsari] tweeted Thursday night, shortly after the airstrikes: ‘The Houthis have been desperately waiting to engage with ‘America and Israel’ for 20 years. Since Oct 7, they recruited [45,000] fighters for the ‘battle of promised conquest & holy Jihad.’…The post-Oct. 7 surge gave Houthi leaders a chance to distract attention from their own failure at governing Yemen.”

Fred Kaplan, Slate

Some argue, “The irony was not lost on anyone that Biden was willing to bomb and kill to protect the rights of shipping containers, but has been just fine with 250 human beings slaughtered and more than ten children losing legs each day in Gaza… After having justified wars by invoking the ‘responsibility to protect’ civilians from exactly the kinds of massacres the US government is now facilitating in Gaza, US officials are now talking about the ‘responsibility to protect the flow of international commerce.’…

“In any case, it’s hard to take seriously that the Biden administration’s show of force is going to achieve what it’s meant to achieve… The most likely thing that will come of Biden’s actions is a counter-response from the Houthis, a cycle of escalation, and the miserable killing in Gaza coming closer to exploding into yet another disastrous, US-fought war in the Middle East.”

Branko Marcetic, Jacobin

From the Right

“After months of increasingly brazen Houthi attacks via rocket, drone and boat-to-boat warfare on commercial ships and US military forces, Biden finally authorized Thursday a display of actual kinetic force against Iran’s eager foot soldiers. Yet despite media hyperventilating, it amounted to no more than a pinprick: five dead and six injured — and no Houthi leaders even targeted…

“Biden fears escalation from Iran… It’s why Biden took the Houthis off the US list of officially recognized terror groups soon after taking office. It’s why the White House led up even to this meaningless squib with weeks of warnings about vague consequences, giving the Houthis ample time to move key assets and personnel out of harm’s way…

“[But] Peace Through Strength requires — unsurprisingly — actual strength. A policy of broadcasting a desire not to escalate invites the West’s enemies to do exactly that.”

Editorial Board, New York Post

“The disastrous evacuation of Kabul in August 2021 should have warned all of us we were dealing with foreign policy amateurs… The anti-Houthi action followed Biden’s strikes against Iranian-backed militants in Iraq, retaliating for recent attacks that severely injured three American soldiers. Joe did not consult Congress or anyone else before ordering any of the strikes, and of course there is no declaration of war. Yet no one believes the militias, Houthi or Iraqi, following their spanking, will disappear or stop harming Americans…

“That sums up the Biden administration’s foreign policy. Call it a doctrine if you’d like: a series of geopolitically unsuccessful, inconsequential, mostly reactive unilateral actions, with no end game. Underlying it all is the sense that no one is particularly frightened, respectful, or even wary of American power anymore.”

Peter Van Buren, American Conservative

A libertarian's take

“All of the ghosts—or perhaps zombies—of U.S. foreign policy for the past 30 years seem to be assembling into one big war. Since the Obama administration, Washington has promised to pull U.S. forces out of the Middle East, while quietly dabbling in proxy wars all over the region. That arrangement turned out to be neither stable nor sustainable. Right under everyone's noses, and without permission from Congress, the United States has gone from proxy warfare back to direct combat in the Middle East…

None of these fights have any mandate from the American people. Congress last authorized military action against Iraq in 2002. It has never passed a law allowing the president to threaten Lebanon out of shelling Israel, nor one allowing the Navy to bomb Yemen out of threatening cargo ships.”
Matthew Petti, Reason

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