December 13, 2018 | By Brian Hanson, Gregory Johnsen

Deep Dish: The War in Yemen


The war in Yemen has created one of the greatest unseen humanitarian tragedies in the world. It finally drew public attention after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, which triggered a debate about US involvement in the war. As peace talks begin in Sweden, Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen joins this week's Deep Dish podcast. 



Brian Hanson: This is Deep Dish on Global Affairs, going beyond the headlines on critical global issues. I'm Brian Hanson, and today we're talking about the ongoing war in Yemen. This war has created one of the greatest humanitarian tragedies in the world, and at the same time it's a war that seems both under reported and poorly understood. This war has recently come to public attention in the context of the Saudi murder of Jamal Khashoggi, which triggered a Congressional debate about U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen.

Some of our listeners may also have heard that there's some hopeful news in this war, in that there are peace talks that have begun, sponsored by the U.N. recently. To help us unpack this situation and guide us through this conflict, I have with me Gregory Johnsen, who is a leading authority on Yemen and the author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia. Welcome, Gregory. It's good to have you on Deep Dish.

Gregory Johnsen: Thanks so much for having me, Brian.

Brian Hanson: As I mentioned, one of the things that's striking about the war is just the human devastation. In addition to direct casualties of the war, and in large scale, civilian casualties as well, for a country of 30 million people, it's hard to get your mind around the devastation. Some of the numbers ... Numbers are inadequate, but the U.N. warns about 14 million people who are facing famine and the threat of starvation; something like 3 million Yemenese have been displaced from their homes; and apparently there has been the world's largest cholera outbreak affecting 2.1 million people just to set a little bit of context on the conversation and some of the human cost around this war.

Before we get to talking about the war, Gregory, could you just quickly paint us a picture about Yemen? Where is it? How many people are there? What is the composition of the population? What are the things we need to know about the country as we begin this conversation?

Gregory Johnsen: I think that's a great place to start, Brian. Yemen is on the Arabian Peninsula. It's at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, just below Saudi Arabia on its eastern edge. It also shares a border with Oman, and then it's right along the Red Sea, and across the Red Sea, so Horn of Africa. So it's right there in the Middle East, right below Saudi Arabia.

Yemen's a country of about ... best guess, because there aren't really great census number from there, about 28 million people. And of that population, about 30 percent of the population are Zaidis; this is a Shia sect, this is a sect that's trying to lead different from the sort of Shia that we know from Iran and other places in the Middle East, but they're still Shia. And the rest of the country, about 70 percent is [inaudible 00:02:58] or Sunni. [inaudible 00:02:59] is just one of the legal schools in Sunni-esque law. So that's sort of the population of Yemen.

Yemen has a long history. It was known as a place, unlike, say some of the lot of the Middle Eastern states, Saudi Arabia, for example, whose borders were drawn, and Saudi, of course, takes its name from a particular family that came to power there in the 19th century. Yemen has always been a destination. It's always been a place that was known. It's also very geographically diverse. Up in the north near the border with Saudi Arabia, there are what's called the Northern Highlands, and then along the Red Sea coast there is this scrubland that's very similar to what you would see in East Africa. And then there's obviously desert down in the south. It get quite humid in the summer. And even parts of the empty corridor, the large desert in the Arabian Peninsula, touches on parts of northern and eastern Yemen.

Brian Hanson: Thank you. That's very helpful I think to paint a picture of the country and what we're talking about. Getting into the war, I think one of the challenges about this war is that it's complex. There are a lot of different actors who are involved here. And what I want to ask you to help us do is to understand what the pieces at play are. I think one of the simple minded characterizations of this war is often Iranian-backed Shiites versus Saudi and United Arab Emerites-backed Sunnis. But there are actually a lot of levels. Let's start with the origins of this war within the country before it even becomes a proxy campaign. What was the trigger for this, and what were thing things people started fighting about?

