By Arab News
By Faisal J. Abbas *
In response to a question from Al Arabiya at the White House on Wednesday, President Joe Biden said his administration was considering restoring the Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen to the US list of foreign terrorist organizations.
That would be a positive step, and the sooner … the better. I say this because the current US president is known to be deeply reflective and thoughtful — sometimes, perhaps, too much so.
In our fast-moving world, with rogue nations and malign groups at large, the best answer may be the obvious one.
To many of us here in the Gulf, the argument could not be any simpler. Indeed, the US has already made the case itself. In their own statements condemning this week’s Houthi drone strike on Abu Dhabi, both the White House and the State Department described what happened in Abu Dhabi a few days ago as a terrorist attack. With all due respect to the highly experienced and no doubt extremely smart advisers to the Biden administration, but who — other than a terrorist or a terror group — might possibly commit an act of terrorism?
It is not even as if the Houthis claimed the Abu Dhabi attack was a mistake, and apologized; on the contrary, they bragged about it.
If the Biden administration does indeed restore the Houthis to its terror list, the question remains: Why were they removed in the first place? In February 2021, 12 days before the Trump-era terror designation was fully revoked, Abha Airport in southwest Saudi Arabia — a civilian facility, just like Abu Dhabi’s — came under attack from Houthi drones and missiles.
Further terror attacks on the airport followed in July, August, October, November and December, causing injury and loss of life. Far from offering support to its ally and partner in the face of this barrage, the US actually withdrew Patriot missile defense batteries from the Kingdom. As has been pointed out here before, that is the equivalent of denying Israel access to Iron Dome technology while it was under attack from Hamas missiles launched from Gaza.
It is axiomatic that the foreign policies of any country, even a global superpower such as the US, are ultimately driven by self-interest — which makes the US neglect of its allies and partners all the more inexplicable. Rather than doing what’s best for America, the Biden administration is almost literally shooting itself in the foot.
The Houthi slogan is “Death to America,” and if nothing else at least they’re honest; they attacked the US Navy three times in 2016 under the Obama administration, and in November last year they stormed the US Embassy compound in Sanaa and held local staff hostage. And after this week’s Abu Dhabi attack, more than 50,000 Americans who live in the UAE are now a target.
Then there is oil, of which both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are major producers. The Biden administration is under pressure at home because of rising fuel prices at the pump. Do his advisers seriously believe that the global price of oil — currently at its highest in seven years — is entirely unconnected to the security threat posed by the Houthis, including attacks on Saudi energy infrastructure in 2019?
The simple, uncomplicated truth is that America needs its regional allies and friends such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Israel. The issues on which we disagree with the US — such as how to deal with Iran and its malign interference throughout the region via proxy militias — are vastly outnumbered by the areas in which there is genuine and valuable partnership. It’s time the US president and his advisers remembered that.
- Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas