A guide to the players in the Middle East’s newest war – in Yemen

Summary:  US Middle East policy has been captured by our regional “allies”, Israel and the Saudi Princes — who work in a de facto alliance to control the region — against Iran — using the US as their puppet. Dancing to their tunes has stripped our geopolitical policies not just of coherence but even rationality. Our interventions after 9/11 were stupidity on an unusual scale. Now we’re repeating these mistakes in any even odder way. It’s unlikely to end well for us. As for the other players, it’s too soon to say who will benefit from these wars.  {2nd of 2 posts today}

“Hegel says somewhere that all great historic facts and personages occur twice, so to speak. He forgot to add: ‘Once as tragedy, and again as farce.’”
— Opening line to Karl Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1869).

War in the Middle East


  1. Listening to exiles gives bad results.
  2. The chaos of US policy in Yemen.
  3. The goals of the Saudi Princes.
  4. Uncovering the Hidden Agenda in Yemen.
  5. For More Information.

(1)  Listening to exiles gives bad results

Let’s start with Yemen’s exiled President, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, telling us in a NYT op-ed that “The Houthis Must Be Stopped“. It’s the usual pitch from an exiled leader, as deceptive as the assurances we received from Ahmed Chalabi before invading Iraq. Niccolò Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy (circa 1517) warns us about the risks of listening to such people. Unfortunately, we don’t learn from experience.

We see, then, how vain the faith and promises of men who are exiles from their own country.  As to their faith, we have to bear in mind that, whenever they can return to their own country by other means than your assistance, they will abandon you and look to the other means, regardless of their promises to you.

And as to their vain hopes and promises, such is their extreme desire to return to their homes that they naturally believe many things that are not true, and add many others on purpose; so that, with what they really believe and what they say they believe, they will fill you with hopes to that degree that if you attempt to act upon them you will incur a fruitless expense, or engage in an undertaking that will involve you in ruin.

… A prince therefore should be slow in undertaking any enterprise upon the representations of exiles, for he will generally gain nothing by it but shame and serious injury.

Middle East Chaos

(2)  The chaos of US policy in Yemen

“… it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  {MacBeth}

WSJ: “U.S. Widens Role in Saudi-led Campaign Against Houthi Rebels in Yemen” — This gives an upbeat description of the US government’s actions, but still shows that they’re just ad hoc responses, lacking a rational policy foundation. It also shows that US officials have little insight into the plans and goals of our Saudi allies. Excerpt:

The U.S. is expanding its role in Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen, vetting military targets and searching vessels for Yemen-bound Iranian arms amid growing concerns about the goals of the Saudi-led mission, according to U.S. and Arab officials.

U.S. officials worry mounting civilian casualties will undermine popular support in Yemen and in other Sunni Arab countries backing the campaign. At least 648 civilians have been killed since the intervention began, and Saudi-led strikes have hit hospitals, schools, a refugee camp and neighborhoods, according to U.N. officials.

… The Obama administration is skeptical the airstrikes will reverse the Houthi gains. Worried by the risk of more direct intervention by Iran, U.S. officials say they are urging the Saudis to set their sights more narrowly on halting rebel advances and reaching what amounts to a battlefield stalemate that leads all sides to the negotiating table.

Seventeen days of Saudi aerial and naval bombardment have prevented the Houthis from holding Yemen’s main port city, Aden, but failed to thwart the group’s advances elsewhere. The campaign has made one of the world’s poorest countries the center of a regional proxy fight with high stakes for the Obama administration.

… Iran denies allegations by U.S. and Saudi officials that it has been arming, training and funding the Houthis for years. Nevertheless, the U.S. Navy, backing a Saudi naval blockade of Yemen’s ports, has intensified a search for weapons on the seas near Yemen’s coast. On April 1, sailors on an American destroyer in the Red Sea halted a Panamanian-flagged freighter suspected of delivering Iranian weapons to the Houthis and searched the vessel. Although the search came up empty, it marked the navy’s first boarding operation in an expanding campaign to thwart the Houthis.

(3)  The goals of the Saudi Princes

For a logical analysis of the Saudi Princes’ goals see this op-ed at CNN: “What Saudi Arabia wants in Yemen” by Ali AlAhmed (Saudi analyst & journalist, Director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs; see Wikipedia). He shows that their goals are not our goals, yet we put their interests above our own.

The kingdom’s real motives seem clear if one looks at Saudi monarchy’s history of not allowing regional competition of any kind, while consistently combating efforts to build democratic governments that empower the people. This approach was evident in 2013, when Saudi Arabia voiced its support for the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohamed Morsy in Egypt, which was in keeping with counterrevolutionary Saudi policies that aimed to contain or reverse the results of the Arab Spring. Red emphasis added.

