Yemen

What the Hell Are We Doing in Yemen?

The Obama administration is assisting Saudi Arabia in creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the Middle East's poorest country.

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The U.S. government has charged into another civil war in the Middle East. When you find yourself repeatedly asking, "Will they ever learn?" the answer may be that the decision-makers have no incentive to do things differently. What looks like failure may be the intended outcome. Quagmires have their benefits—to the ruling elite—if American casualties are minimized.

The Obama administration is assisting Saudi Arabia in its bombing of Yemen, creating—in concert with the Saudi embargo—a humanitarian catastrophe in the Middle East's poorest country. Civilians are dying, and what infrastructure the country has is being destroyed.

Credit: Ahron de Leeuw/Flickr

Why? Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States won't "stand by while the region is destabilized." Kerry is a veteran, and presumably a student, of America's Indochina war. So he must know that bombing is a terrible way to prevent destabilization. Kerry isn't stupid—but that means he's a liar and a demagogue.

Note that he says "the region," not "Yemen." Why would a civil war in Yemen affect the region? Because according to the official narrative, faithfully carried by most of the news media, Yemen is under siege by agents of Iran, the Houthis.

Iran today serves the same purpose the Soviet Union, or the International Communist Conspiracy, served from the end of World War II until 1989-91, when the Soviet empire collapsed. Iran is the all-purpose arch enemy on which virtually any evil can be blamed. So the war party and its Saudi and Israeli allies tell us every day that Iran is on the march, controlling capitals throughout the Middle East: Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, and now Sana'a.

But this is absurd. Iran is not on the march. George W. Bush knowingly delivered Baghdad to Iran-friendly Iraqi Shiites in 2003. The Assad regime in Syria is a long-time Iranian ally that Obama and his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, declared open season on, emboldening al-Qaeda and its more-virulent mutation, ISIS. Iran's friend in Lebanon, the political party Hezbollah, formed itself in response to Israel's 1982 invasion and long occupation. None of these demonstrate an aggressive Iran. A better explanation is that those alliances help Iran cope with the American encirclement. [Recall: the CIA overthrew Iran's democratic government in 1953 and was complicit in Iraq's 1980s offensive war against Iran, in which Saddam Hussein used U.S.-facilitated chemical weapons. Since then, U.S. presidents and Israel's government have attacked Iran in many ways: economic, cyber, proxy-terrorist, and covert.]

And what of Yemen, where the Houthis drove out the U.S.-backed autocratic president while also fighting declared enemies of the United States, Sunni al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Yemeni affiliate of ISIS? Yes, the Houthis practice a kind of Shiite Islam, Zaidi, but it differs importantly from Iranian Shiism. In fact, the Houthis are merely the latest manifestation of a long-oppressed Yemeni religious minority seeking autonomy from the central government. After years of being frustrated, lied to, and double-crossed, it finally moved on that government. Say what you will about the group, but don't call it an agent of Iran.

Saudi Arabia sees Iran as a menace, but the kingdom is hardly credible, and the Obama administration is likely to be placating the royal family now that a nuclear deal with Iran may be at hand. As independent researcher Jonathan Marshall notes, "Decades before Iran became an enemy, however, Saudi Arabia began intervening in its southern neighbor [Yemen]. Besides grabbing land, the Saudis poured vast sums of money into Yemen to promote its extreme brand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. In 2009, it invaded northern Yemen to attack the Houthis, unsuccessfully."

Marshall adds, "Washington has also inserted itself in Yemen's civil conflicts for decades."

Of course Washington has been killing Yemenis with drones—not all of them even "suspected terrorists"—since 2001, when the corrupt and oppressive government in Sana'a became an ally in the "war on terror."

"Yemen's government repeatedly used U.S. military aid to support an all-out assault against the Houthis ('Operation Scorched Earth')," Marshall writes, "causing extensive civilian casualties."

As we should know by now, U.S. intervention is no innocent mistake.

This piece originally appeared at Sheldon Richman's "Free Association" blog. 

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  1. Enough of your bellyaching, Richman. A new Star Wars trailer is out!

