What the Hell Are We Doing in Yemen?

 

It’s easy to forget the ongoing war in Yemen. But a pair of news stories this week serves not only of a reminder of American involvement there but the foolishness in involving ourselves in yet another civil war.

The first story is the bombing of a school bus by Saudi warplanes that killed 29 children under the age of 15 in Saada Province. For what it’s worth (which isn’t much), the Saudis claim they didn’t intentionally target a bus full of children and that this was a “legitimate military operation.” Civil wars are usually full of atrocities, but this particular horror and the 29 dead children (and many others in this war) was made possible by generous assistance from the United States government and American taxpayers.

Yes, these were Saudi pilots flying Saudi planes (probably — this particular atrocity is credited to the “Saudi-led coalition”), but those planes and the bombs they dropped were sold to them by the United States. Now, you can argue that a seller has no moral responsibility for the atrocities committed when they provide weapons to a bestial regime. So be it, but American involvement doesn’t end when the check is cashed.

Not only does America provide the warplanes, but we provide the Saudi government targeting information and aerial refueling. The Saudis would not be able to fight their air war in Yemen without the support of the American government. And it’s long been communicated to the Saudis that they can bomb civilians and still receive that absolutely essential logistical support. Why? The Saudis are aligned with the “government” of Yemen against the Houthi rebels, which are nominally supported by Iran. The Yemen Civil War is a proxy war of sorts between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

By backing the Saudis to blow up school buses full of children, the US is able to poke a finger in the eye of Iran … or something. (It’s worth noting that the amount of support by the Iranians to the Houthis is a subject of much debate. It appears to me to be wildly overblown.) And we have to fight Iran, don’t ya know, because they support international terrorist groups … or something.

The second story was less widely reported: The Associated Press found that for the last two years the “Saudi-led coalition” has been winning battles on the ground in Yemen by making common cause with Al Qaeda, specifically the local branch, AQAP. They’ve made secret deals, letting them go free if they leave certain cities and towns. It’s a good deal for the AQAP fighters because they usually get to walk away with their guns, their gear, and the cash they looted.

How could our dear allies, the Saudis, betray America like this? Oh, Uncle Sam knows what’s going on and we’ve canceled airstrikes on certain AQAP forces after they’ve cut deals with the Saudis. The US not droning AQAP forces when they retreat with their weapons is a central requirement for these agreements to happen.

Look, I can make a case for negotiating with horrific groups. There’s academic research on how civil wars conclude and it often involves bringing parties (even horrifically violent ones) into the political process. The above is also obviously an oversimplification of the situation. For example, I haven’t even mentioned ISIS or Al-Islah. By my count, there are at least five different warring factions in Yemen (not counting the Saudi-led coalition, Iran, the Emiratis, or the US).

Lines in civil wars are both blurry and constantly shifting, and we’re talking about a part of the world where they were playing power politics 2,000 years before Christ was born. A country as young as America cannot hope to compete with the internal dynamics of a five-way civil war in a country most Americans probably still can’t find on a map.

The real folly, of course, was getting involved in someone else’s civil war in the first place. Whatever case was to be made is weaker than it ever was. But you have to wonder what we’re doing if we’re cutting deals with Al Qaeda while our “allies” bomb school buses full of children.

Published in Foreign Policy, Islamist Terrorism, Military
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There are 140 comments.

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  1. Member

    Hard to “like”, but this is an important topic. Thanks for the details.

    • #1
    • August 10, 2018 at 7:25 am
    • 3 likes
  2. Member

    What the hell is Iran doing in Yemen?

    • #2
    • August 10, 2018 at 7:29 am
    • 8 likes
  3. Member

    What the hell are we doing in Afghanistan?

    What the hell are we doing in Iraq?

    What the hell are we doing in Syria?

    What the hell are we doing in Somalia?

    What the hell are we doing in Libya?

    .

    .

    .

    .

    And what the hell have we been doing allowing people from these places into the US?

    • #3
    • August 10, 2018 at 7:34 am
    • 13 likes
  4. Member

    Fred Cole: The first story is the bombing of a school bus by Saudi warplanes that killed 29 children under the age of 15 in Saada Province. For what it’s worth (which isn’t much), the Saudis claim they didn’t intentionally target a bus full of children and that this was a “legitimate military operation.” Civil wars are usually full of atrocities, but this particular horror and the 29 dead children (and many others in this war) was made possible by generous assistance from the United States government and American taxpayers.

    Stuff happens. You should read about some of the stuff we did in WWII some time.

