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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

Air quality alerts issued as California fires threaten more sequoias

The Windy Fire blazes through the Long Meadow Grove of giant sequoia trees near the Trail of 100 Giants in Sequoia National Forest, near California Hot Springs, on Tuesday. Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

Two wildfires were threatening California's sequoia trees over overnight — hours after authorities issued fresh evacuation orders and warnings, along with air quality alerts.

The big picture: Air quality alerts were issued Wednesday for the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley as smoke from the Windy and KNP Complex fires resulted in hazy, "ash-filled" skies from Fresno to Tulare, the Los Angeles Times notes.

Asymptomatic Florida students exposed to COVID no longer have to quarantine

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis during a September news conference in Viera, Fla. Photo: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced Wednesday an emergency order allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school if they're exposed to COVID-19, provided they're asymptomatic.

Why it matters: People infected with COVID-19 can spread the coronavirus starting from two days before they display symptoms, according to the CDC. Quarantine helps prevent the virus' spread.

Federal judge: Florida ban on sanctuary cities racially motivated

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday struck down parts of a Florida law aimed at banning local governments from establishing sanctuary city policies, arguing in part that the law is racially motivated and that it has the support of hate groups.

Why it matters: In a 110-page ruling issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said the law — signed and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) — violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause because it was adopted with discriminatory motives.

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