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Yemenis search for survivors after a coalition airstrike in Sana'a in 2015. Photo: Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

A new International Crisis Group report explores how the U.S. got involved in the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen, where things went wrong, and what lessons have emerged for U.S. foreign policy.

The big picture: The authors write that "Washington initially overestimated its ability to shape coalition conduct and underestimated the devastation of the conflict it was helping enable." They also note that both Barack Obama and Donald Trump elected "to continue this assistance even after the miscalculations had been exposed."

Why the U.S. got in: The authors spoke with senior Obama administration officials who said they had viewed Yemen's president as a good partner, particularly on counterterrorism, and his ouster "as an affront to the international order."

  • The officials "sympathized" with Saudi Arabia's security concerns over the Houthi insurgency, and "knew that Iran was offering the Houthis some support — though, unlike Riyadh, they did not see this as a threat to the kingdom of strategic proportions."
  • The Obama administration was also "highly conscious of growing strains in the relationships" with Gulf partners that had been "exacerbated" by the Iran nuclear deal.

Where things went wrong: The Obama administration recognized the war as a quagmire "within months," during which time "evidence of the coalition’s brutal tactics had already emerged."

  • Many officials believed the U.S. could shape the coalitions behavior, though they "never had a realistic plan for achieving this objective, nor for what to do when efforts to achieve it failed."
  • The Trump administration then "drew ever closer to Riyadh" and "efforts to press the coalition to temper its tactics and ultimately exit Yemen’s civil war faded further into the background."

What to watch: One lesson for Washington, the authors write, is that leverage over security partners like Saudi Arabia "sometimes can only be effective by taking the hazardous step of putting the partnership on the line."

Go deeper

15 mins ago - Health

Transplants rebound from COVID lull

Expand chart
Data: United Network for Organ Sharing; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

More than 41,000 Americans underwent an organ transplant in 2021, a new record and a 6% increase from 2020, when the pandemic caused a slight slowdown of the life-saving procedures.

Why it matters: There are more transplant patients than ever, and they are particularly vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID because of their compromised immune systems — although vaccines provide important protection.

15 mins ago - World

Senators make bipartisan trip to Ukraine after divisive Russia vote

Ukrainian President Zelensky. Photo: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

A bipartisan group of seven U.S. senators met Monday in Kyiv with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top officials as Ukraine and the West brace for the possibility of an imminent Russian invasion.

Why it matters: The delegation is seeking to project a united front with Ukraine, following a divisive Senate vote on Thursday in which Democrats blocked sanctions Zelensky's government was seeking against the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Updated 5 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

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