The details of Biden’s policy changes will be important. If America just stopped the flow of “smart” bombs, the Saudis would be forced to rely on even more stupid bombs – and offer Yemen a little help. But Mr Biden can go a step further: It’s not just about weapons, it’s how we use them. Despite rejecting allegations against planes with the Saudi-led coalition, the Trump administration continues to provide “limited military and information advice, logistics and other assistance,” according to the White House. If America stops serving Saudi aircraft, 50 percent of the British air force could be affected, according to Tom Beckett of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, another think tank.
Mr Biden’s move could spur other Saudi Arabian partners to action. On January 29, Italy canceled a $ 485 million sale of missiles and bombs to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), citing their holdings in Yemen (the first suspension came last July). On February 4, Tobias Elwood, a Conservative MP and former Secretary of the Veterans who now chairs the House of Commons Defense Committee, said Britain must follow suit. This will have serious implications for the Saudi air force. The most important military aircraft outside of the US, the Eurofighter Typhoon, was built by a European consortium and had to be serviced by Western technicians.
Unfortunately, the one thing he won’t do is end the chaos in Yemen. The Saudis are just one actor in a mysterious complex war. Hussein has been fighting the Yemeni state for decades – and sometimes also against the Saudi armed forces. Daring to conquer the capital city of Sanaa, you have little desire to compromise. There are also sharp divisions between the internationally recognized Yemeni government under Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi and the Southern Transitional Council (STC), a separatist group. The two of them are nominal allies. They have clashed in the past, however, and Hadi was supported by the Saudis until STC joined the UAE, a one-time coalition partner that largely emerged from the 2019 war.
On the other hand, Biden’s speech could signal a profound change in America’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. The two had been partners for 76 years since Franklin Roosevelt met King Abdulaziz aboard an American cruiser in 1945. However, the partnership became unworkable. The September 11, 2001 attacks led many Americans to associate Saudi Arabia with extremism. Two years later, America invaded Iraq because of objections from some Saudi authorities who feared it would destabilize the region.
During Obama’s tenure, the Saudis viewed him as naive. They were furious in 2011 when, amidst the impending revolution in Egypt, he asked Hosni Mubarak, the 30-year-old dictator, to resign. It seemed like a rushed betrayal of an old American spouse – one that had them worried about their own status. The major rift came in 2015 when Obama signed the nuclear deal with Iran. For him it is the attainment that determines the legacy; For the Saudis, it is an immoral impulse for their arch enemy that offers Iran the prospect of economic legitimacy and growth.
So it’s no surprise that the Saudis are happy to see Obama’s back. You have tried your best to attract a replacement. Unusual for an American president, Trump made his first trip abroad to Riyadh, where his hosts perfected it with a traditional sword dance and a strange glowing ball. Over the next several years, he stubbornly refused to criticize the kingdom and even helped protect himself from the 2018 killing of Jamal Hashoghi, a Saudi journalist who was mutilated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal has been well received.
Even so, Mr Trump is not a reliable partner. Saudi (and other Gulf states) were shaken in 2019 when it did nothing to retaliate against Iranian attacks on oil facilities in the kingdom. And his embrace has turned Saudi Arabia into party trouble in Washington. Many Democrats and even some Republicans want him to be convicted of the Yemen massacre and Hashoghi’s murder. Biden himself said in the presidential debate that he would call Saudi Arabia a “pariah”.