TURES COLUMN: How the Houthis are disrupting our economy, and our political debates

Published 1:35 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

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Former House Speaker Thomas “Tip” O’Neill once said “All politics is local,” according to Andrew Gelman with 538.com on ABC News.  But the 2024 U.S. election could be decided on foreign policy positions.  And the Houthi rebel group is upending international shipping in the economically pivotal Bab al-Mandeb straits between the Red Sea and Arabian Sea, and has split both the Republican Party, as well as the Democratic Party, in how to respond to their attacks.

According to Al-Jazeera, the Houthis were a Yemeni Shiite group formed in the 1990s.  They rebelled against their regime, a Saudi ally in 2014.  After the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, the Houthis launched strikes on cargo ships heading for the Suez Canal over the last two months, which they claim are bound for Israel.  One ship was captured and is still held by Iranian-backed Houthis, as Al-Jazeera reported.

“The waterway is the main route for about 12 percent of world trade, according to the International Chamber of Shipping. The Red Sea connects the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean and Europe to Asia,” writes Al-Jazeera.  In early January, “a coalition of 12 countries, led by the US, issued a statement calling on the Houthis for an “immediate end of these illegal attacks and release of unlawfully detained vessels and crews”, and warned of “consequences.”

After the Houthis ignored such threats, the United States and United Kingdom conducted joint strikes that hit more than two-dozen missile launch and deployment sites.  As Houthi attacks continued, the Biden Administration and U.K. retaliated again, backed by countries ranging from Australia and Bahrain to Canada and The Netherlands according to Ruth Comerford and Frank Gardner with BBC.  Rebecca Picciotto with CNBC reported that Biden designated the Houthis as a terror group.  But Iran, Russia, and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah all condemned the American and British responses to the Houthis, as reported by the Reuters.

In the U.S., there is a sharp debate over the strikes on the Houthis who were attacking international shipping, as Reuters reports.  Republicans like House Speaker Mike Johnson support attacks on the Houthis, as do Democrats like Senate Foreign Relations Chair Ben Cardin of Maryland.  Progressive Democrats like Ro Khanna and Pramila Jayapal criticized the strikes, and demanded the U.S. Congress be consulted first before future attacks were made notes Reuters, a position supported by conservative Senators like Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Todd Young (R-Indiana), as reported by Bryant Harris with Defense News.  However, Biden did notify Congress, and Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking Republican “Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho argued Biden’s Yemen strikes are already covered by his constitutional ‘authorities to protect American citizens and American property,’” according to Harris.

Ex-President Donald Trump condemned the attack on The Houthis, according to Matt Berg with Politico, claiming “So, let me get this straight. We’re dropping bombs all over the Middle East, AGAIN (where I defeated ISIS!), and our Secretary of Defence [sic], who just went missing for five days, is running the war from his laptop in a hospital room” on “Truth Social.”

Other Republican candidates prefer going after The Houthis.  Former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley thinks the Biden Administration should do even more to oppose Iran, Hamas and the Houthis, as noted by Eric Bradner et.al. with CNN.  Florida Governor Ron DeSantis actually supports Biden bypassing Congress on the Houthis strikes, saying “These are stateless actors. I think they’re operating outside the traditional laws of armed conflict. 

And I think you have a right to ensure that commerce continues and that they’re not allowed to just bomb ships and do and do other things,” which Florida Politics’ A. G. Gancarski reported in January. 

The Yemen conflict has been considered a four-way civil war by Kali Robinson with the Council on Foreign Relations.  In America, what to do about the Houthis in Yemen may also be described as a dispute with four sides, as Republicans and Democrats disagree with each other on how to respond to attacks on world shipping, as much as they disagree across party lines.