Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Daily Face Palm - September 29, 2015

Today's story is the latest atrocity in the Saudi-led war on Yemen. Airstrikes apparently struck a wedding party killing somewhere between 27 to 135 people according to different sources. The groom was alleged to have ties to the Houthis (the group of rebels that Saudi Arabia is fighting), but the threat posed by a wedding is not readily apparent in any case...


The Times didn’t give quite sufficient context on this story for my liking, so I’ve supplemented it below.

What war in Yemen?

A fair question, as the conflict has received very little media coverage in the US. However, the conflict is very real and has claimed more than 2300 civilians so far according to conservative estimates.  Unlike other Middle Eastern countries, Yemen has little in the way of natural resources, is incredibly poor, and imports 80% to 90% of its food. Meanwhile, part of the war effort is a blockade administered by Saudi Arabia, cutting off essential imports, and making an already desperate situation worse. The charity Oxfam estimates that approximately 6.5 million people are on the brink of starvation as a result of the escalating conflict there.

The short explanation of how we got here is this: Yemen, like many other countries in the region, has recently been ruled by a succession of US-backed dictators, which, being US-backed dictators, were not terribly popular. So last September, a group known as the Houthis rose up in a rebellion and seized the capital city of Sana'a, eventually forcing then President (ahem, dictator) Hadi into exile. Saudi Arabia also supported the Hadi regime, and they weren't content to let him go down that easily. So in March, they launched a war in Yemen to reinstall what they called the "legitimate government" of President Hadi. Except, the Hadi government wasn't legitimate in the conventional sense. He was elected in a popular election where he was the only candidate, after he served a term as vice president of the previous dictator/president. Not exactly democracy at work.

Anyway, although the Saudis decided to launch the war, the US is fully complicit with it. Indeed, in addition to being the leading arms supplier to Saudi Arabia, the US military is also assisting with operational and logistical support, including vetting targets. And the reason we're going along with it is because we're trying to patch things up with Saudi Arabia after making a nuclear deal with their regional rival Iran*. That's really the core of what's going here. The Saudis were feeling insecure after we made a deal with Iran, so we helped them launch a little war to rebuild their confidence. And even though it may have been a Saudi pilot that fired the missiles at the wedding party mentioned above, the fact is that the US probably picked the target, made the missile, and built the plane that shot it. In all but name, this is another American war in the Middle East.

*Quick footnote here. You might occasionally hear this war referred to as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. That's because the Houthis share the same broad religious views as the Iran (Shia Islam) and have received some nominal support in the past. That said, they aren't the exact same religion (it's kind of like they're both Protestant, but one's Methodist and the other's Lutheran). And Iran has had enough on its plate fighting the Islamic State in Iraq, supporting Assad in Syria, and negotiating the nuclear deal with the West. So there's no real compelling reason to think Iran would have wanted to instigate another conflict when the rebellion took off. Additionally, Yemen's history is more complicated than the proxy war narrative would suggest. This article goes into good depth on some of the history if you're not sick of this story yet.

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