Jan 18, 2017 – Arsenal For Democracy Ep. 166

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Guest Interview: Felix Biederman (@byyourlogic) discusses his investigative reporting for Deadspin on social media in Saudi Arabia, as well as the broader geopolitical future of the Gulf’s biggest kingdom and the US-Saudi alliance. Produced: Jan 15th, 2017.

Episode 166 (54 min):
AFD 166

Discussion Points:

– For marginalized people, is Silicon Valley tech a liberator from or enforcer of the status quo in Saudi Arabia? Can US consultants really modernize the kingdom?
– What is going on with Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen – and US media coverage of it?
– Would a US alliance with Iran be preferable to the current alliance with Saudi Arabia?
– Is it possible to safely disentangle US-Saudi ties without blowback and catastrophic meltdown?

Articles referenced:

Deadspin: “Your App Isn’t Helping The People Of Saudi Arabia”
Al Jazeera: “Saudi Arabia and the US: More military misfires”
The Globalist: “Does Saudi Arabia Want to Break Up Yemen?”

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Music by friend of the show @StuntBirdArmy.

Op-Ed | Does Saudi Arabia Want to Break Up Yemen?

Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen against various rebel factions has come to involve ground troops from the UAE, Qatar, Egypt, Sudan, as well as various countries’ jets. A recent ceasefire seems doomed to fail.

And yet it has taken a full year for the Saudi government to present even the flimsiest explanation of its reasons for undertaking the war to begin with or to mount a public defense of the war’s course.

It came in the form of an ungrounded, feel-good propaganda piece by Ambassador to the United States Prince Abdullah Al-Saud in the pages of the Wall Street Journal in March 2016.

Even the Prince admits that it was hardly obvious to the public – or to himself! – why the Kingdom launched the war in the first place:

I was out of government service when the operation was launched. So like many Saudis, I wondered why the kingdom had taken this unusually bold action.

Remarkably, despite an incoherent raison d’être, the Saudi-led coalition operates with substantial logistical and munitions support from the United States. And despite the potent weaponry brought to bear, as we projected last year, the campaign has failed to re-take much beyond a (fragile) southern beachhead.

Was there a plan B?

Did the Saudi coalition have a backup plan if a broader takeover failed? A possible solution, to Saudi planners, appears to be splitting the country up.

Such an intended outcome may sound exaggerated or alarmist. However, those who are familiar with Yemen’s history over the last several decades would not be surprised if it emerges that an unacknowledged goal of Saudi Arabia’s war is partition.

Yemen, a very poor country that was widely seen before the war as a paradigm for a failed state, sits across a 1,100 mile long border from wealthy, powerful Saudi Arabia.

Yemen’s population – about 27 million – is nearly the same size as Saudi Arabia’s (26 million), even though the former’s territory is only 1/4th that of its much richer neighbor to the north. Meanwhile, Yemen’s per capita income is only 1/20th of Saudi Arabia’s.

At their root, Yemen’s challenges are socio-economic in character. Attempting to bomb them away, as Saudi Arabia has tried for some time now, are doomed.

When Yemen’s Saudi-imposed post-Arab Spring political solution was overthrown, the Saudis decided in March of 2015 to plunge themselves into the conflict in Yemen.

Just like the Americans in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond, they counted on the superiority of their armaments and war technology to win the war quickly – and finally resolve that persistent problem next door.

Destroying Yemen’s infrastructure

The only real effect of the Saudi air campaign, however, has been to destroy whatever little infrastructure Yemen had before.

Highways, bridges, ports, even water pipelines have been sacrificed by Saudi policymakers, putting Yemen’s future economic potential ever deeper into a hole.

The later introduction of ground troops from a constellation of Arab countries did little to improve the picture. As this campaign unfolds, Yemen will only be more broken and unable to generate any realistic prospect for jobs or wealth.

Why then did Saudi Arabia pursue such a strategy? The conventional wisdom is that it simply followed the U.S. path – unwisely overestimating the power of high-tech warfare.

But the Saudis, famed for their interest in preserving regional balance, have long had a front-row seat to the rather disastrous unfolding of America’s strategy in the region. They may be stubborn, but they certainly are not stupid.

Moreover, the argument that Saudi Arabia just followed the U.S. example does not account for the extent of the physical and human devastation from Saudi raids and naval blockade. Thousands of people went hungry for half a year or more and 20 million lack safe drinking water.

Thousands of civilians have been killed in very poorly targeted airstrikes, including many by Saudi aircraft flying too high for accurate bombing to be possible.

Considering the widespread destitution that was already present in Yemen before any Saudi actions, it is incomprehensible what the shattering devastation produced in the past year should possibly yield, with regard to the stated goal of intervening to stabilize Yemen.

Darker motives

The best explanation for the bull-in-a-china-shop approach the Saudis have taken in Yemen to date is this: Saudi Arabia would rather demolish and break up Yemen into its former two halves again than have it remain united. After all, the latter scenario might entail dealing with a potentially hostile state. Split into two parts, Yemen might be much less of a problem.

Consider the historic dimension in support of this hypothesis: First, Saudi Arabia never supported the amicable unification of north and south Yemen in 1990, under North Yemen’s leadership.

In fact, the Saudis had tried to prevent this event from happening repeatedly in the preceding decades. They also made efforts to undo it throughout the 1990s, mainly by supporting southern Yemeni leaders and secessionist groups.

Each time, this involved the Saudis delivering more arms to one faction or another – which contributed to Yemen becoming the country in the world that ranks second only to the United States in per capita gun ownership.

Incredibly, the Saudi ambassador to the United States insisted, in his op-ed, that “The Saudi government has been the largest supporter of successive Yemeni governments.”

Second, Yemen’s Saudi-installed “transitional government” – which was established in February 2012 and which the Houthis ejected in 2015, triggering the intervention – was filled with southerners from Aden. It replaced the northern-dominated regime that had unified the country in 1990.

Third, Saudi Arabia has concentrated its war efforts on recapturing and (not very successfully) securing Aden, the former southern capital. The Saudi intervention did not begin after the rebel takeover of Sana’a, the country’s capital in the north, but rather the fall of Aden.

While moves northward have been made, the bulk of foreign military attention has been on former South Yemen regions.

Fourth, tellingly, Saudi-armed local ground forces are actually called the “Southern Resistance” and include southern secessionists. Pro-Saudi demonstrators outside a 2015 White House summit with King Salman openly displayed South Yemeni flags.

Flawed Saudi strategy

The ultimate point to be raised in support of the partition thesis is this: If partition is the ultimate goal, then the “strategy” pursued by the Saudis in Yemen is not cruelly incompetent — but rather quite effective, albeit brutal.

Pummeling Yemen from the air and invading parts of it may be a path toward a permanent partition. Thus, whether by accident or design, Yemen’s unification is being reversed 26 years later.

How does that align with the interests of the United States? In short, it does not. U.S. policy, right or not, has been that preserving existing borders at all costs is the way to maintain regional stability.

In contrast, Saudi Arabia – a nation of formerly nomadic peoples in a theocratic system that never cared much for earthly borders – seems to prefer a divide-and-conquer strategy.

Ultimately such a Saudi strategy – particularly in Yemen – would be even more devastating and shortsighted than the approaches pursued in the region by the United States at its worst, most strategically shortsighted moments.

Even assuming this “grand” strategy were to “work,” in the sense of successfully splitting up Yemen, all it would really achieve is the genesis of another ISIS-style group, this one grown in the lawless Yemeni hinterland incubator that once grew an al Qaeda affiliate into the main branch.

That is hardly in Washington’s interest. Nor is it really in the Saudis’ interest. And yet, that may be precisely what is happening.

Learn from Libya’s past

One only need look to Libya’s recent past to see where this strategy will lead. Consider it Yemen’s prologue under the current course. In Libya, Egyptian and UAE bombardments have not re-united the country’s historic rival halves. Rather, they hardened the partition between them.

And in that Libyan breach, ISIS established its most active “provinces” outside of the Syria-Iraq battlefields.

Such a scenario next door in Yemen is the last thing that Saudi Arabia, a giant who stands on clay feet, needs to create. U.S. interests demand that the Obama administration does not let the Saudis, no matter how important an ally they are, go unperturbed about its evidently disastrous – and inhumane – strategic path.

Originally published at The Globalist.

Further questions about the alleged Iran-Houthis link

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

Flag of Yemen

Flag of Yemen

Investigative journalist Gareth Porter continues his work poking holes in the accepted media narrative that Yemen’s current war is actually a fight between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“How False Stories of Iran Arming the Houthis Were Used to Justify War in Yemen”

But another cable dated November 11, 2009, reported that the government had “failed to substantiate its extravagant public claims that an Iranian ship seized off its coast on October 25 was carrying military trainers, weapons and explosives destined for the Houthis.”
[…]
President Saleh had hoped to use the Mahan 1 ruse to get the political support of the US for a war to defeat the Houthis, which he was calling “Operation Scorched Earth.” But as a December 2009 cable noted, it was well known among Yemeni political observers that the Houthis were awash in modern arms and could obtain all they needed from the huge local arms market or directly from the Yemeni military itself.

 
And when we say “awash with modern arms,” let’s remember Yemen is awash with them from Saudi Arabia. And they’re dropping off a lot more in this new war.

