Skip to content
Hitting the Houthis at Home
Go to my account

Hitting the Houthis at Home

After months of attacks on commercial vessels in the Red Sea, the U.S. and U.K. strike Houthi targets in Yemen.

Happy Monday! If the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions had lost yesterday, this is where we would have inserted a joke mocking them mercilessly. Since they both won, we will simply pretend the games never happened.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The U.S. launched an additional strike against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen overnight Friday, targeting a Houthi-controlled radar site. The missile strike conducted by the USS Carney—which followed a substantial attack led by the U.S. and U.K. on Houthi targets overnight Thursday—was “designed to degrade [the Houthis’] ability to attack maritime vessels, including commercial vessels” in the Red Sea, according to a statement by U.S. Central Command. The radar site was reportedly missed in the initial barrage against dozens of targets.
  • Taiwanese voters elected Lai Ching-te—the country’s current vice president and a member of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)—in Saturday’s presidential elections, giving the DPP a third consecutive presidential term and ignoring warnings from China against elevating the more hawkish, formerly pro-Taiwanese independence candidate. Lai received 40 percent of the vote, followed by Kuomintang’s candidate, Hou Yu-ih, who earned 33 percent. When asked for his response to the election results, President Joe Biden said, “We do not support independence.” 
  • Russia launched a large missile and drone attack on Ukraine early Saturday morning, the fourth such barrage since December 29 after months of relatively few air attacks. The Ukrainian Air Force reported that it had successfully shot down eight of the some 40 missiles and drones Russia fired, also claiming that 20 “air attack weapons did not reach their targets due to extensive electronic warfare countermeasures.” Several areas in northern and eastern Ukraine felt the impacts of the attack, though the number of casualties was not clear. Meanwhile, U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited Kyiv over the weekend, signing a 10-year bilateral security deal with Ukraine formalizing cooperation in intelligence, military training, and the defense industry. Sunak also pledged $3 billion in military support to the country in 2024—Britain’s largest annual contribution since the beginning of the war almost two years ago. The package includes missiles, ammunition, and drones.
  • Germany signaled Friday that it intends to intervene in the International Court of Justice case brought by South Africa alleging Israel is committing genocide in the Gaza Strip. “In view of Germany’s history and the crime against humanity of the Shoah [Holocaust], the Federal Government sees itself as particularly committed to the Convention against Genocide,” a spokesperson for the German government said on Friday. “The German government decisively and expressly rejects the accusation of genocide brought against Israel.” Germany is allowed to present arguments in the case as a third-party state under the 1948 Genocide Convention. Meanwhile, thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, calling for Israel to end its operations in Gaza. Demonstrators converged on the White House, where some damaged an external, temporary fence and others attempted to scale the barrier. The Secret Service said in a statement that “the attempted gate trespass from earlier was handled without incident.” 
  • Two U.S. Navy SEALs are missing after attempting to board a vessel off the coast of Somalia on Thursday, several outlets reported over the weekend. U.S. Central Command confirmed Friday that two sailors were missing, without specifying that they were SEALs or why they had attempted to board the ship. The Associated Press reported the SEALs were engaged in an “interdiction” mission, trying to intercept weapons bound for Yemen, when one was knocked off the side of the ship by high waves and into the water—and another sailor jumped overboard in an attempt to rescue the first. Their mission was reportedly unrelated to Operation Prosperity Guardian—the ongoing multilateral maritime effort to defend the Red Sea waterway from attacks on commercial vessels by the Iran-backed Houthi militants.
  • A Pentagon spokesperson said Saturday there is not yet a date set for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s release from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after he was admitted January 1 for complications related to a surgery late last year to treat prostate cancer. President Joe Biden said Friday he still had faith in Austin’s leadership, but that the defense secretary showed a lapse in judgment in failing to notify the White House of his diagnosis and hospitalization for several days.
  • Congressional leaders reportedly agreed over the weekend to another stopgap continuing resolution (CR) to fund part of the government until March 1 and the remainder until March 8, continuing the laddered approach of the November CR that originally kept the government open until January 19 and February 2. The new measure would give lawmakers more time to pass the appropriations bills under the $1.66 trillion topline spending number for fiscal year 20024 that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Mike Johnson agreed to earlier this month. The new reported CR marks a reversal of Johnson’s comments last month that he didn’t intend to pass another short-term spending measure, but the speaker was unable to bring any appropriations bills to the floor last week after GOP hardliners voted with Democrats to shoot down a procedural vote to signal their frustration with Johnson’s spending deal.
  • A Des Moines Register poll released Saturday showed former President Donald Trump leading the Republican primary field in Iowa ahead of Monday evening’s caucuses. Trump garnered the support of 48 percent of likely caucus-goers, while former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley polled second at 20 percent, overtaking Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who is now capturing 16 percent of likely caucus-goers. Haley on Sunday notched the endorsement of former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who recently stepped down from his leadership role with No Labels, an independent political organization. Meanwhile, the former president gained the support of former primary rival North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who ran against Trump in 2016. Monday’s caucuses are likely to be the coldest in the contest’s history, with the National Weather Service issuing a warning for “life-threatening wind chills” as low as minus 40 degrees in some parts of the state.
  • Hunter Biden offered on Friday to testify privately before House impeachment investigators, reversing his previous insistence that he’d only testify at a public hearing. “If you issue a new proper subpoena, now that there is a duly authorized impeachment inquiry, Mr. Biden will comply for a hearing or deposition,” Abbe Lowell, Hunter’s lawyer, said in a letter sent to House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan. The reversal comes as House Republicans have pursued a contempt of Congress resolution against Hunter for refusing to testify. Jordan and Comer said in a letter Sunday that they would issue new subpoenas but maintained that the original subpoenas “are lawful and remain legally enforceable.” 

