We Had a Bit of Geopolitical Instability Last Night

 

I woke up to the unsurprising news that the moment the Houthi militias got near the port of Aden, Obama authorized the Saudis to take matters into their own hands:

9.45am (Yemen time) Washington: US President Barack Obama has authorised US logistical, intelligence support for GCC countries in Al Hazm Storm military operation launched in Yemen, according to the White House. Ten countries, including five GCC countries, have launched air strikes against the Houthi rebels.

This key phrase has been oddly lacking in most reporting until this point, but you’ll see it everywhere now:

(Universal time) Yemen is located on Bab el-Mandeb, the fourth-biggest shipping chokepoint in the world by volume, through which 3.8 million barrels a day of oil and petroleum passed in 2013, according to the EIA. Its closure may keep tankers from the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal and the SUMED Pipeline, diverting them around the southern tip of Africa, adding to transit time and cost, the EIA said on its website.

One reason to join Ricochet is that it comes with stock tips you can use, if you read between the lines. (I’ll just put it out for you: The words “near Aden” mean “Brent Crude’s going up.” I sadly don’t have the money to translate thinking about the things you can’t mess with into stock market forecasting, but you can’t mess with chokepoints on the SLOC. War will break out. Brent Crude will rise. How much? Don’t know, but if I’d had the money, I’d have taken my own advice. Alas, I still need to ask you to join Ricochet.)

11:49am (Yemen time) Egypt announces its political and military support for the steps taken by the coalition in support of the legitimate government in Yemen. A statement from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry says that Egypt’s support for this move comes in response to the coalition’s request, emanating from its historical responsibilities towards Arab national security and the security of the Arab Gulf region. The statement also adds that Egypt followed up with great concern over the last weeks the severe deterioration in the political and security situation in the brotherly Yemen, and what has been witnessed of attacks on the legitimate institutions and the spread of violence and terrorism, a matter which Egypt announced its full rejection of, and called for the full implementation of the outputs of the National Dialogue and respect for its legitimacy. The statement explains that the Egyptian government is currently conducting coordination with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Cooperation Council for Arab States, on participation’s arrangements by Egyptian air and naval forces, and even a ground force, if necessary, in the framework of the alliance, in order to defend the security and stability of Yemen, preserve its territorial integrity and the maintenance of security of Arab countries.

PressTV is alarmed (sounds like they’re wondering if they’ve overplayed their hand). So much so that they’ve made a rare typo:

Iran strongly denoucnes Saudi-led invasion of Yemen

Obama’s created the appearance that he’s willing to cut a deal with Iran and do absolutely nothing to stop Soleimani. Maybe that’s every bit as feckless as it sounds. Maybe there’s strategic brilliance to it. Maybe he’s been figuring, “Let the Saudis do the dirty work when Iran gets overconfident and overplays its hand. Syria’s one thing, the Bab el-Mandeb’s another. That will wake them up.”

Update: Now everyone is looking to China to see what’s going to happen:

11:58 (Yemen time) China’s foreign ministry says it is deeply concerned about the worsening situation in Yemen. Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China urges all parties to act in accordance with United Nations Security Council resolutions on Yemen, and to resolve the dispute through dialogue. Hua told a news conference that China hopes all parties involved will “quickly resolve the dispute through political dialogue, solve the current crisis and restore domestic stability and normality to Yemen at an early date.” She said that all Chinese people and institutions in Yemen were safe, adding that the foreign ministry and the Chinese embassy in Yemen had warned its citizens not to visit Yemen.

I’m deeply concerned about the worsening situation too. Especially if people figure, “now China’s got a problem.” But it looks to me as if oil is heading for its biggest six-day gain since 2009–as is gold and the yen.

Film at 11.

There are 39 comments.

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  1. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    And here’s our or Obama’s  er, contribution to the war….

    Screen Shot 2015-03-25 at 3.54.08 PM

    Unfortunately it’s what the Iranian puppet/Houthi’s got thanks to Obama’s smashing successful anti Terrorism strategy in Yemen.

    • #1
  2. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    Kozak:And here’s our or Obama’s er, contribution to the war….

    We have in no way under-armed the Saudis. We’ve been arming the Saudis as if the world depended on those chokepoints for a very long time. Long before anyone ever thought of the Saudis as a problem in themselves. This is “the scenario.” Used to be we worried about the USSR trying to pull it off. We’ve however always armed the Saudis with this scenario in mind. That did not change.

    Bank robbers rob banks because that’s where the money is. Shipping chokepoints get choked because that’s how you choke the world. Geography doesn’t change much from administration to administration.