     

    • #4
    • August 10, 2018 at 7:35 am
    • 4 likes
  5. Member

    Unfortunately Yemen’s location may be it’s problem. This war has its roots in the struggle between Iran, and Saudi Arabia. A combination of Sunni versus Shiite, and Iran’s, and Russia’s desire to establish a naval presence, or a choke point at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal.

    • #5
    • August 10, 2018 at 7:41 am
    • 14 likes
  6. Contributor
    Fred Cole Post author

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    Stuff happens. You should read about some of the stuff we did in WWII some time.

    Oh, I’m well aware.

    Not to excuse it, but we didn’t have precision guided munitions during WW2. You had to send 50 bombers to hit one bridge.

    • #6
    • August 10, 2018 at 7:46 am
    • Like
  7. Contributor
    Fred Cole Post author

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    Unfortunately Yemen’s location may be it’s problem. This war has its roots in the struggle between Iran, and Saudi Arabia. A combination of Sunni versus Shiite, and Iran’s, and Russia’s desire to establish a naval presence, or a choke point at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal.

    Nature provided the choke point.

    But are you suggesting that nomination Iranian support for the Houthis is a grand strategy to ultimately control the Strait of Yemen?

    • #7
    • August 10, 2018 at 7:48 am
    • Like
  8. Contributor
    Fred Cole Post author

    Hang On (View Comment):
    And what the hell have we been doing allowing people from these places into the US?

    What does that have to do with the question of intervention there?

    • #8
    • August 10, 2018 at 7:49 am
    • Like
  9. Member

    Fred Cole (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    Unfortunately Yemen’s location may be it’s problem. This war has its roots in the struggle between Iran, and Saudi Arabia. A combination of Sunni versus Shiite, and Iran’s, and Russia’s desire to establish a naval presence, or a choke point at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal.

    Nature provided the choke point.

    But are you suggesting that nomination Iranian support for the Houthis is a grand strategy to ultimately control the Strait of Yemen?

    That’s exactly what I’m saying.

     

    • #9
    • August 10, 2018 at 7:50 am
    • 10 likes
  10. Contributor
    Fred Cole Post author

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    That’s exactly what I’m saying.

    That’s not what’s going on there. Nor do they need it.

    • #10
    • August 10, 2018 at 7:54 am
    • Like
  11. Member

    Fred Cole (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):
    And what the hell have we been doing allowing people from these places into the US?

    What does that have to do with the question of intervention there?

    Because the neocons love wars and open borders. Their wars create refugees and then they allow the refugees to flood into the US.

    • #11
    • August 10, 2018 at 7:57 am
    • Like
  12. Member

    Fred Cole (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    That’s exactly what I’m saying.

    That’s not what’s going on there. Nor do they need it.

    Then why are they supporting the Houthis, as I asked to no avail above? Surely any attempt to criticize our involvement has to take into account the likely reason why we’re involved. And that reason is Iran.

    • #12
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:00 am
    • 7 likes
  13. Member

    Fred Cole (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    That’s exactly what I’m saying.

    That’s not what’s going on there. Nor do they need it.

    Iran has territorial ambitions, they may not need it, but there is a difference between needs and wants. It is not whether we think Iran can accomplish controlling Yemen, it’s whether the Iranians think they can control Yemen.

     

    • #13
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:02 am
    • 16 likes
  14. Member

    Fred Cole: Now you can argue that a seller has no moral responsibility for the atrocities committed when they provide weapons to a bestial regime. So be it, but American involvement doesn’t end when the check is cashed.

    Similarly, I assign moral responsibility for the latest round of social media censorship to the U.S. government. 

    • #14
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:07 am
    • 1 like
  15. Contributor
    Fred Cole Post author

    Hang On (View Comment):

    Fred Cole (View Comment):

    Hang On (View Comment):
    And what the hell have we been doing allowing people from these places into the US?

    What does that have to do with the question of intervention there?

    Because the neocons love wars and open borders. Their wars create refugees and then they allow the refugees to flood into the US.

    If the US were not involved in Yemen, there would still be refugees. And considering its size, the US (shamefully) takes in a trivial number of refugees.

    Also, it’s not just “the neocons” who love wars. Wars are a bipartisan affair, supported by progressives, and conservatives, and Trump, and Democrats, and Republicans.

    • #15
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:09 am
    • 1 like
  16. Thatcher

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Unfortunately Yemen’s location may be it’s problem. This war has its roots in the struggle between Iran, and Saudi Arabia. A combination of Sunni versus Shiite, and Iran’s, and Russia’s desire to establish a naval presence, or a choke point at the southern entrance to the Suez Canal.