The Coalition Strikes Back

In this handout image provided by the U.K. Ministry of Defence, an RAF Typhoon aircraft returns to berth following a strike mission on Yemen's Houthi rebels at RAF Akrotiri on January 12, 2024, in Akrotiri, Cyprus. (Photo by MoD Crown Copyright via Getty Images)
In this handout image provided by the U.K. Ministry of Defence, an RAF Typhoon aircraft returns to berth following a strike mission on Yemen's Houthi rebels at RAF Akrotiri on January 12, 2024, in Akrotiri, Cyprus. (Photo by MoD Crown Copyright via Getty Images)

Nearly two months after a high-stakes game of cat and mouse first erupted in the Red Sea, U.S. Central Command on Thursday said the mouse had carried out its 27th attack on international shipping lanes—despite repeated warnings from a group of 44 partner cats.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden announced the U.S. and U.K.—supported by Australia, Bahrain, Canada, and the Netherlands—had carried out successful strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen. The retaliatory campaign, which was carried out with fighter jets and warship- and submarine-launched Tomahawk missiles, followed months of attacks by the Iranian-supported militant group on commercial vessels in the Red Sea. Western coalition forces continued the campaign through the weekend, ultimately striking over 20 targets, while Houthi leaders vowed a strong response. The direct multinational intervention marks a turning point in the violence in the Middle East since Hamas’ October 7 attacks on Israel, and highlights the growing threat presented by Iran’s proxy organizations.

“These precision strikes were intended to disrupt and degrade the capabilities the Houthis use to threaten global trade and the lives of international mariners in one of the world’s most critical waterways,” the coalition said in a statement released Thursday. “Our aim remains to de-escalate tensions and restore stability in the Red Sea, but let our message be clear: we will not hesitate to defend lives and protect the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways in the face of continued threats.”

Free commerce and maritime security have been under threat in the Red Sea for months—and repeated warnings, shows of soft power, and threats of military action by Western nations had not led the Houthis to cease their aggression. As we wrote earlier this month:

Multiple international shipping companies have halted travel through the Red Sea in response to attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen—which, though ostensibly acting in response to Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, have targeted ships with multinational owners, crews, and flags. … The U.S. launched a multinational naval task force in December, dubbed Operation Prosperity Guardian, to defend cargo ships traversing the Red Sea, but the Houthis—and Iran, for that matter—remain undeterred.

The attacks in recent days came as an enforcement measure backing up those previous warnings. “It’s a positive development,” said Kevin Carroll, who served as senior counsel to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and House Homeland Security Committee Chair Peter King. “One, to keep the shipping lanes free; and two, to start pushing back on the Iranian proxy forces that have been attacking U.S. interests throughout the Middle East.” In total, the coalition reportedly struck 72 targets in Yemen, destroying assets including radar systems, firing stations, and weapons depots.