    • #2
  3. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Did not mean we had under-armed the Saudi’s. Far from it. They’ve bought tons of military equipment from us.    That graphic is what we supplied the Houthi rebels with when we withdrew and left that hardware behind.

    • #3
  4. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    Kozak:Did not mean we had under-armed the Saudi’s. Far from it. They’ve bought tons of military equipment from us. That graphic is what we supplied the Houthi rebels with when we withdrew and left that hardware behind.

    I reckon the Saudis will be hugely successful in imposing order on this mess from the air. After all, they have a ton of expensive hardware. They have the precedent of Libya to inspire them, too: See how easy it is to set these kinds of disorderly situations to rights with lots of expensive American air power?

    I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

    • #4
  5. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Claire Berlinski:

    Kozak:Did not mean we had under-armed the Saudi’s. Far from it. They’ve bought tons of military equipment from us. That graphic is what we supplied the Houthi rebels with when we withdrew and left that hardware behind.

    I reckon the Saudis will be hugely successful in imposing order on this mess from the air. After all, they have a ton of expensive hardware. They have the precedent of Libya to inspire them, too: See how easy it is to set these kinds of disorderly situations to rights with lots of expensive American air power?

    I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

    I certainly hope you are right, I have a front row seat….

    • #5
  6. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    Kozak:I certainly hope you are right, I have a front row seat….

    Really? Give me the inside scoop on the Novotel Abu Dhabi. DH210 for 200 grams of Australian Wagyu strip loin sounds overpriced and ridiculous to me. 

    • #6
  7. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    If you are not aware of it, may I recommend StrategyPage, where they report news as history. StrategyPage produces some of the most insightful analysis of the military implications of today’s geopolitical events.  They even have a podcast.

    Seawriter

    • #7
  8. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    How does one say – “be careful what you wish for, you may get it” in Mandarin?

    On a related note. Its been reported US air strikes are being conducted in support of the stalled Iranian led attack at Tikrit. Proving the Obama administration has never heard the phrase, “don’t interfere with your enemy if he’s busy destroying himself”.

    • #8
  9. Dave Member
    Dave
    @DaveL

    Kozak

    Claire Berlinski:

    Kozak:Did not mean we had under-armed the Saudi’s. Far from it. They’ve bought tons of military equipment from us. That graphic is what we supplied the Houthi rebels with when we withdrew and left that hardware behind.

    I reckon the Saudis will be hugely successful in imposing order on this mess from the air. After all, they have a ton of expensive hardware. They have the precedent of Libya to inspire them, too: See how easy it is to set these kinds of disorderly situations to rights with lots of expensive American air power?

    I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

    I certainly hope you are right, I have a front row seat….

    I trained with and trained a handful of Saudi officers back in the mid-70″s trough the mid-80’s. I was underwhelmed with their military knowledge and leadership capabilities. Hopefully the quality of the Saudi military has improved since then, otherwise we might be in for some unpleasant surprises.

    • #9
  10. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    As the employee of a (formerly) super-major oil company the silver lining of a giant uptick in the price of crude is maybe we’ll get raises next year if we survive the round of cost cutting layoffs that are already baked into this year’s plan.

    Kind of a kick in the shorts for all of us at the gas pump, and the grocery store, and pretty much everywhere else though.

    Meanwhile, since I can’t do anything about the train wreck, I’ve decided to look in a different direction. Pretty sure Season 7 of Mad Men is on Netflix now.

    • #10
  11. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Claire Berlinski:

    Kozak:I certainly hope you are right, I have a front row seat….

    Really? Give me the inside scoop on the Novotel Abu Dhabi.

    Can’t help you there. I can give some personal recommendations on the Jumirah Beach area of Dubai.  Or where to stay in Bahrain.  You wouldn’t like coming to Hofuf at all. Trust me.

    • #11
  12. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    Seawriter:If you are not aware of it, may I recommend StrategyPage, where they report news as history. StrategyPage produces some of the most insightful analysis of the military implications of today’s geopolitical events. They even have a podcast.

    Seawriter

    I’m seeing no new predictions over the past seven days. I am entirely willing to make predictions and put my money on them. But wouldn’t you go with “Wall Street classic” over “a website that isn’t user-friendly?”

    There’s nothing wrong with my ability to see what’s going to happen. Definitely something wrong with my ability to invest appropriately. I seem to be an example of capital gone risk-averse. What else do you call “not willing to bet, even when the betting is excellent?”

    Anyway, how do I bet what little I have left on “Saudis screw this up big time within two weeks? I’ll bet it all. I need the money.