Gregory Johnsen: That's a good question, and even that question, as seemingly simple as it is, is something that people debate. Some people argue that the roots of this current war go back to 1962 when there was a revolution in Yemen. Others argue that it started in '79 with the revolution in Iran. Some say that it started in 2004 when the Houthis and the Yemeni central government, the Houthis being this group that you referred to earlier as the Iranian-backed group within Yemen, or at least get some aid from Iran. That's a little debatable and I think we'll talk about.

Others say that the roots of this conflict began in the Arab Spring, when the long-serving president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was forced to resign in exchange for immunity. And after his resignation, there was something called the National Dialogue Council where all these different groups sat down. The U.S. backed this, Saudi Arabia backed it, the U.N. backed it. Everybody wanted to see Yemen move on from the protests that had led to the collapse of Sallah's regime and then move on into some sort of a new representative, vaguely democratic country.

What happened, though, was that people couldn't agree on what that would look like. And when you have a country like Yemen with a lot of different power centers, and the Arab Spring in 2011, 2012 really fractured the country and it broke apart the military. And so particular groups and, in this case, the Houthis in 2014, they decided they didn't like the results of the National Dialogue Council, and so they moved out of their home governant, a place called [inaudible 00:06:27], which is up on the border with Saudi Arabia. They overran a military base, and then they marked on the capital of Sana'a. They eventually took the capital city, put the president under house arrest, where he resigned his office. The president, this individual named President Hadi, later escaped from Sana'a in February of 2015; eventually made his way into exile in Saudi Arabia, and that's where he asked for Saudi and UAE assistance to come in and remove the Houthis who had basically taken over the state in a slow moving coup d'etat. And Saudi Arabia responded in March of 2015 with the beginning of Operation, what they called Operation Decisive Storm.

Brian Hanson: And let me just pull out a piece of this story and ask you, how important was the religious divide in the origins of this war? Or was it mostly about different ethnic groups, where it really wasn't a struggle over a particular interpretation of Islam?

Gregory Johnsen: That's a really good question, Brian, and there's two answers there. The first is in the broader sense, sectarianism has not traditionally been an issue in Yemen. I mentioned earlier when we were talking about the background of Yemen that there were Zaidis, the Shias, and the [inaudible 00:07:46], the Sunnis, they intermingled quite a bit. And in fact, the Zaidis, they follow a type of Shia Islam that's a often referred to as Fiber Shiism, as opposed to the 12 Shiism that is present in places like Iran.

But they Zaidis were also referred to by scholars of Yemen as sort of the fifth school of Sunni Islam. And I think the fact that they're both Fiber Shias, but then also referred to as the physical of Sunni Islam, shows how close doctrinally they were to the Sunnis. And in fact, there isn't a lot of difference, or there hasn't been practically a lot of difference between Zaidis and [inaudible 00:08:25] within Yemen. They prayed at one another's mosques. There was a slight difference in how they held their hands during prayer, but families intermarried and went back and forth.

That being said, there is also a religious dynamic to this conflict, and this goes back to what I referred to a few minutes ago, the revolution in Yemen that took place in 1962. This revolution overthrew the Zaidi Imamate, and what it replaced the Zaidi Imamate with was this republican rule; very similar to what we had in places like Libya or Egypt, or even Syria, where generals seized the state and essentially made themselves presidents for life.

Ali Abdullah Saleh did this in Yemen, and what was happening throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s was this religious group, the Zaidis, felt themselves more and more backed into a corner. They had lost the Yemeni state in the 1960s; they saw this general, Ali Abdullah Saleh, take the presidency. At the same time, there's missionaries from Saudi Arabia who are coming over across the border into Yemen, and they're converting young Zaidis to the type of Suniism that's prevalent in Saudi Arabia.