The Houthi militia condemned the strikes, and on Friday the Supreme Political Council of the Houthis vowed retaliation. “All American and British interests have become legitimate targets for the Yemeni armed forces in response to the aggression,” they said in a statement. The Houthis continued targeting ships in the Red Sea over the weekend, even after the strikes.

Some national security experts aren’t surprised the Houthis so quickly resumed their attacks. “We have sent a very strong message, but [the strikes] were unlikely [enough to] degrade[] the capability and remove[] the threat,” Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told TMD. “So I like to describe what I saw last [week] as: It wasn’t nothing, but it doesn’t look like it was the something that we’re going to need to actually solve the problem.”

The problem—threats to one of the busiest commercial waterways in the world—has garnered international attention and dramatically affected global shipping. Many international shipping companies, including Denmark’s Maersk and Germany’s Hapag-Lloyd, have stopped traversing the Red Sea, instead taking the much longer and costlier route around the southern tip of Africa. (The Houthis have claimed that they only attack ships connected to or en route to Israel.) “At least 80 percent of the world’s goods travel by sea, and the Bab el-Mandeb Strait at the bottom of the Red Sea, going into the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, is one of the key maritime and naval choke points in the world,” Carroll told TMD. “It’s just vital to us as a commercial seafaring nation to defend freedom of navigation. The entire world economy literally depends on freedom of navigation. We can’t have some stateless group trying to blow up merchant vessels. It’s intolerable.”

After months of strongly worded statements, the U.S. and its allies appear ready to continue using force against the Houthis in the name of protecting international waterways. Biden has also recently upped his rhetoric against the rebel group. When asked by a reporter if he believed the Houthis—which the Biden administration removed from the State Department’s foreign terrorist organization list shortly after 2021—were a terrorist group, the president replied, “I think they are.”

The allied strikes aren’t only meant to take out the Houthis’ military capabilities—they’re also designed as a message of deterrence to the group’s backers in Tehran. “The Iranians will be as aggressive as we allow them to be,” Carroll said. “They’ll just continue to push and push and push until we push back. And again, they’re happy to let a proxy force push a little bit farther, because it’s not getting their people killed.” Biden told reporters on Saturday that the U.S. had delivered a private message to Iran regarding the Houthis, but did not disclose the contents of the correspondence.

The Biden administration has faced criticism—from both the left and the right—over the decision to strike targets in Yemen. Progressive Rep. Rashida Tlaib and GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene both criticized the president for acting without congressional approval. Goldberg, however, believes Biden is operating squarely within his rights. “This is an Iranian-backed terrorist organization that is disrupting the flow of international traffic in one of the world’s most important waterways,” he said. “They have attacked, repeatedly, United States destroyers in the Red Sea. They have launched missiles against Israel. This is a terrorist organization, and [Biden] is acting within his constitutional powers to defend the United States.”

But ultimately, Goldberg argues, ending the violence in the Red Sea could hinge on properly pressuring Iran to call off the Houthis. “Ideally, the administration says and does things in the coming days that put fear of escalation into the Iranians,” Goldberg told TMD. “If they don’t take actions that put that fear into the Iranians, you will see the Iranians escalate.”

The Waning Influence of Iowa’s Evangelical Voting Bloc

Iowans—at least those whose cars will still start—are set to kick off the GOP presidential primary tonight, and if public polling is accurate, Donald Trump appears poised to start things off with an overwhelming victory despite many of the state’s power brokers rallying behind Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. How did we get here? Andrew talked to several Iowa pastors over the weekend and, in a piece for the site today, looks at how—and why—evangelical voters fell in line behind the former president.

What really changed the character of evangelical voting wasn’t people losing their faith, precisely—it was a changing sense of what people considered their own faith to mean. Many professing believers stopped going to church, a trend accelerated by the rise of the internet and social media, the gradual retreat of many Americans from social institutions in general, a conservative population that increasingly saw its own churches as growing more liberal, and a global pandemic. The result was an evangelical populace that was far less of a constellation of little communities and far more an undifferentiated mass of online individuals than it had been two decades before.

“Evangelicalism used to be very top-down,” Ryan Burge, a Baptist pastor and data scientist who studies the intersection of religion and politics in America, told The Dispatch. “Social media has allowed us to become a bottom-up society. So now you can build your own little fiefdom through Facebook or Twitter or TikTok or YouTube.”