    • #12
  13. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Dave L:

    I trained with and trained a handful of Saudi officers back in the mid-70″s trough the mid-80′s. I was underwhelmed with their military knowledge and leadership capabilities. Hopefully the quality of the Saudi military has improved since then, otherwise we might be in for some unpleasant surprises.

    I almost got sent to Saudi when I was active duty AF for AWACS support during the Iran Iraq War.  My buddy got sent instead ( it was over the holidays and he was the only single guy in our shop).

    At the time a “Saudi” F15 and pilot shot down an Iranian F4.  My buddy got to hear the AWACS tapes.  BOTH the AWACS controller and the pilot had distinct midwestern accents.  These were never released to the public so that the Saudi’s could claim the credit. He did say that on those AWACS missions he went on, the Saudi crew would go hit the rack and their American “trainers” would actually fly the mission.  Hopefully, that’s changed in the last 30 years.

    I do know that left to themselves without their expat staff the Saudi’s would probably decimate their oil production…

    • #13
  14. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    Kozak:

    He did say that on those AWACS missions he went on, the Saudi crew would go hit the rack and their American “trainers” would actually fly the mission. Hopefully, that’s changed in the last 30 years.

    But it’s unlikely.  Not so much a matter of Saudis claiming credit as providing cover for an operation.  I’d be surprised if they were prosecuting these bombing raids entirely by themselves, and without supervision and support.

    • #14
  15. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Here’s a helpful map. Can’t tell the players without a scorecard….

    Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 4.06.23 PM

    • #15
  16. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Zafar:

    Kozak:

    He did say that on those AWACS missions he went on, the Saudi crew would go hit the rack and their American “trainers” would actually fly the mission. Hopefully, that’s changed in the last 30 years.

    But it’s unlikely. Not so much a matter of Saudis claiming credit as providing cover for an operation. I’d be surprised if they were prosecuting these bombing raids entirely by themselves, and without supervision and support.

    Old military joke.

    What’s the difference between the Air Force and the Boy Scouts?

    The Boy Scouts have adult supervision.

    • #16
  17. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    Kozak:

    Claire Berlinski:

    Kozak:I certainly hope you are right, I have a front row seat….

    Really? Give me the inside scoop on the Novotel Abu Dhabi.

    Can’t help you there. I can give some personal recommendations on the Jumirah Beach area of Dubai. Or where to stay in Bahrain. You wouldn’t like coming to Hofuf at all. Trust me.

    I more or less do trust you on Hofuf. Everyone assures me I’d be unable to get a visa and would loathe it. But if paid to review the Hotel Lily by the National? I’d go there. Maureen Dowd got a visa to Saudi Arabia. It is clearly not an insurmountable visa obstacle.

    If anyone’s willing to pay the expenses, I’ll review it. Not many newspapers left who are willing to pay travel expenses in the digital age. I would in fact love to see Hofuf for myself. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Hotel Lily.

    I’ve never seen Aleppo. I figured, “It will still be there.” Wouldn’t you still go–if it were still there?

    • #17
  18. Kozak Member
    Kozak
    @Kozak

    Claire Berlinski:

    Kozak:

    Claire Berlinski:

    Kozak:I certainly hope you are right, I have a front row seat….

    Really? Give me the inside scoop on the Novotel Abu Dhabi.

    Can’t help you there. I can give some personal recommendations on the Jumirah Beach area of Dubai. Or where to stay in Bahrain. You wouldn’t like coming to Hofuf at all. Trust me.

    I more or less do trust you on Hofuf. Everyone assures me I’d be unable to get a visa and would loathe it. But if paid to review the Hotel Lily by the National? I’d go there. Maureen Dowd got a visa to Saudi Arabia. It is clearly not an insurmountable visa obstacle.

    If anyone’s willing to pay the expenses, I’ll review it. Not many newspapers left who are willing to pay travel expenses in the digital age. I would in fact love to see Hofuf for myself. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Hotel Lily.

    I’ve never seen Aleppo. I figured, “It will still be there.” Wouldn’t you still go–if it were still there?

    Haven’t been there.  The Intercontinental is nice.

    http://www.ihg.com/intercontinental/hotels/gb/en/al-ahsa/hofha/hoteldetail

    The area is the largest oasis in Saudi, huge amount of date palms.

    I’ve always had the Pyramids on my bucket list.  Thanks to these idiots, they may be on the endangered species list….

    http://rt.com/news/239093-islamist-calls-destroy-pyramids/

    • #18
  19. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    Zafar:

    Kozak:

    He did say that on those AWACS missions he went on, the Saudi crew would go hit the rack and their American “trainers” would actually fly the mission. Hopefully, that’s changed in the last 30 years.

