Yemen’s civil war began in 2014, when the Zaydi-Shiite Houthi rebels toppled President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi’s government after four years of political unrest in the country. Riyadh found the new situation in Yemen intolerable and asserted that a Houthi victory would lead to a government in Sanaa that would be allied with Tehran. Riyadh, together with the UAE and other GCC states, formed the Arab Coalition that launched a military operation claiming success would be achieved in two weeks. Iran, which, until then, had only a minimal relationship with the Houthis, escalated its involvement. For a relatively small investment Tehran has mired Saudi Arabia in a costly and fruitless six year war. Qatar withdrew when the Gulf Crisis erupted in 2017 and the UAE and Saudi Arabia have found themselves at cross-purposes in South Yemen.
In 2015 U.S. President Obama agreed to provide U.S. intelligence and logistical support for the coalition in return for Saudi acquiescence to the JCPOA, but even with U.S. support, the coalition has been unable to overcome Houthi resistance. President Trump initially increased U.S. support to Saudi Arabia and the UAE but without much result.
The Trump Administration announcement that it would designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization on January 19, 2021 — one day before the inauguration — presents a host of issues. Humanitarian organizations and many foreign countries have denounced the designation as threatening aid to a population on the verge of starvation. Many U.S. government officials have called the decision a mistake that could undermine the negotiations to end the fighting and limit the Biden Administration’s policy options in the region, especially with regard to Iran and reentering the JCPOA.
How could designating the Houthis as a terrorist organization impact the Biden Administration’s foreign policy? Could the designation hinder peace negotiations to end the Yemen War? Will the designation prevent humanitarian organizations from averting a famine and mass starvation? How might the designation impact U.S. counter-terrorism campaigns in Yemen? Could Saudi Arabia and the UAE thwart any effort by the Biden Administration to rescind the decision?
Featured speakers: Ambassador Patrick Theros (moderator), Ambassador Barbara Bodine, Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann, Dr. Zaher Sahloul, Mr. Abdulghani Al-Iryani, and Professor David Des Roches.
Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann
President, American Academy of Diplomacy
Formerly a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Ronald E. Neumann served three times as Ambassador; to Algeria, Bahrain and finally to Afghanistan from July 2005 to April 2007. Before Afghanistan, Mr. Neumann, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, served in Baghdad from February 2004 with the Coalition Provisional Authority and then as Embassy Baghdad’s liaison with the Multinational Command, where he was deeply involved in coordinating the political part of military actions.
Prior to working in Iraq, he was Ambassador in Manama, Bahrain (2001-2004), Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Near East Affairs (1997-2000) with responsibility for North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and Ambassador to Algeria (1994 to 1997). He was Director of the Office of Northern Gulf Affairs (Iran and Iraq; 1991 to 1994). Earlier in his career, he was Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and in Sanaa in Yemen, Principal Officer in Tabriz, Iran and Economic/Commercial Officer in Dakar, Senegal. His previous Washington assignments include service as Jordan Desk officer, Staff Assistant in the Middle East (NEA) Bureau, and Political Officer in the Office of Southern European Affairs.
Ambassador Neumann is the author of a memoir, Three Embassies, Four Wars: a personal memoir (2017) and The Other War: Winning and Losing in Afghanistan (Potomac Press, 2009), a book on his time in Afghanistan. He has returned to Afghanistan repeatedly and is the author of a number of monographs, articles, and editorials. His writings have focused most heavily on Afghanistan, stabilization, and Bahrain. At the Academy he has focused particularly on efforts to maintain adequate State and USAID budgets and staffing and upgrade professional formation to enable these institutions to carry out their responsibilities. Ambassador Neumann is on the Advisory Board of a non-profit girls’ school in Afghanistan, the School of Leadership, Afghanistan (SOLA) and the Advisory Board of Spirit of America. He is on the board of the Middle East Policy Council and the Advisory Council of the World Affairs Councils of America.
Ambassador Neumann speaks some Arabic and Dari as well as French. He received State Department Superior Honor Awards in 1993 and 1990. He was an Army infantry officer in Viet Nam and holds a Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal and Combat Infantry Badge. In Baghdad, he was awarded the Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal. He earned a B.A. in history and an M.A. in political science from the University of California at Riverside and is a graduate of the National War College. He is married to the former M. Elaine Grimm. They have two children.
Dr. Zaher Sahloul
Co-founder and President, MedGlobal
Dr. Mohammed Zaher Sahloul is a medical doctor, Chicagoan, humanitarian, faith, immigrant and civic leader, and influencer. Professionally, he is a Critical Care specialist at Advocate Christ Medical Center and Saint Anthony’s hospital and Associate Professor in Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
Dr. Sahloul is considered one of the world’s experts on the humanitarian crisis in his homeland Syria and applying lessons learned to other disaster responses, including COVID-19. He led the Syrian American Medical Society from 2011-2015 to play a crucial role in providing humanitarian medical aid and organize the Syrian American diaspora. He founded the American Relief Coalition for Syria, ARCS, and Syria Faith Initiative. He has published extensively on the Syrian crisis, refugees and immigration, disaster management, and COVID-19 impact on disadvantaged communities in Chicago, and has many media appearances locally, nationally, and internationally. He was instrumental in providing medical relief to help the civilian population in his homeland of Syria and testified to the U.S. Congress and the United Nations Security Council multiple times on defending medical neutrality, the use of siege and chemical weapons, and the siege of Aleppo. He was awarded Chicagoan of the Year in 2016 for risking his life with two other American doctors to provide healthcare to the civilians in Aleppo under siege and bombardment.