    Small guys in the wrong place have been raked over by greater powers forever.

    • #16
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:13 am
    • 4 likes
  17. Member

    Yemen has always been racked by Civil War since before the British left. Nasser and Saudi Arabia fought proxy wars there with secularists vs. Sunni religious factions supposedly. It was one tribe against another. Now it’s Sunnis vs. Shia with Saudi Arabia vs. Iran. The thinking is that whoever controls Yemen will control the Suez Canal and be able to create a choke point and control the flow of oil and other commerce. Anybody who would invest in building a port there to control things is nuts because it would be under constant attack.

     

    • #17
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:15 am
    • 3 likes
  18. Thatcher

    Doug Watt (View Comment):

    Fred Cole (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    That’s exactly what I’m saying.

    That’s not what’s going on there. Nor do they need it.

    Iran has territorial ambitions, they may not need it, but there is a difference between needs and wants. It is not whether we think Iran can accomplish controlling Yemen, it’s whether the Iranians think they can control Yemen.

     

    I do think it is clear Iran seeks to be a regional hegamon. 

    • #18
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:17 am
    • 11 likes
  19. Contributor
    Fred Cole Post author

    Hang On (View Comment):
    The thinking is that whoever controls Yemen will control the Suez Canal and be able to create a choke point and control the flow of oil and other commerce.

    I don’t see that as a plausible situation. If Iran or Saudi Arabia wanted to choke off the flow of oil, they could just use Hormuz. It would be far easier, especially for the Iranians, to do.

    • #19
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:19 am
    • Like
  20. Thatcher

    Fred Cole: Yes, these were Saudi pilots flying Saudi planes (probably — this particular atrocity is credited to the “Saudi-led coalition”), but those planes and the bombs they dropped were sold to them by the United States. Now, you can argue that a seller has no moral responsibility for the atrocities committed when they provide weapons to a bestial regime. So be it, but American involvement doesn’t end when the check is cashed.

    Point of clarification:

    Do you believe the underlined above, or are you saying that you understand people making that argument, but you, yourself do not agree with it?

    Thanks,

    Bryan

    • #20
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:20 am
    • 2 likes
  21. Member

    Fred Cole (View Comment):
    If the US were not involved in Yemen, there would still be refugees. And considering its size, the US (shamefully) takes in a trivial number of refugees.

    The US takes in far too many refugees.

    • #21
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:20 am
    • 7 likes
  22. Thatcher

    Fred Cole (View Comment):
    If the US were not involved in Yemen, there would still be refugees. And considering its size, the US (shamefully) takes in a trivial number of refugees.

     

    Who pays for these refugees to come here? 

    • #22
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:23 am
    • 2 likes
  23. Member

    Hoyacon (View Comment):
    Surely any attempt to criticize our involvement has to take into account the likely reason why we’re involved. And that reason is Iran.

    That and the affiliation both American parties have with Saudi Arabia. No matter how much that country funds terrorist ideology around the world, or how tyrannically they oppress their own people, or how frequently they act against us at the UN, even after growth of America’s domestic oil production, the US remains a constant ally of the Arabs. 

    • #23
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:24 am
    • Like
  24. Podcaster

    Fred Cole: I don’t see that as a plausible situation. If Iran or Saudi Arabia wanted to choke off the flow of oil, they could just use Hormuz. It would be far easier, especially for the Iranians, to do.

    3.8B barrels of oil pass through those straits on a daily basis whether you find it “plausible” or not. It is the main alternate route other than Hormuz. (17.0BBD) Once the Iranians control the back door it makes the front door more vulnerable. 

    • #24
    • August 10, 2018 at 8:41 am
    • 7 likes
  25. Member

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Fred Cole: I don’t see that as a plausible situation. If Iran or Saudi Arabia wanted to choke off the flow of oil, they could just use Hormuz. It would be far easier, especially for the Iranians, to do.

    3.8B barrels of oil pass through those straits on a daily basis whether you find it “plausible” or not. It is the main alternate route other than Hormuz. (17.0BBD) Once the Iranians control the back door it makes the front door more vulnerable.

    Billion? With a “B”? Per day?

    • #25
    • August 10, 2018 at 9:04 am
    • 1 like
  26. Contributor
    Fred Cole Post author

    EJHill (View Comment):
    3.8B barrels of oil pass through those straits on a daily basis whether you find it “plausible” or not. It is the main alternate route other than Hormuz. (17.0BBD) Once the Iranians control the back door it makes the front door more vulnerable. 

    Okay, let’s break this down this master plan.