    But it’s unlikely. Not so much a matter of Saudis claiming credit as providing cover for an operation. I’d be surprised

    I’d be quite surprised, yes. It would force me to revise my opinion of the House of Saud. Perhaps I’ve been misled about the inherent creativity and adaptability of Wahhabism and the intellectual rewards of an entirely extractive economy.

    If they can pull this off unaided, I’d be the first to renounce my right to drive. If they can manage that kind of out-of-the-box thinking, who could begrudge them?

    • #19
  20. user_75648 Thatcher
    user_75648
    @JohnHendrix

    Seawriter:If you are not aware of it, may I recommend StrategyPage, where they report news as history. StrategyPage produces some of the most insightful analysis of the military implications of today’s geopolitical events. They even have a podcast.

    Seawriter

    I didn’t know that StrategyPage had a podcast! Thanks for the scoop!

    • #20
  21. user_75648 Thatcher
    user_75648
    @JohnHendrix

    Claire, I discern an inconsequential typo in this post’s title.  I suspect you meant to type something like

    Power Vacuum Created by Obama’s Foreign Policy Precipitated a Bit of Geopolitical Instability Last Night.

    There, fixed it for you.

    • #21
  22. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Claire Berlinski:

    Anyway, how do I bet what little I have left on “Saudis screw this up big time within two weeks? I’ll bet it all. I need the money.

    Don’t know how you would bet, but if you go through the StrategyPage archives on Saudi Arabia and its military, I’d say it i a winning bet.

    Seawriter

    • #22
  23. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Hmm… so decades from now when historians look back in order to arbitrarily select a date for when the Great Shia vs. Sunni Civil War actually began perhaps they will scan a calender and say, “Yep that’s it there, March 26, 2015.” Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well as June 28, 1914 but if you have to pick a date, why not.

    • #23
  24. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    John Hendrix:Claire, I discern an inconsequential typo in this post’s title. I suspect you meant to type something like

    Power Vacuum Created by Obama’s Foreign Policy Precipitated a Bit of Geopolitical Instability Last Night.

    There, fixed it for you.

    I think that would be quite self-comforting. It would suggest that all we need to do to fix this is change Obama. That’s a bit magical, if the problem is an actual power vacuum–not an imaginary one. What do you think: “Can we change huge problems by changing Obama?”

    I’d love a shortcut, but I figure that’s how we got him in the first place.

    • #24
  25. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Roberto:Hmm… so decades from now when historians look back in order to arbitrarily select a date for when the Great Shia vs. Sunni Civil War actually began perhaps they will scan a calender and say, “Yep that’s it there, March 26, 2015.” Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well as June 28, 1914 but if you have to pick a date, why not.

    Actually it started oon November 20, 1979, when Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized by extremists.  StrategyTalk discussed the origins of the intra-Islam bunfight in a recent podcast, either I am Charles Martel or What’s Cooking In Yemen?

    Seawriter

    • #25
  26. Raconteur Inactive
    Raconteur
    @Raconteur

    The China/Yemen angle to this story is intriguing to me. China actually has a lot to gain from the situation in Yemen. It seems to me that these days, the primary thrust of Chinese foreign policy is to secure control of the (oil rich) “South China Sea.” The primary obstacle facing the Chinese in this endeavor is the presence of the US 7th fleet. There is a military alliance consisting of Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam that has been forged to resist Chinese aggression in the “South China Sea,” but none of these countries have military forces that can effectively stop the Chinese, without the presence of a US carrier fleet.

    It seems to me that the US Navy is stretched pretty thin these days. And, should a major war break out in or near Yemen, it seems probable that some of our Pacific fleet is going to be diverted to keep the sea lanes open in the Middle East. Which leaves China free to seize as much territory in and around the “South China Sea” as it wants.

    I sort of assume that China wants a major Iranian war to break out, so that they can secure their own supply of oil. America is not the only country that worries about being held hostage to Middle East oil. Apart from the potential of oil in the “South China Sea,” China does not appear to have any other significant source of oil.

    In SE Asia, everybody that I know (and I know a lot of people in SE Asia) simply accepts that a major Asian war is on the horizon. Nobody that I know in Asia thinks that the situation in the ” South China Sea” can be resolved, apart from a military solution. And most of the people that I know in China feel the same way. The only thing that keeps China in check, for now, is the presence of the US Navy. But, if naval forces are diverted to the Persian Gulf, the Chinese will undoubtedly make their move.

