The One Surefire Thing Biden Can Do To Stop Houthi Attacks on Shipping

Hint: Biden doesn't seem like he's going to do it. But it'll both work and pay the biggest of dividends. PLUS: RIP to a Guantanamo attorney. 

The One Surefire Thing Biden Can Do To Stop Houthi Attacks on Shipping
Joe Biden, bidin' with his joe

Edited by Sam Thielman

I CAME HOME FROM MY REPORTING TRIP AT 2 A.M., and then I slept terribly, so this edition is going to reflect a certain amount of exhaustion. But the crisis stemming from Houthi attacks on commercial shipping through the Red Sea have escalated from where they were two weeks ago into a circumstance where a naval confrontation is on the moderate end of the U.S. retaliatory menu. And it doesn't have to be this way. 

As I was packing my bags on Wednesday, President Biden and 12 other governments gave the Houthis an ultimatum. (I note that France, Spain and the Seychelles are no longer part of this coalition, but the group has added Australia, Japan, Germany, Singapore and Belgium.) "The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways," reads the operative part. Whatever those consequences will be, the ultimatum justifies them in the name of defending the "international rules-based order," and we know who that applies to and who it exempts

A military confrontation in the Red Sea has already happened. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group is in that commercially crucial waterway. Just before New Year's, U.S. Central Command said, the Eisenhower’s helicopters sank three Houthi ships—with all hands—that were harassing the shipping vessel Maersk Hangzhou. Again, that was before the ultimatum. 

Both sides have room to escalate. The Iranian destroyer Alborz has transited the narrow waterway between Yemen and Djibouti, the Bab el-Mandab, to enter the Red Sea, according to official Iranian media, after a Houthi envoy came to Tehran to discuss the crisis. On the U.S. side, pressure is building for the Ike to stop responding to Houthi maritime operations and start taking it to the Houthis—and, alarmingly, not only the Houthis. "[T]he only effective strategy is to strike the entire Houthi missile, drone, and piloted aircraft enterprise, including the Iranian ship and other offensive capabilities that are used by the Houthis to project power far from Yemeni shores," James Kraska of the Naval War College wrote on Tuesday in the influential "national security" blog Lawfare. (My emphasis)

Something like seven years of U.S.-assisted Saudi airstrikes on the Houthis in Yemen failed to either dislodge the faction or cripple its offensive capabilities, so Kraska has no basis for calling direct U.S. sea-staged strikes on the Houthis "the only effective strategy." And now the options floated by respectable security analysts include sinking an Iranian destroyer, which is an unambiguous act of war guaranteed to force Iran's hand either directly or through its "Axis of Resistance" allies. If Houthi attacks in the Red Sea are diverting commercial shipping and driving up the costs of what's in those containers, imagine what open naval warfare in those shipping lanes will do. Happy New Year! 

There is an alternative strategy to all of this, and to borrow Kraska's words, I daresay it's the only effective one. It doesn't risk a confrontation with the Houthis, the Iranians and the rest of their coalition. It will get commercial shipping back to the Red Sea status quo ante, which, remember, is the entire objective here. It has a whole lot of other benefits for many, many people. And I'll detail it after the paywall, so, you know—subscribe to FOREVER WARS and spread the word to your friends to do the same. We have bills to pay and that's going to mean more paywalled editions in 2024. Why miss out?