The old guard within the Zaidis found themselves pushed back, and they were worried that both religiously and culturally, they were about to be eradicated. So pushed back into this corner, eventually in June of 2004, they lashed out at the state, starting the first of what would turn out to be six separate wars up in the northeast, these Houthi Wars, where the Houthis, this Zaidi group fought the central Yemenese state under then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Brian Hanson: Bringing that into the war as it gets going in 2015, we've got the Saudis, who enter in after the president, the Yemeni president is deposed, heads into Saudi Arabia, and then the Saudis and others enter the war. How does the war progress, and then at what point does Iran get involved in the war? Play out a little bit how this gets going, and the dynamics once the fighting is begun.

Gregory Johnsen: The Saudis do something very interesting when they decide to go into Yemen. The Saudis have convinced themselves that the Houthis are basically Hezbollah south; that is, they're an Iranian proxy group and they've taken over the state. And the Saudis look at the map of the Middle East and they think Iran's making inroads in Syria, in Iraq, Hezbollah's there in Lebanon, now they're in Yemen. So Saudi Arabia gets very worried and very concerned.

But at the same time, when Saudi Arabia starts the war in March of 2015, Saudi Arabia does something very interesting; that is, they announce the beginning of their aim campaign in Yemen, not from Saudi Arabia, but rather from Washington, D.C. So you have this odd situation of the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., [inaudible 00:11:26] at the time, who calls a press conference in the Saudi embassy and says we're launching this war in Yemen to remove the Houthi rebels. And they do that because Saudi Arabia really needs U.S. support for this war.

So basically, what's happened over the past three and a half years is not a whole not. The Saudis have carried out a number of bombing raids; the UAE has put troops in; the Houthis, which had advanced all the way down south to [inaudible 00:11:55], were very quickly pushed back into the northern highlands. So the Houthis right now hold about 30 percent of the country or so. The rest of the country's loosely controlled by what's often referred to as the Legitimate Government of Yemen. The Legitimate Government of Yemen is basically a fiction; it doesn't really exist. There's a president right now, he's in the U.S. receiving medical attention; most of the government's in exile. The battle lines and the battles, really since 2016, have essentially been at a stalemate, and it's become clear to everybody that there's no military solution to this conflict. That is, not one side is going to be able to impose its will on the other. So the Houthis can't take more territory than they hold right now. In fact, they already probably have more territory than they could hold if the war wasn't going on.

The Saudis are in a position where they have basically three options. They can withdraw completely, and that leaves the Houthis in control. They can double down and send in ground troops, that would be as bloody as it would be foolish; that is, there's no guarantee of success and all of a sudden you'd have a lot of Saudi body bags going back to Riyadh. Or Saudi Arabia could do what it's been doing, which is carry out air strikes and hope that something on the ground changes.

The Houthis, they're ... By and large, the Houthi leadership is protected from the shortages associated with this war, so they're not facing the food and medicinal shortages that a lot of the Yemeni population are facing. And they're also largely insulated from the air strikes; that is, members of the Houthi family, the supreme Houthi leader, these individuals aren't targeted, and they certainly haven't been with a few exceptions killed during this air strike. That's sort of where it is that we're at with the war, and the very sad truth of this war is that right now, fighting is much easier than making the difficult compromises of peace.

It's easier for Saudi Arabia to continue to do what it is doing because Saudi Arabia at home, Muhammad bin Salman, who is the architect of this war when the war started in March of 2015. Muhammad bin Salman was the Minister of Defense. Now, of course, he's the Crown Prince. He's the guy making the decisions. There aren't body bags coming back to Saudi Arabia. There's no domestic pressure on him to end this war.

Similarly, there's not a whole lot of pressure on the Houthis, and as I'm sure we'll talk about in a little bit, they're in Sweden negotiating, these are going to have to be very difficult compromises to really come to any sort of a peaceful solution for this just because politically neither side's under much pressure.