  2. Vintage Richman, it is the Saudis and the Americans who are creating the catastrophe. The lunatics who are trying to take the place over have no responsibility. In Richman world being a psychotic Muslim means always being on the side of good and never being responsible for anything. I am starting to think he really is on the other side.

    Richman in 1943, “What the Hell are we doing in Europe? The Americans and British are responsible for the bloodiest war in human history”.

    1. So you’re saying Richman is basically Adam Lanza, do I have that about right?

      1. I thought Yemen was basically Adam Lanza?

        1. Maybe – but even Yemen is not as bad as Nicole.

          She’s the worst…

    2. Re: John,

      The lunatics who are trying to take the place over have no responsibility

      That American Revolution thing happened because the British forgot their rightful place in the World and left the place to lunatics who wanted to take the place over.

      1. The word of today is “Place”.

    3. Calm down, John. The Saudis are literally bombing civilians and we’re refueling their planes.

      Richman’s constant attempts to apologize for the Iranian regime would be funny if they weren’t so pathetic, but he isn’t wrong that there’s really no reason for us to involve ourselves in a Saudi/Iranian proxy war.

      1. Bombing people is part of war. People get killed in wars. And the people the Saudis are fighting are doing a hell of a lot worse. Is it in our interests to be there? Maybe. Richman of course is the last person I would ever listen to in making that decision. Richman has never once in his life admitted that anyone but the US or Israel could be at fault for something.

        And go fuck yourself with your “calm down”. You are not nearly bright enough or interesting enough to be smug.

        1. The Saudis are bombing civilians because they suck at playing war. This is not a good thing.

          Us being involved in a proxy war between the two biggest dicks in the region seems really fucking stupid.

          1. That is just it, we are involved whether we like it or not. Iran sees us as an enemy. And have waged war against our interests at every opportunity for 30 years. They are not going to stop doing that. They have their own reasons for doing that. And pretending they are not or begging them to stop and be friends isn’t going to change that.

            1. Wait…so we’re basically falling into the Iranians’ trap for us? Is that where you’re going with this? What is our interest in refueling Saudi aircraft in a fight that is going on in a third country that is of almost zero strategic importance to us? I mean, I know for a fact that we have tankers just across the Empty Quarter waiting for something to do, but that doesn’t mean we have to use them for this.

            2. The people who overthrew the government are just as responsible for this war as the Saudis or the US.

              The U.S. heavily supports the government they’re overthrowing.

              I, too, tire of hearing (usually from the left) that the U.S. is responsible for the rest of the world’s sorrows (i.e. it’s all the Americans’ fault that we have AIDS in Africa because we’re too stupid to stop spreading the disease ourselves, and America won’t give us enough money to make our stupidity go away, waaanh). But if we’d stop meddling in the governments of other countries, eventually, yes, we could say, “This isn’t a U.S. problem; deal with it yourselves.”

              If we’d produce more of our own oil and energy in general, we could stop sucking Saudi Arabia’s dick, too. And then, the next time the Saudis wanted to bomb some neighbor country, we could tell them the same thing. “Not our problem; you boys have fun now.”

              1. Do you consider it unlikely that Iran would end up with nuclear weapons and a) taking control of the middle east, or b) trying to take control with said weapons and after an ensuing arms race cause a nuclear exchange? Or some other equally horrific scenario?

                I’m just not convinced that abandoning all intervention is any better than being balls deep in everyone’s business. Maybe there is a happy medium in between?

            3. Is your last name McCain by any chance? It’s amazing how Richman brings out the Hawks in the Reason readers.

              1. Haha, that would explain a lot: John McCain. People like him don’t realize that are not really for smaller government. They just want to give the money to defense contractors, rather than to poor minorities.

        2. It’s funny how mad you get over the most minor shit. You lob all sorts of insults at anyone who disagrees with you on any subject, but someone tells you to calm down and of course that’s enough reason for yet more insults from John.

          I really don’t care if you think I’m ‘bright or interesting.’ Surprisingly enough, your opinion of me based on random internet posts doesn’t really upset me.

          1. “It’s funny how mad you get over the most minor shit.”

