Saudi Arabia’s bombing of Yemen is “straight from the American playbook”

In his essay entitled, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell says, “political language…is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orwell, whose writings are more prescient with each passing year, would wince at the words of Saudi Arabia’s Brigadier General Asiri, who, in a recent press conference, defended Saudi Arabia’s unprovoked war in Yemen by saying, “all we are trying to do is to make sure that there is security in Yemen.” Bombing an already desperately poor country’s infrastructure, destroying its armed forces (the same armed forces that were equipped and trained to fight al-Qaeda by the US), air dropping weapons (now being sold in Yemen’s arms markets), blockading Yemen’s ports (Yemen imports 90% of its food), and hobbling an already struggling economy are hardly ways of ensuring security.

So begins an article by Middle East analyst Michael Horton published in Counterpunch a fortnight ago. Horton writes:

To sum it up: an autocracy with a deplorable human rights record (Saudi Arabia’s Sharia courts routinely behead criminals and flog victims of gang rape as well as recalcitrant bloggers) and its partners—which includes the US—are endeavoring to reinstall an ineffectual exiled government of questionable legitimacy and ensure security in Yemen by bombing and starving it into submission.

[President Abdu Rabbu Mansour] Hadi and his exiled government are supporting the bombardment of their own country and calling on the Saudis and their allies to intensify air strikes and launch what will likely be a disastrous ground invasion. Of course, these calls for more bombs, more weapons, and more war are being made by men who fled Yemen aboard private jets and are comfortably ensconced in villas in Riyadh. They do not have to worry about being incinerated in their homes, finding food or water, or burying their dead. It is worth citing another quote from Orwell who wrote in Homage to Catalonia, “all the war-propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.” 1

Click here to read Michael Horton’s complete article.

On Thursday [April 23rd], Democracy Now! invited Toby Jones, Associate Professor of History and Director of Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University, to discuss the Saudi bombing campaign and the resulting humanitarian crisis, which the International Committee of the Red Cross has already described as “catastrophic”.

Asked about “Operation Decisive Storm” and the obvious parallel in its naming to “Operation Desert Storm” (of the Gulf War), Jones replied:

Well, Adel al-Jubeir [Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US] said it very well, right? The Saudis are interested in destroying and degrading Yemen’s military capacity, particularly those of the Houthis. But they have a series of mixed objectives that we shouldn’t be persuaded by. One is the stated claim that they want to protect their borders in any threat to Saudi Arabia. The reality is, the Houthis have never represented a threat to Saudi Arabia, and they still don’t, even though they enjoy control over much of Yemen. And the other is to restore the legitimate government of President Hadi. In reality, Hadi was—his position in power was orchestrated by the Saudi and the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] after the Arab uprisings.

I mean, the bottom line is this: Yemen has long been the backyard of Saudi Arabia. It’s a deeply impoverished place that the Saudis believe they should assert political authority in, that they should influence outcomes.

Reality on the ground is they’ve accomplished very little. The Houthis have retained political authority. They’re even operating in Aden, which the Saudis said they hoped to preempt. It’s not clear what they’ve accomplished. They’ve declared victory, but they’ve done little more than actually kill almost a thousand Yemenis and degrade what was already, you know, a troubled infrastructure and environment.

Regarding claims of Iranian involvement in the conflict, Jones says:

Well, there’s no clear coordination between Iran and the Houthis. Let’s be clear: There’s absolutely no evidence that Iran is operating on the ground in Yemen or that it’s directing orders to the Houthi rebels.

And Washington’s role?

As far as the American role goes, the Americans view Yemen as a Saudi backyard, and they’re going to defer to the Saudis here. I mean, there’s lots of geopolitical sort of moving parts here, as well. While the Americans are chipping away on a nuclear arrangement with Iran, they understand and they’re very clear that the Saudis are uncomfortable with all of that. So they’re making concessions on Yemen, because it’s easy for the Americans to do so, providing small-scale cover and other kinds of material support, including putting warships close by the Port of Aden and elsewhere. I mean, this is simply a matter of the Americans making choices about where they can support the Saudis and where they can oppose them elsewhere, or at least where they can work at odds with them.

Yemen is and has for a long time been the most deeply impoverished place in the Middle East. But it has also been a political football in the region that the Saudis and the Americans have kicked around. This is a place where we talk about catastrophe and the environmental and humanitarian consequences of the recent campaign. This is not new in Yemen. Very little has been done to address it. And in spite of all of that, the U.S. has almost always pursued Yemen as a place to drop bombs and to target what they call militants. And with that in mind, it’s easy for them to support the Saudis, who are claiming to do the same thing.

After a fortnight’s bombardment and close to a thousand deaths, Michael Horton published a follow-up article (also in Counterpunch) reporting on what he describes as perhaps the most ill-advised of all the “three decades of ill-advised wars in the Middle East.” And the ghost of Orwell is there in the background once again, to furrow his brow and shake his head in disbelief:

“Operation Decisive Storm,” the ironic name for Saudi Arabia’s aerial campaign in Yemen, has led to nothing decisive in Yemen beyond ensuring that the country remains a failed state and fertile ground for organizations like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Long before the commencement of “Operation Decisive Storm,” Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East, was grappling with a host of problems ranging from severe water shortages, food insecurity, and a moribund economy, to a long running multi-front insurgency. Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen has exacerbated all of these problems and could well be the coup de grace for a unified and relatively stable Yemen.

On Tuesday April 21st, the government of Saudi Arabia abruptly announced that it was ending “Operation Decisive Storm” and that it would be scaling back its aerial campaign in Yemen. “Operation Decisive Storm” will be replaced with “Operation Restore Hope,” an unfortunate name for a military operation given that it was also the name for the US’ ill-fated 1992-3 intervention in Somalia. It is unclear what “Operation Restore Hope” aims to achieve; however, the first phase of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen has been disastrous.

From all the carnage of “Saudi Arabia’s disastrous war”, Horton says, there is just one victor, al-Qaeda:

AQAP has, so far, been the only beneficiary of Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. In south east Yemen, in the governorate of the Hadramawt, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken over Yemen’s fifth largest city, Mukalla, and has also taken control of the city’s airport and port. “Operation Decisive Storm” targeted the Houthis, a Zaidi militia that is the sworn enemy of al-Qaeda. Saudi Arabia’s aerial bombardment also focused on those elements of the Yemeni Armed Forces that are allied with the Houthis and former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. These same military units, including the Yemeni Air Force which has been largely destroyed, were also critical to fighting AQAP and its allies. “Operation Decisive Storm” has effectively neutralized the two forces that were responsible for impeding AQAP’s advance across large sections of southern and eastern Yemen. 2

Click here to read Michael Horton’s complete article.

As Toby Jones summed up:

The Houthis didn’t call for war, and they coordinated closely with actors on the ground. They’re the ones who were being attacked, even though they’re the ones who have been calling for a political settlement to a deeply broken system all along. The fact that the Saudis have recast this in a language that the Houthis are the villains and the ones acting dangerously is remarkable, as is the fact that the Saudis can drop bombs while calling it a humanitarian mission. In reality—I mean, in many ways, it’s a play straight from the American playbook.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

1 From an article entitled “War is Peace in Yemen” written by Michael Horton, published in Counterpunch on April 10–12, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/10/war-is-peace-in-yemen/ 

2 From an article entitled “Saudi Arabia’s Disastrous War in Yemen” written by Michael Horton, published in Counterpunch on April 22, 2015. http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/04/22/saudi-arabias-disastrous-war-in-yemen/  

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Saudi Arabia, Yemen

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