Brian Hanson: That's great, and I want to get to Sweden and what's happening. The layer I want to add before we go there is the role if the United States in this conflict. As I understand it, one of the concerns of the U.S. in their involvement has not only been their alliance with the Saudis, but real concerns about terrorism, and Yemen as a home for terrorist activities. Is that the motivation behind the U.S., and what has the U.S. actually done in support of this conflict?

Gregory Johnsen: That's a really good question, and I also want to touch on Iran as well, which I think I neglected in the last one. But when it comes to the U.S., when this war started back in March of 2015, or at least when the Saudi aspect of this war started, this was under the Obama administration. And I mentioned earlier that the Saudis made this announcement of beginning a war in Yemen, they made the announcement from Washington, D.C. So the Saudis came to the Obama administration. You have to remember Saudi Arabia and the Obama administration did not have particularly warm relations. The Saudis felt that during the Arab Spring, President Obama was much too quick to overthrow traditional allies like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the long-serving president there; that the U.S. was too quick to side with the protesters. Whereas, Saudi Arabia actually sent troops into Bahrain to help put down some of the protests.

And then in 2015, what's important for our story is this is when the Obama administration is pushing very hard for an Iran nuclear deal, and of course, that's something that Saudi Arabia is adamantly opposed to. And in 2015, the deal's basically completed. It's about to be signed. It'll be signed in July of 2015. So the Saudis come to the United States and they say look, the Houthis have taken the state; we're going into Yemen. Will you support us?

And the Saudis also say it's going to take us about six weeks of air strikes to get rid of the Houthis, which I had no idea what the Saudis were thinking because certainly I don't know of anybody who believed that that was an accurate assessment, and of course, it's turned out to be completely incorrect. We're now nearly four years into the war and the Saudis have had very little success against the Houthis. So the Obama administration essentially decides to support the Saudis. They don't go as far as saying we'll be part of the coalition. But on the same night that Saudi Arabia announces the beginning of their air campaign in Yemen, President Obama says we're going to set up a joint logistics and intelligence cell in Riyadh to support the Saudis.

U.S. support for a long time looked like refueling; mid-air refueling of aircraft that the Saudis and the Emiraties were flying into Yemen and then carrying out raids. The U.S. was providing logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition. It was also providing intelligence along the lines of if the Saudis had a list of targets, the U.S. would double-check them and say don't hit this target or don't use these coordinates because that particular target is a mosque, or it's a hospital, or it's a non-military target. So that's what the U.S. has been doing for quite some time.

The U.S. hasn't had troops in combat, but the U.S. has certainly been facilitating the conflict from the Saudi-led coalition. And if I just might add, on the Iran side you asked about that a little bit earlier, and I mentioned that the Saudis have convinced themselves that the Houthis were an Iranian proxy; that they were basically Hezbollah South. I think that was a bit of a mistake. Essentially, what we've seen in Yemen is it's become a self-fulfilling prophesy; that is, the deeper Saudi Arabia gets involved in this war, the closer the Houthis grow to Iran because Iran is, of course, willing to support the Houthis under the old adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

The Houthis don't need Iran to survive domestically within Yemen. What they need Iran for is to supply things like ballistic missiles, and particularly missiles like the Iranian [inaudible 00:18:55]-1 Missile, which goes 900-plus kilometers. That's about 300 kilometers more than any of the missiles the Houthis had when they took over the Yemeni state, and that's important because if you get a missile that goes 960, 980 kilometers, then the Houthis can reach Riyadh. So the Houthis need Iran in order to supply them with those missiles so that they can have some offensive capabilities against Saudi Arabia.

Brian Hanson: That's very helpful. One of the things that the Saudis have been criticized for, and some have linked the U.S. to, is the Saudis have been charged with being relatively indiscriminate in terms of concern on civilian casualties from their air raids. And lots of the military equipment, as you pointed out, and support like refueling has come from the United States. Is that a fair characterization of the Saudi tactics? Have they created unusually significant casualties among civilians?