            You probably hate Sarah Palin too, you cultural snob.

          2. That is why I no longer speak with him…a stream of profanity and insults over some rubbish about driverless cars. The snarling and raging douche act was on. Bah.

          3. It’s a particular set of things that gets him to totally flip his wig and go John Bolton-foaming.

            1. Did you see his epic rant about how anyone in favor of gay marriage wants to Christians to be ground beneath the bejeweled, fabulous steel-toed boots of the Gaystapo?

              I learned that I want Christians to be brutalized and should be celebrating every time the foot soldiers of Big Homo stick a Christfags head on a pike.

              1. I’m (not) sorry I missed that.

                Sounds like…fun?

              2. Will the Big Homo enforcers be wearing body armor?

                1. Yes, but it’s assless body armor.

                  1. all body armor is chapless

                  2. Aim for the ass, Johnny!

    4. Do you believe that the U.S. government should be intervening in Yemen? What for? And do you really think Obama and Co. are competent to carry out this intervention?

      1. I don’t know and the answer to those questions are irrelevant to the issue of who is responsible for the war there. Richman is his usual self and refusing to blame anyone but the US for a war. The people who overthrew the government are just as responsible for this war as the Saudis or the US.

        1. The U.S. government’s actions in Yemen may not be the only cause of the current situation but they played a role. Actions have consequences. I don’t understand why expressing the opinion that the U.S. government’s actions sometimes have negative consequences make you so angry. Hell, we’re blaming the politicians here, not the individual soldiers who get fed the shit sandwich of implementing the policies. And they’re the same politicians whom you and I both curse on a regular basis when it comes to domestic policy. How do they suddenly become geniuses when the issue is foreign policy?

        2. I fail to see why the U.S. has any particular business in Yemen. Which American citizens’ rights are being protected by U.S. involvement? Or are you one of those people who believe that the U.S. has a responsibility to play policeman to the world?

    5. Sheldon Richman writes. Kerry isn’t stupid?but that means he’s a liar and a demagogue.

      Worse than Hitler?

      1. Kerry IS an idiot. Other than getting himself elected to office by liberal turds and marrying rich women who wanted an elected official for a husband this guy has done almost nothing in his life.

    6. They hate us for our freedom! (Tears off Hulkster t-shirt and begins flexing muscles)

  3. I’m gonna be honest here – I don’t know where Yemen is, I don’t know shit about the country, and I don’t want to know any more than I know today.

    I also don’t see ANY “compelling US interest” in this fucking dust bowl, so one of the first acts of Almanian’s Administration (2016 – I Probably Won’t Make It Any Worse) will be getting anything/one we have in Yemen the mother FUCK out of Yemen ASAP.

    We’ll go on from there. Thank you, and God Bless ‘murca (FUCK YEAH!)

    1. You have my vote. Well, if I even do vote. I voted “against” two local pols this past election (small town, local election). Unfortunately, the two I voted for won! That scares me. I voted for Ford in 1976 and I don’t think anyone I’ve voted for ever won. But with these two winners, I feel responsible. If you promise me you won’t win, you can count on my vote!

    2. Historical Irony =

      Yemen was, in ancient times, one of the “Richest” places on earth. Because they controlled the ‘spice routes’ from the east. They ran the toll-booth for the Camel Jockeys of the ancient world, taking a bite out of every kind of trade going East/West and back. The legendary “Queen of Sheba” was from east Yemen.

      Then came the Romans, and then shipping, and well, it sort has been a shithole full of tribes of illiterate murderous idiots ever since. But neat architecture, if you’re into “things you can do with mud”

      1. Also true. Aden was basically the through-route for most trade in the Horn of Africa and the southern Peninsula. Yemeni and Omani tribes colonized parts of east Africa all the way down to Zanzibar and some of South Africa’s Indian Ocean coast.

        1. Zanzibar was the epicenter of that part of the world back in the day. They actually were controlled by a family who’s version of Islam enforced tolerence of other religions.

          However they were the hated enemy of the Whabbis who ruled the mailland costal areas opposite Zanzibar because of their views on Islam and because of the wealth that Zanzibar enjoyed because of their position on the trade routes and slavery on the east African coast. Probably the former was used as an excuse for constant strife because of the latter.

