When ‘failure’ may really be a sign of success

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.


  1. raven says

    Never ascribe to malice what is explainable by incompetence.

    I don’t think the US establishment is smart enought to deliberately create failed states. Which doesn’t benefit us anyway.

    The fighting in Yemen isn’t anything new. It’s been going on sporadically for decades.

    Yemeni Civil War -- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    en .wikipedia.org/ wiki/Yemeni_Civil_War

    Yemeni Civil War can refer to one of the following conflicts in North Yemen, South Yemen or unified Yemen: Ongoing crisis in Yemen. al-Qaeda insurgency in …

    This is their third civil war in the last few decades.

  2. says

    “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.”

    Was it ever anything else? That has been US foreign policy everywhere, not just the middle east.

    Stable governments don’t require “intervention”, thus the US can’t rationalize invasions and overthows. It has been true across Latin America, Africa, Indonesia, etc. Countries with leaders that act in their own nations’ best interests are the US’s primary enemy, it’s why the US hates/hated the leadership in Iran (both now and 1953), Venezuela, Bolivia, why it tried to back a fascist overthrow of Greek democracy, why it twice overthrew the popularly elected Jean -Bertrand Aristide, ad nauseum. It’s why the US backed and armed the Khmer Rouge as a proxy army against the Vietcong, even after the Killing Fields were known about.

    The US hates foreign leaders who act in their people’s interests because they cannot be corrupted by the US. The US especially hates democracies in such countries because the people will also vote in their own best interests. When countries have a dictatorship that the 1%ers approve of, especially a US-backed stooge, there’s only one person to bribe or intimidate. They’re much easier to word with.

  3. says

    emen, where the US has been doing it drone bombing in pursuit of the al Qaeda affiliate group

    Not just drone assassinations -- special forces have been in there “boots on the ground” doing … what they do (presumably insurgency and targeted assassination) “training” when the special forces are doing it, usually means teaching how to hunt humans and torture them when they’re caught. It’s basically terrorism school, for “good guys”

  4. Pierce R. Butler says

    raven @ # 1: Which doesn’t benefit us anyway.

    From which I infer that you neither work for nor own stock in major “defense” contractors.

    Having troublesome “failed” states near to wealthy ones does wonders for such industries.

  5. mnb0 says

    “Is this the goal of US foreign policy, to create one failed state after another in the Middle East”
    The problem with this is that it assumes long-term thinking.
    Moreover the Cuba-Vietnam-Nicaragua examples fail because similar states in Eastern-Europe didn’t do exactly well. Plus Cuba received a lot of support from the former Soviet-Union.
    Your thinking is quite unscientific, MS. You have to consider all relevant data, not only the ones that suit you.

  6. sigurd jorsalfar says

    Never ascribe to malice what is explainable by incompetence.

    Why not? Is this an established fact? Why not the other way around?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *