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.
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.
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.