    3. Sana’a, Yemen is about 500 miles SE of Mecca. There are many Yemeni tribes who have pretty decent claims to having a direct line back to the Prophet. There have been many internecine battles there over the centuries, until the rise of the House of Saud (and even then, there were constant scuffles and the border has only recently been defined). Now it’s resuming in earnest.

      Osama bin Laden is thought to be Yemeni in origin, which is probably a big part of the explanation for his troublemaking (i.e. fervent desire to overthrow the House of Saud) in the Kingdom before he went “international”.

    4. “one of the first acts of Almanian’s Administration (2016 – I Probably Won’t Make It Any Worse) will be getting anything/one we have in Yemen the mother FUCK out of Yemen ASAP.”

      ISOLATIONIST !!

    5. Got my vote.

    6. +1 they hate us because we bomb their villages.

    7. AMEN YEMEN!

      I vote for Alamanian.

      Well. Metaphorically. Since. I’m, as you guys know, Canadian.

  4. As we should know by now, U.S. intervention is no innocent mistake.

    The U.S. was using the “intelligence” reports given by the Yemeni government which normally consisted of a convenient kill list of political opponents. The fact that the U.S. drone pilots have this obsession with destroying wedding parties probably helped rather than hurt the rebels.

    1. Yeah Mexican. The US just loves to bomb weddings. They have an obsession with it. It couldn’t be that our enemies claim every drone strike hit a “wedding” and every person ever killed by one was really an innocent person. Nope. It couldn’t be that.

      Come on Mexican. This is why no one listens to Libertarians on these issues. They can’t help but fall in love with Noam Chomsky.

      1. Re: John,

        It couldn’t be that our enemies claim every drone strike hit a “wedding” and every person ever killed by one was really an innocent person. Nope. It couldn’t be that.

        Our greatest enemy, The Guardian

      2. Don’t forget all the droned school children, John.

        41 men targeted, but 1,147 killed:

        http://www.theguardian.com/us-…..-kill-1147

    2. If you think about it, a wedding party is the perfect place to kill an AQ terrorist and his associates.

      Who do you think gets invited to the wedding of AQ henchman?

      Why the big boss, and his aides.

      Its also a meeting that sorta hasta be advertised a bit, so you spy on the ground can actually confirm time and place.

      Oh, and since many people know about it, your spy has an easier time not being fingered.

  5. “George W. Bush knowingly delivered Baghdad to Iran-friendly Iraqi Shiites in 2003.”

    For the record, explanation (link) of the law and policy, fact basis for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

    1. That is a good link. But don’t confuse these people with facts. It is just not a good thing for them. Myths and narrative are far more comforting.

    2. Would you do Iraq over again?

  6. Richman, even though I agree with your general point, you are such a fucking liar it physically pains me:

    “And what of Yemen, where the Houthis drove out the U.S.-backed autocratic president while also fighting declared enemies of the United States, Sunni al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Yemeni affiliate of ISIS? Yes, the Houthis practice a kind of Shiite Islam, Zaidi, but it differs importantly from Iranian Shiism. In fact, the Houthis are merely the latest manifestation of a long-oppressed Yemeni religious minority seeking autonomy from the central government. After years of being frustrated, lied to, and double-crossed, it finally moved on that government. Say what you will about the group, but don’t call it an agent of Iran.”

    There is quite literally no one other than Sheldon Richman who seriously believes the Iranians are not involved with the Houthis. If you look up any actual news report on the subject (other than shady ramblings of the Richman variety) there’s solid agreement on Iranian involvement in the region, particularly given Iran’s support for militias in both Iraq and Syria.

    1. Re: Viscount Irish, Slayer of Huns,

      There is quite literally no one other than Sheldon Richman who seriously believes the Iranians are not involved with the Houthis.

      Could you entertain the possibility that the Iranian government is simply being opportunistic and that the Houthis are indeed a religious minority with understandable grievances against an autocratic government?

