U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, on a visit to Israel, announced “a multinational maritime taskforce” Monday to deal with the threat of Houthi rebels in Yemen to global shipping in the Red Sea, which must pass through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.
The Houthis, a rebel group in Yemen controlled by Iran, have threatened international trade by attacking passing ships. Fully 10% of the world’s oil traffic must travel through the strait, which means that Iran, via the Houthis, is threatening the world economy.
President Joe Biden had allowed the Houthis free rein after reversing the policies of President Donald Trump, who had contained the Houthis, within days of taking office in 2021.
The problem began in 2015, in the lame-duck years of President Barack Obama’s presidency, when Iran helped the Houthis knock over the existing, pro-American government of Yemen, a poor and underdeveloped country in which most adults are drug addicts.
The threat to U.S. interests was immediately apparent — not just to global shipping, but also to the U.S. Navy, which sits across the strait from Yemen at a base in Djibouti. But Obama did very little to respond, and kept working with Iran on a nuclear deal.
Saudi Arabia, which was directly threatened by the Houthis and their Iranian-supplied missiles and drones, led a war effort against the Houthis. Under Trump, the Saudi effort had full U.S. support. But Democrats, who belatedly discovered that Saudi Arabia had a poor human rights record (after Obama literally bowed before the Saudi king in 2009), pushed for the U.S. to stop arming the Saudis. Democrats gained support in their stance from isolationist Republicans, who joined their criticism of the war.
In 2019, after Democrats took over in the House of Representatives, a bipartisan majority in Congress passed a resolution opposing U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war effort against the Houthi rebels. Trump used his second-ever veto to block it.
President Trump was absolutely right; the Democrats, and the isolationist Republicans, were wrong. As this author argued:
Iran, not Saudi Arabia, is primarily responsible for the civil war in Yemen, arming the Houthis to wrest control of the country away from the Yemeni government. The new Houthi regime has attacked Saudi Arabia directly. Iran reportedly sees the conflict as a relatively inexpensive way to threaten its Saudi rivals and force the Saudis to spend billions of dollars on defense in a conflict that has dented the Saudis’ image.
Moreover, Yemen sits on the eastern side of the Bab el-Mandeb strait — a key shipping lane for traffic through the Suez Canal. The U.S. Navy has a major base across the strait, in Djibouti — as do many other countries, including China. Allowing an Iranian proxy to command the eastern side of the strait, across from a crucial U.S. Navy asset that helps control piracy and terror, and where China is challenging U.S. dominance, would be foolish to the point of lunacy.
Before leaving office, Trump officially listed the Houthis as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), which gave his successor the power to pursue the rebels — as well as their finances. But President Biden had no interest in doing so. Within days of taking office, Biden “announce[d] an end to American support for offensive operations in Yemen,” and the administration soon delisted the Houthis as a terrorist organization, ostensibly so that humanitarian aid could reach Yemen, but also likely to appease Iran.
Two years later, the Houthis are firing missiles and drones in the hope of murdering Israeli civilians, thousands of miles away, joining the Iranian-backed terror groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in doing so. Meanwhile, the Houthis have — as of today — launched nearly 20 attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, threatening trade and oil deliveries.
It is not clear what the “multinational maritime taskforce” will do, or whether the Biden administration will put the Houthis back on the terror list.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.