On Friday, less than 48 hours after the Trumpist assault on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelocy was appealing to the Pentagon and Chief of Staff Mark Milley to prevent the president’s last possible follies: the exacerbation of a military crisis, the launch of an atomic bomb, any attack on an enemy country.
It is a concern that, for Democrats, mostly involves Iran. After all, the country has been the main target of Trump’s latest foreign policy activities.
The assassination of General Soleimani in Baghdad was followed by all the “peace” agreements between Israel and Arab countries, a clear encirclement of the Islamic Republic’s establishment; this is why Pelosi would like to be cautious.
Trump certainly gave one more kick on Monday: a president leaving the White House and with the sword of Damocles of impeachment hanging over his head, he ordered the inclusion of the Yemeni movement Ansar Allah among the list of terrorist groups.
This “final act of the administration” was announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, nine days before Joe Biden is set to enter the Oval Office, leaving him holding yet another hot potato. The decision to brand Ansar Allah, the political and military foundation for the Houthi rebels, as a terrorist movement brings very significant consequences.
While for Trump this is just the latest blow to the Iranian enemy (accused of supplying arms and money to the movement, which is capable of sending drones as far as Saudi Arabia), for those trying to survive in Yemen, this move is a fatal one.
It is deadly for the civilian population of northern and central Yemen, regions controlled by the Houthis since September 2014, when they occupied the capital, Sana’a, and which, since March 2015, have been the target of relentless bombing by the Saudi-led Sunni coalition that has reduced the country to a shadow of its former self.
It will not be possible to import goods from abroad, nor to receive the crucial cash remittances from the diaspora, often the sole support of many families. And then, there is the issue of humanitarian aid: the aid which is actually able to arrive, after overcoming the Saudi air and naval blockade, can be distributed by NGOs and UN agencies only in coordination with the Houthis (and even then, 30 million people are malnourished or undernourished).
Criminalizing the Houthi—a move denounced yesterday by several NGOs, from Oxfam to Save the Children to the Norwegian Refugee Council—means criminalizing humanitarian work, as it can no longer coordinate with ministers and officials from Ansar Allah.
And it is fatal for the bumpy peace process that the United Nations has been trying to set up for years, with little success: if one of the parties is considered a terrorist organization, the dialogue has to end. This has been a complex dialogue between the Houthis and the official government (in self-exile between Aden, a southern Yemeni city, and Riyadh), which only kicked off in Sweden in December 2018, and has reached nothing concrete up until now, except for a few prisoner exchanges.
With the Houthis blacklisted, the UN will have to pause the process, and Biden will have little opportunity to intervene (not that he necessarily wanted to; after all, his forerunner Obama was the one who made Yemen the model of drone warfare).
On Monday, the Houthis responded to Pompeo: “We have the right to respond,” threatened Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, head of the Houthi Supreme Revolutionary Committee. “It seems that the bankrupt U.S. government is trying to further soil the image of the U.S. and poison its legacy,” was the Iranian foreign ministry’s comment. On the other hand, the Saudis are celebrating: it is the opportunity to reduce half of Yemen to starvation for good.