      Richman is not saying the Houthis are all angels, only to consider that part of why the Iranians and the Saudis are involved is precisely because of reckless involvement in the region by the U.S. State Department.

      1. Is there such a thing as “Non-Reckless” involvement from the POV of Sheldon Richman?

  7. Iran today serves the same purpose the Soviet Union, or the International Communist Conspiracy, served from the end of World War II until the collapse of the Soviet empire

    Yes, this is true. It’s a convenient device for apologists like Reason’s own Mini-Chomsky. They really should send him on a tour of Iran with the idea of Walter Duranty redux. Some wag should slip a copy of Baha’i World Faith into his luggage, just to watch the fun at Customs.

    1. “Some wag should slip a copy of Baha’i World Faith into his luggage, just to watch the fun at Customs.”

      *strangled laughter, struggles to set mug down and clear airway to laugh more*

  8. John Kerry is a complete idiot. He is spouting off the insane left wing doctrine that Hillary embraced: the Responsibility to Protect. It is a vague all encompassing permit to meddle in foreign affairs often with unpredictable results and enormous expense to the American taxpayers. Disgusting. And I thought the War Party was nuts. Kerry takes it to a new low.

    1. To be fair, the ‘responsibility to protect’ has its roots in ‘The White Man’s Burden’. It’s all intertwined somehow and not unique to either Democrats or Republicans.

  9. Even when Richman has a perfectly valid point, he has to marinate it in mindless boostering for the repugnant government of Iran. The world isn’t binary, Shelley – the fact that the United States shouldn’t be involved in Syria has fuck-all to do with the evil nature of the mullahocracy.

    Oh, and it’s always a treat to see a supposed libertarian thinker fire off this kind of bilge, which is indistinguishable from the old propaganda of Western Marxists and leftists:

    “Iran today serves the same purpose the Soviet Union, or the International Communist Conspiracy, served from the end of World War II until 1989-91, when the Soviet empire collapsed. Iran is the all-purpose arch enemy on which virtually any evil can be blamed.”

    The poor Soviets were SO misunderstood!

  10. What are we doing in Yemen?

    1) Fighting AQ in the Arabian Peninsula.

    Unfortunately, our ally was the ex-Yemen government which is now under attack by the Houthi.

    2) Saudi Arabia, our ally, greatly fears the Houthi because Yemen is a neighboring country with ethnic and religious ties within the Kingdom, especially the Shia.

    I also have a feeling that we have to help the Saudis to balance helping the Iranians in Iraq.

    This is the problem with alliances: allies sometimes require you to scratch their back.

    1. How about you go over there, put on a Saudi uniform, and have at it. Leave my money out of it and please do not wear the US flag on your clothes. Thanks.

  11. Any individual who sincerely proposes that the Soviet Union, its proxies, its sympathizers in the West, or any facets of the Satanic dogma from which they sprang are anything but the purest, blackest of evils, frankly, is a moral degenerate, and a fantastical historical illiterate. Employing the aforementioned as analogs to current threats you perceive the United States to have reacted disproportionately towards rightly casts serious doubt upon the substance of your argument. Communism is, and for all of its lifespan has been, hellish malignancy in ideological form.

    Notwithstanding your unwitting apologism for the Islamofascists of the world, Iran and the parties it supports are utterly despicable, and deserve no sympathy. But our interventions in the conflicts of foreign barbarians is, likewise, retarded. It isn’t the responsibility of the United States to expend its resources for the benefit of any foreign nation, especially a theocratic third-world shithole of Saudi Arabia’s caliber.

    The United States should withdraw all involvement on that continent, and leave the primitives to slaughter each other to their hearts’ content.

    1. Completely agreed.

    2. “It isn’t the responsibility of the United States to expend its resources for the benefit of any foreign nation, especially a theocratic third-world shithole of Saudi Arabia’s caliber.”

      I would like to agree with this.

      However, if the “theocratic third-world shithole” is important enough, you might have to deal with it.

      You might also choose them as an ally over, say, the United Arab Republic back in the day.

      Ideally you could just ignore them all. Not always possible.