Dr. Sahloul sits on the advisory board of the Syrian Community Network and the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. He was a member of the Illinois Board of Health from 2009-2016.
In 2020 , Dr. Sahloul was awarded Gandhi Award for Peace for his humanitarian work in Syria and at the global level. He has also received many other awards including the “Heroes Among Us” award by American Red Cross, Dr. Robert Kirschner’s Award for Global Activism by Heartland Alliance Kovler Center 2017, the Commitment to Change Award by the National Immigration Justice Center for his commitment to human rights, and the Shine a Light on Global Refugee Crisis and annual humanitarian award by UNICEF Chicago 2017.
Ambassador Barbara K. Bodine
Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy and concurrent Director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, Georgetown University
Ambassador Bodine is a Distinguished Professor in the Practice of Diplomacy and concurrent Director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University. Prior to joining Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, she taught and directed policy task forces and policy workshops on US diplomacy in the Persian Gulf region, including Iraq and Yemen for seven years at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and served as Director of the School’s Scholars in the Nation’s Service Initiative, a fellowship program for students pursuing careers in federal service.
Ms. Bodine’s over 30 years in the US Foreign Service were spent primarily on Arabian Peninsula and greater Persian Gulf issues, specifically US bilateral and regional policy, strategic security issues, counterterrorism, and governance and reform. Her tour as Ambassador to the Republic of Yemen, 1997-2001, saw enhanced support for democratization and increased security and counterterrorism cooperation. Ms. Bodine also served in Baghdad as Deputy Principal Officer during the Iran-Iraq War, Kuwait as Deputy Chief of Mission during the Iraqi invasion and occupation of 1990-1991, and again, seconded to the Department of Defense, in Iraq in 2003 as the senior State Department official and the first coalition coordinator for reconstruction in Baghdad and the central governorates. Her first assignment in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs was as Country Officer for the two Yemens and security assistance coordinator for the peninsula. She later returned to that office as Deputy Director.
In addition to several other assignments in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, she was Deputy for Operations, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism and subsequently acting overall Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Director of East African Affairs, Dean of the School of Professional Studies at the Foreign Service Institute, and Senior Advisor for International Security Negotiations and Agreements in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs. Ambassador Bodine is the recipient of a number of awards, including the Secretary’s Award for Valor for her work in Occupied Kuwait. She is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Academy of American Diplomacy, co-chair of the International Forum on Diplomatic Training, an associate fellow of The Geneva Centre for Security Policy, and a member of The Council on Foreign Relations.
Since leaving the government, Ambassador Bodine has been founding Director of the Governance Initiative in the Middle East and Senior Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government and the Robert Wilhelm Fellow at MIT’s Center for International Studies. She is a past president of the Mine Awareness Group, America, a global NGO that provides technical expertise for the removal of remnants of conflict worldwide.
A native of St. Louis, Mo., Ms. Bodine is a Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara in Political Science and East Asian Studies and earned her Master’s at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. A recipient of distinguished alumni awards from both UC Santa Barbara and the Fletcher School, she is a Regent Emerita of the University of California. She resides in Alexandria, VA.
Senior Researcher, Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies
Abdul-Ghani Al-Iryani is a Senior Researcher at Sanaa Center for Strategic Studies and a political and development consultant. He has done research on constitutional reform, anti-corruption, governance, government capacity, state-building and conflict management and resolution, as well as social and economic development. He consulted a number of international organizations, including UN Agencies, World Bank, DFID, GIZ, USAID, AUSAID. His most recent work was consulting for UNDP, OSESGY, and World Bank on issues related to the conflict in Yemen.
Professor David Des Roches
Associate Professor, Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies; Nonresident Senior Fellow, Gulf International Forum
David Des Roches is currently Associate Professor of at the Near East South Asia Center for Security Studies. Prior to this, he was the Defense Department director responsible for policy concerning Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Prior to this assignment, he has served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as Liaison to the Department of Homeland Security, as senior country director for Pakistan, as NATO operations director, and as deputy director for peacekeeping. His first job in government was as a special assistant for strategy and later as the international law enforcement analyst in the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He graduated from the United States Military Academy and obtained advanced degrees in Arab Politics from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, in War Studies from Kings College London, and Strategic Studies from the US Army War College. He has also attended the Federal Executive Institute, the German Staff College’s Higher Officer Seminar, the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School and the US Army Command and General Staff College.
Ambassador Patrick Theros
Strategic Advisor, Gulf International Forum
Ambassador Theros has held such positions as Political Advisor to the Commander in Chief, Central Command; Deputy Chief of Mission and Political officer in Amman; Charge D’affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission in Abu Dhabi; Economic Counselor in Damascus; and U.S. Ambassador to the State of Qatar. In a career spanning almost 36 years, he also has served in diplomatic positions in Beirut, Managua, Dharan and Abu Dhabi, as well as in the Department of State. During that period, he earned four Superior Honor Awards. After retirement Ambassador Theros served as President of the U.S. Qatar Business Council in 2000-2017.