Burge argues that activists like Vander Plaats no longer hold the same sway in Iowa because the information networks that used to give them their authority have been completely upended.

“Bob Vander Plaats is a guy who had a ton of power,” he said. “Today he has no power, because he’s an old-guard kingmaker when no one wants that anymore. They want the interesting guy on YouTube or TikTok to tell them what Trump’s up to on abortion or what’s going on in Iowa right now. And I think that’s the big shift, is that no one speaks for evangelicalism anymore. No one. Because it’s a community of like 50,000 micro-influencers.”

Worth Your Time 

  • To commemorate Martin Luther King Day, we hope you’ll take a few minutes to read the civil rights leader’s sermon, “The Death of Evil Upon the Seashore,” delivered in May 1956 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City to commemorate the second anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. “The Bible affirms the reality of evil in glaring terms,” King said, analogizing the biblical story of the Israelites escaping Egypt’s oppression through the Red Sea as evidence of the slow march of good prevailing over evil. “In our own struggle for freedom and justice in this country we have gradually seen the death of evil. Many years ago the Negro was thrown into the Egypt of segregation, and his great struggle has been to free himself from the crippling restrictions and paralyzing effects of this vicious system. For years it looked like he would never get out of this Egypt. The closed Red Sea always stood before him with discouraging dimensions. There were always those Pharaohs with hardened hearts, who, despite the cries of many a Moses, refused to let these people go. But one day, through a world shaking decree by the nine justices of the Supreme Court of America and an awakened moral conscience of many white persons of good will, backed up by the Providence of God, the Red Sea was opened, and the forces of justice marched through to the other side. As we look back we see segregation caught in the rushing waters of historical necessity. Evil in the form of injustice and exploitation cannot survive. There is a Red Sea in history that ultimately comes to carry the forces of goodness to victory, and that same Red Sea closes in to bring doom and destruction to the forces of evil. … Let us not despair. Let us not lose faith in man and certainly not in God. We must believe that a prejudiced mind can be changed, and that man, by the grace of God, can be lifted from the valley of hate to the high mountain of love.”

Presented Without Comment 

Reuters: Russian Orthodox Priest Faces Expulsion for Refusing to Pray for War Victory [in Ukraine]

Also Presented Without Comment

Des Moines Register: Trump Urges Iowans to Caucus: ‘Even if You Vote and Then Pass Away, It’s Worth It’

Also Also Presented Without Comment

The Hill: Almost Half of Haley Supporters Say They Would Vote for Biden Over Trump: Iowa Poll  

Toeing the Company Line

  • It’s Monday, but we’re doing a special edition of Dispatch Live tonight ahead of the Iowa caucuses. It’ll be open to all readers—not just paying members—so be sure to join Steve, Sarah, Jonah, and Dispatch staff on the ground in Iowa tonight at 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT for a conversation about the official start of the GOP presidential primary. Keep an eye out for an email later today with information about how to tune in—or click here around start time!
  • In the newsletters: Jonah traced the history of Nietzschean ideas through to our current moment, Nick argued (🔒) House Republicans’ problem was never Kevin McCarthy, and Chris offered some predictions (🔒) about what the frigid temps in Iowa might mean for today’s caucuses.
  • On the podcasts: Sarah, Jonah, and Steve were joined by Andrew on the Dispatch Podcast roundtable to preview today’s caucuses, and Jonah ruminated on the Haley-DeSantis debate. Today, Jamie is joined on The Dispatch Podcast by Democratic strategist David “Mudcat” Saunders to discuss the rural vote, and Jonah answers listener questions on his second-ever Skiff AMA episode (🔒).
  • On the site over the weekend: Luis reviewed American Fiction—a new film satirizing wokeness—and Santi Ruiz examined a new book from Jim Pethokoukis envisioning a conservative, techno-optimistic future. 
  • On the site: Andrew explores how Iowa evangelicals are approaching Trump’s candidacy, Matthew Germer imagines how the 2024 GOP primary might have played out with ranked-choice voting, Rachel Ferguson outlines what conservatives can learn from Martin Luther King’s views on economics, and Martha Bayles explains how she teaches MLK’s legacy to college students.

Let Us Know

What are you expecting from the Iowa caucuses tonight? Do you think the weather will affect the outcome?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.