Gregory Johnsen: Yeah. The Saudis have been I would say callously indiscriminate in their bombing of Yemen. And the U.S., by its position, both the Obama administration as well as the Trump administration; this isn't a partisan issue; this is something that Republican and Democratic presidents alike have basically continued the same line with the Saudis. And the U.S. has taken this fence-sitting approach, which is we're not going to be part of the conflict, but we're going to facilitate the conflict. And that means that essentially the U.S. is putting its name on the coalition's bombing campaign, but the U.S. has no control over the strikes that the campaign is carrying out. And so in many ways, the U.S. sort of has the worst of both possible worlds.

Brian Hanson: Bringing us up to the current moment, in response to the Khashoggi killing, there has been increasing discussion in Congress about whether or not to sanction the Saudis in some way, including discussions about sanctions that would affect their ability to prosecute this war. You laid out a stalemate; where we are on the grown militarily as a stalemate. First of all, take us through what's being considered in the U.S. as possible policy responses, and whether or not you think they're likely. And then we'll talk about whether or not it can advance the peace process. But what's being considered right now in the U.S.?

Gregory Johnsen: The things that are being considered are not coming from the administration. The administration, the Trump administration has been quite clear that it wants to continue business as usual with Saudi Arabia, particularly as regards to the conflict in Yemen. The proposed actions, these are being initiated by Congress, and at the end of November we saw the Senate vote on Senate Resolution 54, which basically invoked the War Powers Act to say that the U.S. needed to withdraw its troops from combat in Yemen. It carved out, and we can talk about this a little bit later, I know you mentioned it. It carved out the U.S. troops who were fighting AQAP and Isis; so the Al Qaeda branch and Isis, they're in Yemen, and specified just the Yemeni troops that were working with the Saudis.

That isn't going to have a lot of legal weight, so that passed by about a two-to-one margin in the Senate right at the end of November. It's going to be opened up for debate. It will probably be voted on again in the second or third week of December, but that's not going to have a lot of legal weight. That's largely a political statement. And the reason I say it doesn't have much legal weight is because the way the bill was structured, it's invoking the War Powers Act and it's saying that the U.S. has to withdraw its troops who are in combat operations in Yemen. And what the Obama administration, as well as the Trump administration, had said is the U.S. troops are not involved in combat in Yemen. The U.S. has been very clear under both administrations the U.S. troops are only providing logistical and intelligence support.

And so if this bill were to pass, if this bill were to become law, then the Trump administration's position would be whether or not they veto it. Their position would be that's fine that you passed this, but it doesn't actually have any legal impact. There's no change we need to make. You're saying take the troops out of combat; we're saying the troops never were in combat to begin with. So if the Senate or Congress wants to do something that would explicitly, say, cut off all U.S. intelligence logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition, then they have to be very explicit about that in their bill.

This isn't going to happen before the end of this Congress, obviously. The new Congress will be sworn in, in January, and we'll see if the Khashoggi affect is still in effect at that point, and whether this is something that Congress wants to take up. There's a lot of hot air around this, to be quite frank. And Congress, over the past 15 or 17 years, has not been very strenuous in its oversight capacity of U.S. troops operating abroad. So I'm a little skeptical that that will change, even in the aftermath of Jamal Khashoggi's murder.

Brian Hanson: What is your assessment of the peace process, the U.N.-sponsored peace process that has begun in Sweden? You did a nice job a little earlier of really laying out both sides of the war, the Saudis and the Houthis, and that there is not a huge external push on either side to negotiate. At the same time, there's a stalemate on the ground. I suppose if we look at early indications of the negotiations, the peace negotiations, one of the hopeful signs was an early mutual prisoner release, where each side agreed to release a fairly large number of combatants from the other side. Where do things stand? What are the key issues that need to be resolved in order to create peace? And where do we stand with that?