    What is wrong with my analysts of the situation?

    • #26
  27. Roberto Member
    Roberto
    @Roberto

    Seawriter:

    Roberto:Hmm… so decades from now when historians look back in order to arbitrarily select a date for when the Great Shia vs. Sunni Civil War actually began perhaps they will scan a calender and say, “Yep that’s it there, March 26, 2015.” Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well as June 28, 1914 but if you have to pick a date, why not.

    Actually it started oon November 20, 1979, when Grand Mosque in Mecca was seized by extremists. StrategyTalk discussed the origins of the intra-Islam bunfight in a recent podcast, either I am Charles Martel or

    Seawriter

    That works too, indeed why not?

    What strikes me as being particularly significant about this most recent move is that it is the closet we have come so far to Iran and Saudi Arabia directly engaging each other militarily rather than shadow boxing solely through proxies, the Houthis certainly have Iranian military advisers. What if for example some are captured and paraded through the streets? How might Iran be prepared to retaliate? Perhaps an incident at the Abdulaziz Naval Base?

    This is a particularly good stew if one wanted a serious increase in hostilities between the two nations.

    • #27
  28. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    Claire Berlinski:

    Kozak:Did not mean we had under-armed the Saudi’s. Far from it. They’ve bought tons of military equipment from us. That graphic is what we supplied the Houthi rebels with when we withdrew and left that hardware behind.

    I reckon the Saudis will be hugely successful in imposing order on this mess from the air. After all, they have a ton of expensive hardware. They have the precedent of Libya to inspire them, too: See how easy it is to set these kinds of disorderly situations to rights with lots of expensive American air power?

    I’m sure they know what they’re doing.

    Claire,

    Postulate one is that all control starts and ends with ground forces. Only ground forces are in control of a region. What air power gives you is the ability to devastate your opponents ground forces, destroying their tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery, and trucks. Now with your opponent reeling from the blow your coordinated ground attack breaks them. If your ground force is weak or small, then a plane like an A10 which can exert extreme pressure on the enemy for extended periods can actually cause an enemy to retreat. Instantly your ground force, however unequipped, untrained, or small, rushes in to take the defensible positions that the enemy has ceded. By repeating this process the enemy is driven out and control is exerted over the territory.

    Air power alone is never adequate. In Libya, Qaddafi’s rivals provided the ground forces. We wasted cruise missiles like they were fireworks to take down an enemy that was no threat in support of an ally that was not reliable.

    I would recommend Egyptian ground forces. They have had very recent ground action and are ready. Let the Saudi air force earn the cost of its hardware and provide a concentrated air attack coordinated with the Egyptian ground movement.

    You can choke or be choked. I am a Kantian as you know. Right will only justify choking a choker. That about fits the Iranian backed insurgency. Have at them.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #28
  29. Ricochet Inactive
    Ricochet
    @KermitHoffpauir

    Claire Berlinski:One reason to join Ricochet is that it comes with stock tips you can use, if you read between the lines. (I’ll just put it out for you: The words “near Aden” mean “Brent Crude’s going up.” I sadly don’t have the money to translate thinking about the things you can’t mess with into stock market forecasting, but you can’t mess with chokepoints on the SLOC. War will break out. Brent Crude will rise. How much? Don’t know, but if I’d had the money, I’d have taken my own advice. Alas, I still need to ask you to join Ricochet.)

    I think that depends how much crude oil for Europe and the U.S. is loaded at Jeddah and Yanbu already in the Red Sea.  Add some diluent to the pipeline connecting those ports to the oil fields and the capacity can be increased.  http://bakerinstitute.org/media/files/Research/cefdf5c0/TrendsinMiddleEast_AlternativePipelineStrategy.pdf

    • #29
  30. Claire Berlinski Editor
    Claire Berlinski
    @Claire

    James Gawron:I would recommend Egyptian ground forces.

    The Egyptian experience in Yemen has not been terrific. The Egyptian military calls Yemen “Our Vietnam.” (Which is weird, because it suggests how Egypt flipped in the Cold War: the measure of failure was reset to American reference points. It was Nassar–supplied by the Warsaw Pact–who had “a Vietnam” in Yemen; Nassar then delivered us the weapons being used against us in Vietnam when he had his ass handed to him in ’67. So think about everything that’s happened to the Egyptian military since for it to think Vietnam=Yemen=bad.)

    Still, I doubt Egyptian strategic planners have good feelings about sending ground forces into Yemen: It probably sounds like “Vietnam” does to us. At the very least, like “not something to do casually–a lot can go wrong.”

    • #30
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