  12. Start working from home! Great job for students, stay-at-home moms or anyone needing an extra income… You only need a computer and a reliable internet connection… Make $90 hourly and up to $12000 a month by following link at the bottom and signing up… You can have your first check by the end of this week……

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  13. The thing is, there isn’t a government on the Arabian Penninsula that is worth the oil it will take to fry it in hell. The only thing we could do that would benefit the people in any of those pestholes is go full bore Imperial on their ass, and that wouldn’t be good for US.

    So, we can’t do anything for the locals. Can we do anything that will benefit us? Well, maybe. Simple test; find out what Obama thinks we should do, and then avoid that course of action like the plague.

  14. What? No blaming of Israel?

    So disappoint.

  15. A final question. Is anyone sick of hearing about the 1953 coup in Iran as a pass for Iran’s behavior?

    1) 1953 is 62 years ago, for one.

    2) Countries in the Middle East had coups all the time without our involvement. Who is to say that the regime would not have fallen anyways?

    3) The embassy hostage situation makes up for the coup. So does the barracks bombings. You don’t get a carte blanche forever for a coup that happens in a region full of coups.

  16. You missed the likely possibility that John Kerry really is that stupid.

  17. Richman posits a good question, then abandons it to rail against the U.S. (and Israel?).

    Our involvement in Yemen should be a debate, along with all our interventionist foreign policy. Simply dismissing the question with a anti-U.S. diatribe really gets you nowhere, which is exactly where the political class wants dissenters. They control the narrative. And that narrative is blatantly counterintuitive and contradictory; that every intervention from Yemen to Iraq to Libya to Syria to Central America, South America, South China Sea….ad infinitum…. is somehow in America’s “vital national security interests”.

    That narrative is laughably refutable yet barely challenged. Instead, we get the “U.S. and Israel conspiracy to destabilize the world” crap.

  18. “The great rule of conduct for us, in regard to foreign nations, is, in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connexion as possible.” -George Washington, Farewell Address (17 September 1796)

    A strategic withdrawal to defensible positions doesn’t constitute necessarily a retreat. In fact, remembering President Washington’s advice and adhering to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 now discarded by Obama likely would strengthen the USA militarily, politically, economically, and socially … not weaken her.

    Mr. Richman’s article, nevertheless, raises a fundamental question about American foreign policy; namely, is there one? It has been said that the hallmark of American foreign policy is that America has no foreign policy. Accordingly, rather than continuing to bounce from crisis to crisis, perhaps it’s time to adopt a long-range, consistent, and explicit policy regarding American relations with the rest of the world. To do so, dare one suggest employing a rarely-used approach in politics … namely, a scientific one?

    Brief comments do not allow for a more complete exposition on the details of The How, but details are available elsewhere (www.inescapableconsequences.com). Let it be said, however, that any plan for foreign policy should be only one part of a comprehensive overhaul of the four cornerstones of American society … government, law, education, and medical delivery.

  19. What is happening in Yemen is the beginning of the Sunni/Shia war that is going ot engulf the entire middle east. For centuries, the fight was held at bay by outside. secular forces. Now with those forces gone and the countries involved possessing the money and military hardware needed to fight a full scale war, it is only a matter of time. The problem with the Obama administration is they think the parties involved are rational and open to compromise. Nothing is farther from the truth. Sunnis are the dominate group in Islam. Bahrain and Iran and Bahrain are the only Shia majority countries in the world. Neither side has any love or use for the other. When to add in the factor of Iranian being Persian,not Arab, the hatred only intensifies. Iran has one objective, to make Shia the dominate form of Islam, period. Any thoughts of them being part of a “civilized world community” is sheer fantasy.

  20. From the disgusting ingratitude they demonstrated by overthrowing the government the CIA so lovingly gave them for free, to the outright aggression they displayed by wantonly destroying a valuable US missile by crashing their civilian passenger jet into it, it is clear that Iran is incapable of showing any restraint. The air defense system they recently purchased is yet another example of their preparation for wold domination – it is an implicit threat to “wipe off the map” at least one or two of the first nuclear warheads preemptively fired at them by the US or Israel. Shame on you Sheldon Richman for defending these lunatics.

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