The Biden administration’s Yemen policy is taking heat from Capitol Hill. Within days of the president’s inauguration last year, the administration pulled support from the Saudi-led effort to contain the Iran-backed Houthi terrorist group, officially known as Ansar Allah. The Biden team then removed the group from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations and lifted sanctions against them. Since then, U.S. policy can only be described as a quixotic pursuit of dialogue. Iran has used the opportunity to better arm and train its Yemeni proxy.
On Jan. 17 a Houthi drone attack killed three and injured six in Abu Dhabi. Nine Republican Senators responded by introducing legislation calling on the White House to reimpose the terrorist designation on Ansar Allah. Other legislators, including Democrats, also reportedly see some wisdom in a policy shift.
But Mr. Biden’s diplomats have bent over backward to appease Iran. Desperate to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, the administration wants to avoid any unpleasantness with Tehran’s clerical regime. Meantime, congressional progressives have had it in for the Saudis since they began fighting the Houthis in 2015, citing the large number of civilian casualties reportedly caused by Saudi airstrikes. The Saudi-led coalition launched a series of bruising counterstrikes against the Houthis in the aftermath of the Abu Dhabi attack.
U.S. policy in Yemen has become a partisan football. In January 2021, the Trump administration officially designated the Houthis both a foreign terrorist organization and a specially designated global terrorist. Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that if Ansar Allah “did not behave like a terrorist organization, we would not designate it” as one. This behavior includes the support that Ansar Allah receives from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is itself a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.
Mr. Biden’s State Department justified its reversal of the terrorist designations by citing the risk that sanctions against the Houthis might encumber the flow of humanitarian aid into Yemen. The reversal was somewhat odd given that President Obama had signed an executive order in 2012 authorizing sanctions against actors destabilizing the country. While executive-order sanctions don’t pack the punch of an official terrorist designation, the Biden administration has nevertheless used them against some Houthi members and supporters.
The Biden administration has also repeatedly condemned the Houthis for their attacks against civilians in Saudi Arabia, attacks against international shipping, seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen—which included taking its local staff hostage—and targeting of Yemeni civilians. In October the State Department even condemned the Houthis for “obstructing movement of people and humanitarian aid,” which was exactly the White House’s rationale a year ago for rescinding the official terrorist designations.
U.S. policy in Yemen currently amounts to nothing more than documenting Houthi violence, which has escalated since Mr. Biden took office. Moreover, the administration’s actions have undermined the basis of the American terrorism sanctions regime. Ansar Allah is the textbook definition of a terrorist group. If it can have its sanctions lifted without changing its behavior, why can’t other terrorist organizations do the same?
The Houthis fired missiles again at Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia on Sunday. Yemen continues to writhe in large part because of a violent campaign by Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists. While the White House may take heat from congressional progressives and their allies, particularly in light of Saudi-led retaliation for last week’s drone strike, it’s time to redesignate Ansar Allah as a terrorist organization.