Eritrea joins Saudi Arabia’s Yemen war after inducements

Sanction-laden Eritrea is expected to receive a huge cash and fuel payout from Saudi Arabia for the use of Eritrean air space, an air base, a seaport, and 400 troops in Yemen, according to a report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.

The country is just a short hop away from southwestern Yemen. Neighboring (and opposing) Ethiopian media reacted very negatively to the report. The findings were summarized as follows:

Recent reports show that Eritrea is officially involved in the Yemeni crisis allowing the Saudi-led Arab coalition to use its Assab port, airspace and territorial waters in fighting the Houthi rebels.

 
Eritrea now joins fellow African states Sudan, Egypt, and Morocco in the Saudi quagmire in Yemen, along with several Gulf states.

Flag_of_Eritrea

FIFA World Cup Qatar: Ghost of Christmas Future

You’ve probably heard of the FIFA World Cup in Qatar (which never should have been awarded to Qatar) being moved to the winter to avoid scorching stadium temperatures. You might also have heard of the devastating heat waves this past summer from Lebanon to Iran.

Will the Persian Gulf region and Arabian Peninsula be uninhabitably hot later this century (without significant action on climate change soon)? A new study published in Nature Climate Change journal argues so.

Satellite photograph of the Arabian Desert from NASA World Wind 1.4.

Satellite photograph of the Arabian Desert from NASA World Wind 1.4.

“Extreme heatwaves could push Gulf climate beyond human endurance, study shows” – The Guardian:

The study shows the extreme heatwaves, more intense than anything ever experienced on Earth, would kick in after 2070 and that the hottest days of today would by then be a near-daily occurrence.
[…]
They said the future climate for many locations in the Gulf would be like today’s extreme climate in the desert of Northern Afar, on the African side of the Red Sea, where there are no permanent human settlements at all. But the research also showed that cutting greenhouse gas emissions now could avoid this fate.
[…]
The new research examined how a combined measure of temperature and humidity, called wet bulb temperature (WBT), would increase if carbon emissions continue on current trends and the world warms by 4C this century.

At WBTs above 35C, the high heat and humidity make it physically impossible for even the fittest human body to cool itself by sweating, with fatal consequences after six hours. For less fit people, the fatal WBT is below 35C. A WBT temperature of 35C – the combination of 46C heat and 50% humidity – was almost reached in Bandar Mahshahr in Iran in July 2015.
[…]
Air conditioning might be able to protect people indoors and those in wealthy Gulf oil states might be able to afford it, said the scientists, but less wealthy nations would suffer. In Yemen, for example, the WBT would reach 33C.

 

Stop the (US-backed) Saudi carnage in Yemen

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

arsenal-bolt-logo
Journalist Gareth Porter for Truthout: “The US Could End Saudi War Crimes in Yemen – It Just Doesn’t Want To”

The Amnesty report notes that the United States is also providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition. This logistical assistance is particularly important because the Saudis and their Gulf allies need the assistance of US mechanics to keep their aircraft running. That fact gives the Obama administration a major source of leverage on Saudi policy.

Furthermore, last summer the Saudis began to run low on the laser-guided bombs sold to them by the United States and requested to be resupplied. As a result, the Saudi decision to continue the war is dependent on a policy decision by Washington.

 


Previously from AFD on this topic:

Op-Ed | “Saudi Arabia and the US: More military misfires”
“Egypt, Qatar, others add ground troops to Yemen mess”
“Yemen: Saudis ‘liberate’ Aden; Qaeda waltzes in immediately”

The foreign policy community, united for a common error

A brief reflection on 14 years of continuous US misadventures in the Middle East North Africa region and the mainstream foreign policy community’s exclusion of alternative perspectives.

In its cross-partisan drive for a new style of foreign policy after the Cold War, the DC crowd seems to have converged upon the worst-of-all-possible-worlds solution to the world’s problems.

From the left, the military-internationalists without a balancing dose of any hardheaded, restraining realism. From the right, the neocons and literal “crusaders,” whose force-based adventurism is sure to end about as dismally as their medieval forerunners.

Both believe unlimited force applied everywhere can remake the world in their vision, yet the vision is as clouded by legacy alliances and enmities as any prior world power’s vision has been. They cannot even plausibly claim to have transcended the obvious immorality of the frequent pacts-with-devils made by Cold War realpolitik advocates.

Witness the negligible self-reflection on ill-conceived partnerships with Saudi Arabia’s regional wrecking-ball (or other similarly damaging alliances). Witness the beliefs in “good guys” and “bad guys” and meaningful change through isolation, bombardment, and speeches.

It is a foreign policy worldview as averse to compromises for the sake of reality as the members of Congress. Yet it already so pre-compromised and impure as to render the ideals behind it a hollow joke.