For Military Operations From Somalia to Saudi Arabia, Hope Is a 4-Letter Word

The Saudi military intervention in Yemen shares a name with the failed U.S. mission to Somalia.


Having “achieved its military goals” in a four-week bombing campaign in Yemen, Saudi Arabia has announced it would begin a new phase of its war there and pledged to halt airstrikes against rebels. The new phase of that war also has a new name — Operation Restore Hope — and if that sounds familiar, you don’t have to travel far from Yemen to locate the site of another military intervention, one whose legacy Saudi Arabia probably isn’t eager to recall.

In December 1992, the United Nations Security Council authorized a U.S.-led coalition to launch operations in Somalia aimed at restoring access for humanitarian relief operations. Clan warfare had left much of Somalia’s agriculture industry destroyed, and the resulting famine had left some 500,000 dead. The U.S. task was to provide the necessary security to allow for food to be delivered to needy Somalis. The mission was christened “Operation Restoring Hope.”

By the time that mission went up in flames after the October 1993 Battle of Mogadishu, the operation had in fact acquired another name — Operation Continue Hope — but it’s the first name that is better remembered as a shorthand for failed military intervention.

It’s difficult to ascribe any significance to the overlap in names between the Saudi and American military interventions, but it’s certainly an ironic footnote for the campaign in Yemen. It’s unlikely that Saudi military planners will be pleased when they discover the coincidence.

But the shared name does point to a recent trend in military affairs — the naming of operations with an eye toward selling them as popular enterprises. It’s hard to quibble with an effort to “restore hope” — hope, that’s a universally good thing, right? There was the 1994 Operation Uphold Democracy in Haiti. Then there was Operation Provide Comfort in Iraqi Kurdistan in the 1990s. The 1989 invasion of Panama got the self-aggrandizing title Operation Just Cause. (The plan for invasion had once been known as Plan Blue Spoon but was — unfortunately — jettisoned.)

So whether hope is being restored or merely continuing, its use in military parlance is that kind of vague signifier designed to spin the operation as both just and well-intentioned.

In the Saudi case, one could be forgiven for asking just whose hope is being restored in Yemen. After announcing Tuesday that it would cease bombing Houthi rebels, Riyadh continued airstrikes on the fighters after they seized a military base. While the Saudis have succeeded in tightening a naval blockade and destroying much military hardware seized by the Houthis, they haven’t achieved their goal of restoring ousted President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to power.

Perhaps that’s the hope Saudi Arabia is looking to restore — their own hope that they can win in Yemen.


Elias Groll is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @EliasGroll

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