    In order for this to work, the Iranians need to support the Houthis and have them win a five-way civil war. And their way of going about this is not with Iranian troops or aircraft, but by supplying the Houthis arms and equipment.

    In order to win this war, the Houthis need to defeat four other opponents plus the Saudi government, which has a huge air force and a fully mechanized army of 75,000 men that they could drive across their land border into Yemen…

    And winning that five-way civil war is just Step 1 to accomplish this master plan, with the ultimate aim of closing the Strait of Hormuz, and interrupting the world’s trade in oil. (What comes after that remains unexplained.)

    Does that seem plausible to you?

    C’mon. 

    Let me present a more … realistic view. Nominally supporting the Houthis is a way for the Iranians to pour gasoline on a civil war in a country that shares 1,300-mile land border with their largest regional rival, with the end of sucking that hated rival in to the conflict.

    And it’s worked. The Saudis are expending blood and treasure with minimal cost to the Iranians. And at the same time, they look like major regional players because the Saudis and the US wildly exaggerate their involvement.

    • #26
    • August 10, 2018 at 9:12 am
    • Like
  27. Contributor
    Fred Cole Post author

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Fred Cole: I don’t see that as a plausible situation. If Iran or Saudi Arabia wanted to choke off the flow of oil, they could just use Hormuz. It would be far easier, especially for the Iranians, to do.

    3.8B barrels of oil pass through those straits on a daily basis whether you find it “plausible” or not. It is the main alternate route other than Hormuz. (17.0BBD) Once the Iranians control the back door it makes the front door more vulnerable.

    Billion? With a “B”? Per day?

    Yeah. I haven’t double checked that figure, but it’s something like 7% of the world’s oil trade.

    • #27
    • August 10, 2018 at 9:13 am
    • Like
  28. Thatcher

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Fred Cole (View Comment):
    If the US were not involved in Yemen, there would still be refugees. And considering its size, the US (shamefully) takes in a trivial number of refugees.

     

    Who pays for these refugees to come here?

    Bryan G. Stephens (View Comment):

    Fred Cole: Yes, these were Saudi pilots flying Saudi planes (probably — this particular atrocity is credited to the “Saudi-led coalition”), but those planes and the bombs they dropped were sold to them by the United States. Now, you can argue that a seller has no moral responsibility for the atrocities committed when they provide weapons to a bestial regime. So be it, but American involvement doesn’t end when the check is cashed.

    Point of clarification:

    Do you believe the underlined above, or are you saying that you understand people making that argument, but you, yourself do not agree with it?

    Thanks,

    Bryan

    Love to hear your thoughts on these two questions, <span class="atwho-inserted" contenteditable="false" data-atwho-at-query="@fredcole“>@fredcole

    Thanks,

    Bryan

    • #28
    • August 10, 2018 at 9:34 am
    • 1 like
  29. Member

    Fred Cole (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Fred Cole: I don’t see that as a plausible situation. If Iran or Saudi Arabia wanted to choke off the flow of oil, they could just use Hormuz. It would be far easier, especially for the Iranians, to do.

    3.8B barrels of oil pass through those straits on a daily basis whether you find it “plausible” or not. It is the main alternate route other than Hormuz. (17.0BBD) Once the Iranians control the back door it makes the front door more vulnerable.

    Billion? With a “B”? Per day?

    Yeah. I haven’t double checked that figure, but it’s something like 7% of the world’s oil trade.

    Saudi Arabia produces something like 8 M barrels a day. If we assume they meant 3.8M barrels/day that could be a reasonable figure. It’s only three zeros.

     

    • #29
    • August 10, 2018 at 9:49 am
    • Like
  30. Contributor
    Fred Cole Post author

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Fred Cole (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Fred Cole: I don’t see that as a plausible situation. If Iran or Saudi Arabia wanted to choke off the flow of oil, they could just use Hormuz. It would be far easier, especially for the Iranians, to do.

    3.8B barrels of oil pass through those straits on a daily basis whether you find it “plausible” or not. It is the main alternate route other than Hormuz. (17.0BBD) Once the Iranians control the back door it makes the front door more vulnerable.

    Billion? With a “B”? Per day?

    Yeah. I haven’t double checked that figure, but it’s something like 7% of the world’s oil trade.

    Saudi Arabia produces something like 8 M barrels a day. If we assume they meant 3.8M barrels/day that could be a reasonable figure. It’s only three zeros.

     

    Sorry. I meant that 7% of the world’s oil trade passes through the Suez.

    • #30
    • August 10, 2018 at 9:52 am
    • Like
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