10/4/15

A year ago, President Obama trumpeted Yemen as one of the examples of his war-on-terror foreign policy successes.

Now, it is a failed state; all governing institutions have collapsed, a million or more people in this small country are internal refugees, more than 10,000 are dead, and the entire population is living in deplorable conditions due to an intense and cruel war.

In the process, the USA has suffered another series of humiliations: evacuated their embassy with their tails between their legs; forced to negotiate safe passage to the airport for its special forces and intelligence presence in order to evacuate, agreeing to leave behind, amongst other things, their weapons; and a complete collapse of their terror fighting capability against Al-Qaeda’s most dangerous entity, AQAP, which is now on the ascent in this war-torn country.

The culprits behind this destabilization and humiliation of the USA? Iran, of course. The new best buddies of this president (a posting on the new Syria reality and how these best buddies turned out to be, well, not so much…to come soon). In their usual SOP, Iran has used subterfuge and manipulations to support, incentivize, equip, and train a minority sect, Houthis—who are basically Shia—to start a rebellion in Yemen and systematically undermine the legitimate government that existed there, at least as legitimate a government as exists in the Arab world, having been elected in semi-democratic elections and given recognition by the international community other than Iran and its allies.

Having taken control of the country in a relatively bloodless coup due to the weakness of the central government, the Houthis encountered an unexpected setback.

The Saudis decided that they are not going to take this lying down. Having their mortal enemy (Iran) controlling its southern—and totally open thousand miles—border PLUS having effective control of the other shipping waterways servicing the Arabian Peninsula was just too much for them. Iran already controls the Strait of Hormuz on the east side of the peninsula; if it controlled Bab-el-Mandeb, or Mandeb Strait, on the west of the peninsula, they could effectively bring shipping traffic servicing Saudi to a halt.

So, without consulting or even advising the US—their supposedly strongest ally—the Saudis started an air bombing campaign to try and roll back the advance of the Houthis. The US reluctantly got on board with this bombing campaign and is now providing close support to it in terms of intelligence, logistics, and equipment. Without doubt, part of the deal was to get the Saudis tepid and tacit support for the notorious Iran deal. The US (and, by the way, the UK too) now have military coordination teams embedded within the Saudi air force that is conducting the air campaign.

Some other Gulf Arab nations, notably the UAE, have joined the fight and have also provided some (limited) ground troop support for the embattled Yemeni government forces. The Saudis and their allies are having some success; they certainly have stopped the progress of the Houthis, they managed to roll back the advance in some areas—notably the port of Aden, which is critical for the control of Bab-el-Mandeb—and some reports are even suggesting that the elected president of Yemen that left the country to seek shelter in Saudi is now returning to establish some form of effort at central control of at least the southern part of the country including Aden as its center.

I fully understand the Saudi action and support their goals 100%. The only criticism I have is the means. The Saudi choose the “easy” way. Their air campaign is essential, but far from enough on its own. What they should have done, of course, is to combine a ground operation with the air campaign. Very rarely is an air campaign a solution on its own in any armed conflict. The air campaign is essential but cannot alone bring decisive victory. An air campaign has the downside of being very damaging to the infrastructure of a country and generally involves huge “collateral” damage; a euphemism for civilian casualties.

The Saudis choose this methodology because they are concerned about casualties on their side, military ones that will be inevitable in a ground operation, and they simply could not care less about collateral damage. The US is aiding and abetting this methodology either because they have no choice, having agreed to support this in return for Saudi support for the Iran deal, or indeed the US, too, does not care about the collateral damage in a far-flung, below-the-world-radar conflict where they have a sort of plausible deniability as they are not conducting the strikes. They are just supporting it…

The result, yet again, is a massive human tragedy in the Middle East. The living conditions of the vast majority (indeed, practically all Yemenis) have been devastated, there are food and medicine shortages, people’s health are deteriorating and sicknesses are running rampant, terror groups are on the rise (both AQAP and ISIS), a million or more people have lost their homes and are refugees in their own country, and of course many, many civilians have died.

The international community is silent. The media is either in collusion to keep this tragedy off the screens or, more likely, simply being the usual lazy, ignorant bunch of un-professionals. After all, who the hell has heard of Yemen (indeed, a good definition of a hellhole)? No one knows where it is, and the refugees have nowhere to go to with the county being bordered mostly by the sea (the Saudi border, while open, is very hard to cross; being one of the most hostile deserts in the world). If one compares the attitude of the international community and media between the horrifying Saudi campaign—now in its 5th month—to the reaction, for example, to the Israeli war in Gaza last year, one will see a complete and total different standard or, in other words, the usual hypocrisy of unbelievable proportions when it comes to all things to do with Israel. Israel is ALWAYS judged to a much higher standard and much more harshly than simply any other country, full stop (the US is a close second but much larger and so much more powerful, and can therefore afford to take it in its stride, however frustrating it is).

I believe that the justification for these military actions (Yemen and Gaza) is very good in both cases—although, in the case of Israel versus Hamas in Gaza, the war was triggered by actual hostile action by Hamas on Israeli territory, which clearly ranks as one stage higher than the Saudi’s perceived threat to their country from Iranian influence and control over the regime in Yemen.

But when it comes to the conduct of the war, the media coverage of it, the international community efforts to stop it, and its condemnation of… Israel (of course, not of Hamas who were the aggressor and the perpetrator), the differences could not be more pronounced. Israel was put under the microscope and condemned while Saudi is getting full and active support from all. Israel’s air campaign was conducted so restrictively so as to be a joke (notifying people that they are about to be bombed so that they will evacuate and on and on). Israel not only permitted food and medical supplies to be brought into Gaza WHILE the war was taking place, but Israel itself actually supplied those necessities to the Gazans as well. The Saudis, on the other hand, are just bombing as they wish, not indiscriminately but without many restrictions at all. No limits, no concern—collateral damage is of zero concern. Because of that, Israel was forced into a ground operation that cost it dearly in lives of its own soldiers while the Saudis are more or less sitting pretty.

The media focus on the Gaza War (of course totally biased) was intense, yet there are hardly any reports on what is happening in Yemen; none.

If Israel was to conduct its campaign in Gaza in the same was as Saudi does in Yemen it would be shunned and boycotted by the entire world within days. In the case of the Saudi’s action in Yemen, no one says anything and, indeed, the US/UK provide active support. This is not simply hypocrisy. This is not merely double standard. This is FAR beyond that. There are no words to describe it.

Thus, Yemen joined the terrible club of failed states, human tragedies, and suffering that we see in the Middle East starting with Syria, on to Iraq, Libya, and now Yemen too.

This president’s feckless foreign policy and, specifically, delusional Middle East strategy are combining to deliver a legacy of failed states, human misery, and disaster of biblical proportions.

And the tragedy in Yemen goes on forgotten and unknown in the world.