U.S. ending support for Saudi-led war in Yemen as Biden shifts foreign policy priorities

This post was originally published on this site

“We must meet this new moment of accelerating global challenges — from a pandemic to the climate crisis to nuclear proliferation — challenges that will only be solved by nations working together in common cause,” Biden will say, according to excerpts of his speech released by the White House.

“That must start with diplomacy, rooted in America’s most cherished democratic values,” Biden will say. “Defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, treating every person with dignity.”

Calling those values “America’s abiding advantage,” Biden will talk about how democracy came under attack in the United States.

“Though many of these values have come under intense pressure in recent years, even pushed to the brink in the last few weeks, the American people will emerge from this stronger, more determined, and better equipped to unite the world in fighting to defend democracy — because we have fought for it ourselves,” he plans to say.

The Yemen announcement, which had been expected, would end U.S. support for a years-long military effort led by Saudi Arabia that is blamed for the deaths of thousands of civilians.

“That is a promise that he made in the campaign,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said during a briefing with reporters at the White House.

Biden will also name a new special envoy for Yemen and announce a policy of U.S. support for LGBT rights worldwide, Sullivan said.

Trump’s plan to move some U.S. forces in Europe had been seen as punitive. He routinely criticized Germany and its leader, Chancellor Angela Merkel, for what he called a cheapskate approach to defense.

Biden will note that Merkel is one of the leaders he has spoken to since taking office Jan. 20. The conversations with allies are part of an effort to “begin re-forming the habits of cooperation and rebuilding the muscles of democratic alliances that have atrophied from four years of neglect and abuse.”

The announcement on Yemen comes just weeks after the State Department, in the final days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left office, named the Iranian-linked Houthi rebel movement, formally known as Ansar Allah, as a foreign terrorist organization and designated it under several related terrorism authorities. Officials from aid groups and the United Nations had long warned that such a move, which marked an eleventh-hour salvo in the Trump administration’s pressure campaign against Iran, would dramatically worsen conditions in Yemen, already considered the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis.

Several days after taking office, the Biden administration temporarily lifted some of the sanctions associated with those designations, providing time for officials to review the matter.

Officials and experts said the majority of U.S. support to the Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthis had already been eliminated. In 2018, the Trump administration halted aerial refueling of Saudi jets conducting operations against the Houthis.

According to Mick Mulroy, who served as a top Pentagon official on the Middle East during the Trump administration, the only military support that remained was U.S. coaching of Saudi officials, a program intended to reduce civilian casualties, and intelligence sharing focused on Houthi threats against the Gulf kingdom.

The Biden administration has already announced a hold on at least some arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which has been criticized for repeatedly striking Yemeni civilians.

“Stopping U.S. military support to the Saudi-led coalition was expected, but it will not prevent the human suffering that is happening in that country,” said Mulroy, who also served as a CIA officer and is now ABC News analyst. “There needs to be a comprehensive international plan, preferably led by the United States, to support the United Nations in attaining a lasting peace agreement.”

Biden’s visit combines a rare foray outside the White House with his first major policy address.

“America’s alliances are among our greatest assets. And leading with diplomacy means standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies and key partners once more,” he will say.

“But leading with diplomacy must also mean engaging our adversaries and our competitors diplomatically where it is in our interest and advances the security of the American people.”

President Donald Trump was hostile to many allies, often claiming they take advantage of American military might and accusing them of unfair trade practices.

He was also sometimes openly hostile to traditional diplomacy and diplomats, most notably in the removal of U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who denied she had done anything wrong.

The address comes after what many U.S. diplomats have described as a wrenching four years under the Trump administration marked by attacks on their loyalty and efforts to gut their budget and benefits.

Biden will deliver a pep talk to diplomats at the State Department ahead of his policy address.

“I will have your back. This administration is going to empower you to do your jobs, not target or politicize you,” Biden will say.

The last several weeks in particular have rattled a generation of Foreign Service Officers who have spent years criticizing anti-democratic developments in other countries only to see a U.S. president vilify America’s electoral system for the world to see.

Current U.S. officials have said the Biden team can do much to renew the trust between career diplomats and the political leadership by appointing foreign service officers to senior positions in the department.

“We hope that the new administration will return to historical norms in terms of the percentage of political appointees named to senior positions, and will ensure that all nominees are fully qualified,” said Eric Rubin, a career diplomat and president of the American Foreign Service Association, the union that represents U.S. diplomats. “That unfortunately has not been the case in recent years.”

Thus far, the Biden administration has committed to naming current career diplomats to a “significant” number of Senate-confirmed posts.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s nominee for U.N. ambassador, and Victoria Nuland, the nominee for under secretary of state for political affairs, are both career diplomats who had retired. Some at the State Department are seeking a bigger focus on those currently in government.

“There are no nominations of current career diplomats to senior positions at State,” said Brett Bruen, a former foreign service officer with contacts within the building. “It sends a message that in order to get the top jobs in a Biden or democratic administration you will have to quit your career and cozy up to some politicians. That will not restore faith, nor the long-term capacity to keep our best talent at State.”

Another area where diplomats are closely focusing on is whether Biden continues the practice of giving political megadonors cushy ambassadorial posts in London or Paris despite a lack of experience in diplomacy.

“The Trump administration nominated the highest percentage of political appointee ambassadors in modern history,” Rubin said. “For the past four years, our country’s leaders have denied themselves the advice and counsel of our most experienced career professionals.”

Given Biden’s promise to “build back better” when it comes to American diplomacy, career diplomats are hoping he dramatically scales back this practice.

“No more than 10 percent of ambassadorships should go to non-career officials. Especially in these tough times, we need experienced, non-political people overseas,” Bruen said.