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“Are the airstrikes in Yemen working?”
It was a simple question, delivered directly to President Joe Biden this afternoon. The president delivered a response that ought to be the epitaph for the period of non-Pax Americana we’ve been living through since the fall of the Soviet Union.
“Well, when you say, ‘working’ — are they stopping the Houthis? No. Are they gonna continue? Yes.”
Biden wasn’t lying. On Thursday, the U.S. led another round of airstrikes in Yemen. “U.S. Central Command forces conducted strikes on two Houthi anti-ship missiles that were aimed into the Southern Red Sea and were prepared to launch,” CENTCOM posted on X.
Doubling down on things that haven’t worked, the Biden administration also announced new sanctions on the Houthis, the de facto government in Yemen, along with a new “specially designated global terrorist” label, which makes it difficult for the Houthis to engage in global transactions.
The designation badly undermines the Saudi–Yemen peace talks and threatens to exacerbate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen. It also doesn’t make sense: Yemen has been bombed and sanctioned on and off for years, through three presidencies and counting, and the only result has been famine and disease, not a more pliant posture toward the United States or its allies in the region.
In fact, the Houthis emerged from the conflict stronger than before, a point highlighted by Ben Rhodes recently. The Houthis have not been stellar when it comes to governing, to say the least, and getting into another conflict with the United States lets them off the hook for that and boosts their popularity both domestically and in the region.
There’s zero reason to think these sanctions or these airstrikes will get them to stop their blockade of shipping. It’s amazing to see Biden admit it. “Glad POTUS agrees with me that the strikes are not working. Next time come to Congress instead of McGurk,” Rep. Ro Khanna said on X, referring to Brett McGurk, the Mideast envoy who has overseen this catastrophe yet has somehow still retained his job.
The way the sanctions are being rolled out has its own story behind it. I joined a background briefing the State Department hosted on the new sanctions, and the transcript is now available. I wanted to highlight one part. From a senior administration official: “This [terror] destination will take effect 30 days from now to allow us to ensure robust humanitarian carveouts are in place so our action targets the Houthis and not the people of Yemen. We are rolling out, as we take this action, unprecedented carveouts and licenses to help prevent adverse impacts on the Yemeni people. The people of Yemen should not pay for the price – pay the price for the actions of the Houthis.”
The State Department has always insisted, against all evidence and common sense, that U.S. sanctions do not harm civilian populations. Yet here is the State Department saying it is adding “unprecedented carveouts” to mitigate the harm of these sanctions to regular people. They said they’ll monitor how effectively they immunize people from harm and reevaluate down the road. But think about what an admission that is: Why are these “unprecedented carveouts” needed if typical sanctions don’t actually harm civilians?
That the State Department is waiting 30 days to implement the sanctions is also noteworthy. The Houthis have said they will cease all attacks on shipping if Israel ceases its attack on Gaza. The U.S., too, has said it wants the Israeli attack on Gaza to wind down. But this 30-day delay suggests the U.S. is not at all confident this attack is winding down anytime soon. In fact, the bombing as described by people inside Gaza seems only to be getting fiercer, with disease and starvation spreading, driven by the Israeli refusal to allow in sufficient aid.
Tomorrow’s episode of Deconstructed is on the rupture inside progressive communities in general post-October 7, and American Jewish communities in particular. It’s a rich conversation with Simone Zimmerman, a former Zionist activist who now leads the Jewish American peace group IfNotNow, and the co-directors of the fascinating new documentary “Israelism.”
If you’re not subscribed to Deconstructed, you can get it on iTunes or wherever else you listen to podcasts.
Ibogaine For Ukraine
The Ukrainian military is experimenting with ibogaine, a psychedelic drug banned in the U.S. but often used to treat opioid use disorder elsewhere, to treat traumatic brain injury, and promote battle readiness.
To do so, it is partnering with a founder of the Yippie movement, Irvin Dana Beal, a longtime ibogaine advocate. Beal recently traveled to Ukraine to help launch the project. Oleksii Skyrtach, a Ukrainian military psychologist attached to the 57th Motor Infantry Brigade, provided Beal with a letter for immigration authorities to help him move through customs with the drug.
Ibogaine’s most famous American patient may well be Hunter Biden, who has battled his own drug addiction with help from ibogaine treatment at a Mexican clinic. At low doses, Beal and researchers behind the project believe ibogaine can have salutary effects on traumatic brain injury as well as help with battle readiness. “These guys need something for traumatic brain injury,” Beal said. “But nobody else is willing to fucking go into a war zone with ibogaine but me, apparently.”
Skyrtach agreed. “We really need as much ibogaine as possible,” he said. “Even if the war ends now we’ll have too many ‘rambos’ to come back home from the frontline. It’ll be much more serious problem [than the] USA faced when thousands of veterans came home from the Vietnam war.”
My full story on this fascinating new project is up at The Intercept.
Earlier this week, I was unable to get in touch with Beal to fact-check a few final details for the article, though we figured out another route to get that done. After the story was published, I learned why he had gone dark: He was arrested in Idaho for marijuana trafficking. He has been working with the state of New York to open up a pot shop, and it’s legal in lots of states — but definitely not in Idaho. The 77-year-old is facing serious charges.