Gregory Johnsen: That's a great question, Brian. The Special Envoy, who's a British diplomat, Martin Griffiths, is there. He's initiated these talks, and he's been very clear that these are not peace talks; these are only talks to begin to set a framework to eventually have peace talks. But we've been down this road before, so in 2016 there was over a hundred days of peace talks in Kuwait that, in the end, went nowhere because the sides couldn't agree. As I mentioned earlier, they are going to have to be some very difficult compromises that all sides make. And right now, none of the sides are willing to make those. I'll just give you a for instance.

In the opening, which took place on December 6th I believe in Sweden, on the opening the Yemeni Foreign Minister was very clear that to start, the Houthis had to completely disarm, and this is something that has been in enshrined in U.N. Resolution 2216. That's the guiding resolution for the peace talks, but that's something that's an absolute non-starter with the Houthis, of course, because they feel if they unilaterally disarm that they'll just be wiped out. But that's the position that the Yemeni government has taken. It says the Security Council Resolution says this. In order to even begin to talk, the Houthis have to absolutely disarm.

And you know, when you have attitudes like that, it's very difficult to get any traction. I think what needs to happen is Martin Griffiths has to have some very creative diplomacy in getting these various sides to sit down. So instead of talking about disarmament with the Houthis, you could talk about something like transitional arms control. That would be something where the Houthis would put all their heavy and their long-range ballistic missiles under lock and key, but the Houthis themselves would keep the key so that if they were to feel threatened, they could go back out. It's these little, small steps that have to be taken to build confidence.

But the one thing that I will say is right now at these talks in Sweden, there's two parties: there's the Yemeni government, and there's the Houthis. But those aren't the only parties that are fighting in the war. Of course, we've mentioned the Saudis, we've mentioned the [inaudible 00:27:19], but there's also a southern secessionist movement, there's a variety of militias in Yemen. So in fact, what we often talk about as the war in Yemen is in my mind three different, but overlapping, wars.

There's the U.S.-led war against terrorism; this is the U.S.-led war against AQAP and ISIS. There's this regional proxy war that we've been talking about, which is Saudi Arabia and the UAE against what they see as an Iranian proxy, the Houthi group. And then there's below that; there's this local Yemeni civil war where you have the Houthis who are fighting the southern secessionists; you have AQAP and ISIS involved in that as well. You have these various different militia groups. You have the Yemeni State. You have former President Ali Abdullah Saleh or what's left of his network. And my fear is that if there were to be a cease fire on the regional war between the Saudis and the Emiraties and the Houthis, and the Saudis and the Emiraties were to pull back, then we'd actually see a lot more fighting at the local level as all these different groups with guns try to get as big of a piece of the pie as they possibly can.

The problem, of course, is that there are so many groups with guns in Yemen, none of whom have enough strength to impose their will upon the entire country, but all of whom can act as spoilers to prevent any sort of a lasting solution to the conflict.

Brian Hanson: And of course, the tragedy of this all is some of the things that I tried to describe up at the very beginning, in terms of the horrific suffering that's happening in the country.

Gregory Johnsen: It's the Yemeni civilians who are paying the price. The Yemeni civilians are the pawns, and to be quite honest, both sides are trying to use them to their own advantage. The Saudis are trying to use allegations of, and these have been well documented, allegations of torture by the Houthis, or the Houthis recruiting child soldiers. The Houthis are delaying aid. The Houthis are illegally taxing aid that's coming. And then with their side there, using the Saudi air strikes that killed Yemeni civilians. They are using the Saudi blockade that is pushing so many people in Yemen in famine and even over the brink.

There have been I think, Save the Children estimated that there have been 85,000 people who have died of, children who have died of starvation. No one has clean hands in this war. Everyone is guilty, and everyone has carried out violations that, to be quite honest, are crimes of war. And it's the Yemeni civilians who are paying the price for these actions. The U.S. has in many ways facilitated this.

Brian Hanson: One of the things that's cleared to me from the conversation and from talking to you is just how complex the forces are that are keeping the fighting going, and the horrific suffering that's resulting from this. Do you have a sense of what could lead to the end of this conflict? Is there a scenario to get from this horrific situation to a more peaceful resolution?

