We see that yet another Middle Eastern country that the US has been meddling in is slipping into anarchy and chaos. Yemen, where the US has been doing it drone bombing in pursuit of the al Qaeda affiliate group AQAP (al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) is now on the verge of becoming a failed state like Libya. In Yemen we see that what was a local power struggle turning into a major regional conflict.
As Adam Baron of the European Council on Foreign Relations says:
This is treated as a sectarian battle between Iran-backed Shia and Saudi Arabia-backed Sunnis. But really, when you look at the essence of Yemen’s problem, that’s not really it. You have plenty of Yemeni Sunnis who are siding with the Houthis in this case. Particularly, you have branches of the Yemeni military that are largely Sunni that are fighting on the side of the Houthis. And when you look at why the Houthis have gained this support, it’s largely due to non-religious issues. And I think it’s also important to remember that Yemen is not a country with a huge history of sectarianism.
You know, there’s always this tendency to simplify things, and I think you’re also seeing people kind of – because there’s such a minimal knowledge of Yemen, among even many policymakers in the States, you’re seeing people kind of impose their stereotypes and their visions of the region onto Yemen without working to really understand what is effectively a very complicated and largely localized conflict. The problem now is this conflict is increasingly being regionalized.
So what you had before was a – very much a political conflict. It was about who is going to rule Yemen in which way. It was about who’s getting what, about whether – the Houthis wanting their seat at the table, other people not wanting to give up some of their power. It was effectively different local groups fighting for control, fighting in combination with the tribal turf war in many parts of Yemen. But effectively, this is a very local conflict. Now what you have is Saudi Arabia and the rest of the coalition coming in and making what was a local turf war into a regional religious battle. And that’s something that makes the conflict in Yemen, which was already something that was very combustible, into something that’s even more dangerous.
But the idea that Iran is on the side of the Houthis and may be providing them with material support has been enough to inflame Saudi Arabia to act with the support of the US and do what they always do, that is to bomb the hell out of the country, because we all know that that policy really works well. But Baron says that the degree of Iranian influence may well have been overstated.
I mean, the Houthis have always had a certain degree of ties with Iran. That being said, there’s been a great degree of exaggeration of these ties. The Houthis are glad to have Iran’s political support. They’re glad have some financial and military support. But when it comes down to it, it’s not as if the Houthis were created by Iran, and further, it’s not as if the Houthis are being controlled by Iran. This is a group that is rooted in local Yemeni issues, and its actions are fundamentally rooted in the decisions of its local Yemeni leaders.
Stephen. M. Walt writes that the US should keep well out of Yemen and that this is yet another sign of how US foreign policy has failed.
If one steps back and takes the long view, in short, it is clear that two-plus decades of U.S. policy — much of it focused on combating extremism — has not worked. In 1990, al Qaeda was in its infancy and most Middle East radicals were preoccupied with local concerns. Today, the entire region faces a rapidly morphing array of extremist groups whose message finds sympathetic audiences in many countries. The danger of direct terrorist attacks here in the United States remains very low — fortunately — because the United States is a long way away and because our law enforcement agencies have made it more difficult for large-scale plots to take place here. The rest of the counterterrorism agenda — and in particular, the various interventions the United States have waged overseas — has been mostly a bust.
In short, when historians a few decades from now look back on U.S. policy, they will no doubt regard this record as a massive, collective failure of the entire U.S. foreign-policy establishment…
But at some point, when US foreign policy results in one failure after another, one has to ask oneself this question: maybe the creation of chaos is not a failure at all was the intended result all along.
This question was posed way back at the end of the Vietnam war when the US suffered what was seen as an ignominious defeat. But at that time, some argued that the US had in fact achieved what it wanted. By laying waste to that country with its massive bombing and chemical warfare, it had successfully prevented a socialist government from demonstrating to other developing countries that an alternative to the free market capitalist model was viable. The US did the same thing to Cuba and Nicaragua. It set back those countries for decades
Is this the goal of US foreign policy, to create one failed state after another in the Middle East, unless it is ruled by a US-allied despot like in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and the Gulf states? Because it sure looks that way.