What exactly has to happen in order to demonstrate once and for all to those who regard war and militarisation as the solution to the many problems that the Middle East faces that they were catastrophically wrong? The casualty estimates and death tolls from the countries our armies and special forces have fought or intervened in don’t seem to do the trick – neither the US nor British governments nor much of the media pay much attention to those, and the US military doesn’t even bother to count dead bodies except its own.
State implosion, fragementation, sectarian conflict and collapse, for example in Iraq and Libya – none of this seems to make much difference either. Nor does the seemingly unstoppable spread of the terrorist groups these wars were supposedly intended to eliminate. One explanation for this indifference is that some of the advocates of these wars simply don’t care about their consequences.
Back in 2002 the rabidly warmongering neocon spook Michael Ledeen dismissed the cautious suggestion from former US national security advisor Brent Scowcroft that US involvement in Iraq might ‘turn the whole region into a cauldron and destroy the war on terror.’
Ledeen – a man for whom the adjectives creepy and distasteful might have been invented – argued that the US should purposefully set out to turn the region into a cauldron because ‘ If ever there were a region that richly deserved being cauldronized, it is the Middle East today.’ The idea that any region ‘deserved’ to be turned into a cauldron is a fairly maniacal ambition that was shared by many of Ledeen’s ideological fellow-travellers, who wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext for re-engineering the entire Middle East in accordance with American interests.
The Bush administration used more emollient justifications. It preferred to talk about fighting terror, the spread of markets and democracies, freedom, overthrowing tyranny, liberating women etc. Thirteen years later the Middle East is much closer to Ledeen’s proposals, but still the US and its allies continue to pour weapons and bombs into the region.
Since 25 March, Saudi Arabia has been leading some of the most reactionary regimes in the Middle East in a bombing campaign in Yemen in an attempt to defeat the rebels from the Houthi movement, which is supposedly backed by Iran. The Saudi bombers and weapons were supplied mostly by the US and Britain, both of which have been providing behind-the-scenes support for Operation Decisive Storm.
The Saudi campaign has no justification under international law for attacking Yemen. Nor are its actions justified as self-defence. The Houthi rebels were not attacking Saudi Arabia and have no ability to do so. It is a war of aggression, pure and simple, like the 2003 Iraq war, driven entirely by geopolitical considerations, and with very little prospect of strategic success even on its own terms.
If the US and Britain are aware of this, they certainly aren’t showing it. In Ukraine, Obama and Cameron supported the overthrow of a corrupt but elected president, who would almost certainly have lost the next election he took part in. In Yemen Britain and the US are supporting a bombing campaign against rebels affiliated to the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh – who ruled Yemen for thirty years as a US ally and allowed countless drone attacks on al-Qaeda affiliates before he was overthrown in a popular rebellion in 2011.
As the Yemeni commentator Bara Shibaan has argued, the ‘counterterrorism lens’ through which the US regarded his country may have contributed to its destabilisation, unleashing dozens of drone strikes which killed civilians whose names have never been recorded. In a statement outling US strategic intentions in the bombing of ISIL in September last year, Obama cited Yemen as a successful example of a counterterrorist strategy based on ‘taking out terrorists who threaten us.’
Yet last month the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon was ‘unable to account for more than $500 million in U.S. military aid given to Yemen, amid fears that the weaponry, aircraft and equipment is at risk of being seizied by Iranian-backed rebels or al-Qaeda.’ This is the stuff that cauldrons are made of. It is all very similar to what took place n Iraq during the rise of ISIS, where US planes are bombing an enemy equipped with American equipment.
Now the Saudi armed forces are using American, British and French supplied weaponry to bomb rebels equipped with American equipment – equipment that might also end up in the hands of groups affiliated to al-Qaeda!
There’s a kind of symmetry there at least, however illogical and immoral it might seem to those who seek to impose logic and morality on the tortuous twists and turns of the wars of the 21st century. But there is nothing moral about what Saudi Arabia is doing in Yemen.
Its bombs are falling on one of the poorest countries in the Middle East. Back in 2010 Time magazine speculated that the water table in Yemen was falling at a rate of 6.6 feet per year and that Yemen might be the first country in the world to run out of water. Now, according to the United Nations, water pumps in Yemen’s major cities, including Aden, have stopped working because of a lack of diesel fuel as a result of the fighting – and the bombing.
So far 100,000 people have been displaced in the fighting and over 200 civilians have been killed, and there will surely be worse to come if the Saudi coalition invades and occupies Yemen. Though the Saudis have denounced the Houthi ousting of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi as a coup, it’s safe to say that promoting democracy isn’t uppermost on their minds. Their opposition to the Houthis is motivated entirely by the House of Saud’s ongoing struggle with Iran. That the US and British governments should be supporting this cynical gambit is not surprising, but it is still shameful.
The advocates of cauldronisation will no doubt be pleased with this outcome, but it is difficult to see how the transformation of Yemen into another Middle Eastern catastrophe benefits anyone else.