Gregory Johnsen: That's a really good question, Brian, and that's the one that everybody is struggling with. If you buy my argument that there are three separate but overlapping wars in Yemen; if you look at the U.S. war against Al Qaeda and ISIS, that's a war that's going to continue. The U.S. is going to continue to carry out drone strikes, so we'll set that to the side. This regional war, which is sort of the center, this is the war that's being talked about, the peace negotiations in Sweden. I think this is actually the easiest portion to solve. I think there is a lot of room in which the Saudis are looking for a face-saving way out. I think the Emiraties, even more than the Saudis, are looking for a way to get out. That can be solved. The real difficulty is going to be the local Yemeni civil war, which comes after this regional war is solved. And there's both a good and a bad to that.

The good is that if the Saudis and the Emiraties were to withdraw, if the U.N. and if there's enough sustained pressure on the Saudis and the Houthis and the Emiraties to come to some sort of an agreement, and then the Saudis and the Emiraties withdraw, then these famine conditions I think would be alleviated somewhat because this blockade that's essentially been put around the country by the Saudi-led coalition that prevents, or at least makes very, very difficult, food and aid getting into the country, that will be lifted. So the humanitarian crisis in some way, it won't be resolved, but it'll get a little bit better.

The problem is that the fighting on the ground in this local Yemeni civil war is going to get much, much worse. And my concern is that if the Saudis and the Emiraties withdraw and this regional war, the war that has occupied our attention and that is what we talk about when we talk about Yemen, if that war is solved and it's just the civil war that's ongoing in Yemen, then the international community will turn its face away and won't pay much attention because it's just Yemenis killing Yemen.

Brian Hanson: As we close, this is obviously a situation that's going to continue to develop, and there are lots of pieces to play out. For our listeners, what would you encourage them to focus on particularly? There will be lots of stories, lots of different aspects of this conflict and the suffering. What are the keys that people should be watching for?

Gregory Johnsen: That's a really good question. I think one of the key things is as tempting as it is to look at Sweden and to look at the peace talks, and to follow the minutiae, 'this side said this, this side said that,' the only way this regional war is going to end is if there's significant pressure put on Saudi Arabia. And really, the only country that has the leverage to put that pressure on Saudi Arabia and bring them to the table in a way that would force them to compromise, just like the Houthis would have to compromise, is the United States. So the key is really going to be, at least from my perspective, is what's happening in the Senate throughout December of 2018, and then in the new Congress in 2019. If the Senate as a body acts to put a lot of pressure, at least to force the Trump administration to put pressure and to use its leverage with the Saudis, then we might start to see some movement. Because it's only going to be outside, international, sustained and concentrated pressure on the various parties, on the Houthis, on the Saudis, on the Emiraties that brings about any sort of resolution.

Brian Hanson: Gregory Johnson, thanks so much for being on Deep Dish. Like I said at the top, I think this is a poorly understood war which is having huge consequences. And as you point out, the United States will play an important role in shaping what happens. I also would recommend to my listeners who want to learn more about your thoughts on these related issues, your book The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia. Thanks so much for being on, Gregory.

Gregory Johnsen: My pleasure, Brian. Thank you.

Brian Hanson: And thank you for tuning in to this episode of Deep Dish. If you liked the show, do me a favor and tap on the subscribe button on your podcast app. That way, you can get each and every new episode as it becomes available. You can find our show under Deep Dish on Global Affairs wherever you listen to podcasts, and if you think you know someone who would be particularly interested in today's episode, please take a moment, tap share, and send it to them as well.

As a reminder, the opinions you heard belong to the people who expressed them and not the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. This episode of Deep Dish was produced by Evan Fazio. Our audio engineer is Andy Czarnecki. I'm Brian Hanson, and we'll be back soon with another slice of Deep Dish.


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