The Saudi goal is simple: Prevent the rise of any popularly supported government in the region that seeks self-determination. And the excuse of “resisting Iran’s influence,” meanwhile, appears to be nothing but sectarian bluster. For example, in 2009, the Houthis (more accurately described as the Ansarullah) were not yet receiving help from Iran, yet for weeks the kingdom pummeled them with airstrikes, following Saudi claims of a Houthi incursion. True, the Ansarullah movement now benefits from Iranian support. But it is far from the only group getting help from outside sources in the region.

With all this in mind, the American decision to stand behind the Saudi attack on Yemen can best be described as misguided. Although the Houthi movement’s rhetoric is unquestionably anti-American, it has not targeted any American interests. In fact, when the U.S. Embassy packed up in Sanaa in January, leaving a fleet of over 20 armored SUVs behind at the airport, the Houthis reportedly said they would round up the cars and deliver them to a U.N. representative in Yemen. And while the Houthis did not welcome the American presence in Yemen, they did not interfere with U.S. operations against al Qaeda in the country.

But one of the biggest miscalculations has been that U.S. policy has adopted the Saudi-Gulf narrative on Yemen, effectively placing Saudi ambitions to control Yemen above previous American priorities like destroying the safe haven for al Qaeda there. Indeed, the Obama administration appears to have abandoned Yemen to Saudi machinations.

… The reality is that Saudi and Gulf Co-operation Council jets are effectively acting as al Qaeda’s air force by bombing the same group that had managed to uproot al Qaeda from several Yemeni regions. Interestingly, while Saudi Arabia deployed about 100 aircraft against the Houthis on the second day of its offensive, it reportedly deployed a mere four fighter jets in the early U.S.-led campaign against ISIS last year.

Hidden agenda

(4)  Uncovering the Hidden Agenda in Yemen

“My vision of the course of the Arab war was still purblind. I had not seen that the preaching was victory and the fighting a delusion. For the moment I roped them together, and as Feisal fortunately liked changing men’s minds rather than breaking railways, the preaching went the better.”

— T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Graham E. Fuller is someone deserving attention (CIA, RAND, Professor of History; bio here).  Here he explains the “Hidden Agendas in Yemen“. He looks at the policies of the Saudi Princes, US, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, China and Russia. It’s not long, but too good to excerpt. Read it in full. here’s the opening and closing:

The domestic crisis in Yemen, once quite containable, now bids to veer out of control as external players threaten to exacerbate an explosive situation. Apart from their rhetorical statements, what are the chief factors driving these players in this complex situation?

… In all likelihood the Yemeni crisis is headed for a major Saudi setback. Even the Gulfis may grow uncomfortable with Riyadh’s military intervention in Yemen as it becomes more suggestive of a new and greater Saudi military activism in the region in which the Gulf states themselves could one day find themselves on the receiving end. And for all Riyadh’s money and weight in the region, its efforts to forge a huge coalition on the basis of a spurious “Iranian threat” is not likely to endure. But Yemen in the meantime can sadly still get very messy indeed.

Strategy as chess

(5)  For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  For more about this see Our escalation shows the key US military strategy: FAILure to learn and The hidden origin of the fires burning in the Middle East.  Also see all posts about grand strategy, especially these:

1 thought on “A guide to the players in the Middle East’s newest war – in Yemen”

  1. ISIS has taken over 20 percent of Ramadi: official
    By RÛDAW 6 hours ago

    ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – As Iraqi forces are locked in an intense battle with the Islamic State in the city of Ramadi, the Anbar provincial council says the jihadi group now controls as much as 20 percent of the city.

    Falih Issawi, deputy president of the provincial council, made the 20 percent claim Sunday in comments to Al-Mada newspaper.

    “Due to a lack of ammunition and weapons, we did not manage to stop the group’s advance,” Issawi said.

    Abdulmajid Fahdawi, an Anbar tribal leader, said a military force consisting of two divisions of the Golden Force units of the Iraqi army and Iraqi police on Saturday arrived at Hamdaniyah military base south of Ramadi to halt further ISIS advances. “A Hashd al-Shaabi force also arrived at Hamdaniyah military base to fight alongside the Iraqi joint forces,” he said referring to volunteer Shiite militias also know as Popular Mobilizations Units, or PMUs.

    The UN has said 90,000 civilians have fled Anbar province due to the current fighting there. Several sources in Anbar said many of the displaced families have fled on foot to Baghdad.


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