Saturday, July 18, 2015

Note on Yemen

Image by Noa Angel, via Digital Journal.
Emptywheel noted yesterday:
Eid Mubarak. Today Ramadan ends, a big celebration in the Muslim community.
Saudi Arabia chose to celebrate by doing what they’ve been doing for over a hundred days: bombing Yemen....
That’s particularly notable given that according to the formal readouts, every conversation the President has had with Gulf allies about the Iran deal has also included some discussion of Yemen... 
Given the way the Obama Administration has tied some solution to Yemen with the Iran deal, I think it fair to ask whether there has been some kind of understanding that even as Obama pursues this deal, the US will continue to facilitate Saudi Arabia’s efforts to extend its hegemony at the expense of Shias (in Yemen, but also in Syria).
I think it's certainly fair to ask what the administration is offering KSA (and Israel) in the effort to persuade them to shut up about the agreement having "worse consequences than the failed agreement with North Korea" according to Prince Bandar, and so on, if you also note that it certainly hasn't worked until now.

But if she thinks Obama is giving KSA Yemen like a new pony ("C'mon, Dad, Iran got one, am I adopted or something?"), then she's certainly misreading the situation.

For one thing, the US "assistance" to the Saudi forces is aimed mainly at holding them back from killing civilians, ever since the March 26 invasion (which I discussed at some horrified length at the time, with some helpful historical background) turned out to be much more violent and destructive than expected, as reported in the Los Angeles Times:
Pentagon officials, who pride themselves on the care they take to avoid civilian casualties, have watched with growing alarm as Saudi airstrikes have hit what the U.N. this week called "dozens of public buildings," including hospitals, schools, residential areas and mosques. The U.N. said at least 364 civilians have been killed in the campaign.
Although U.S. personnel don't pick the bombing targets, Americans are working beside Saudi military officials to check the accuracy of target lists in a joint operations center in Riyadh, defense officials said. The Pentagon has expedited delivery of GPS-guided "smart" bomb kits to the Saudi air force to replenish supplies.
The U.S. role was quietly stepped up last week after the civilian death toll rose sharply. The number of U.S. personnel was increased from 12 to 20 in the operations center to help vet targets and to perform more precise calculations of bomb blast areas to help avoid civilian casualties.
It was US pressure that convinced the Saudis to stop attacks on April 21 and offer $274 million in reparations for the civilian damage, though as we know they started up bombing again almost immediately.

It's also clear from last week's interview with Thomas Friedman that Obama doesn't buy the Saudi story about how they're forced to bomb Yemen because the Houthi forces are proxies for Iran, and thinks what the bombing is doing is just making trouble that Iran is able to use for its own purpose, as he was trying to tell Friedman, without saying it directly:
“In some cases, for example, the Houthis in Yemen, I think Iranian involvement has been initially overstated,” said Mr. Obama. “When we see our intelligence, we don’t get a sense that Iran was strategically thinking, ‘Let’s march the Houthis into Sana.’ It was more of an indicator of the weakness of the government in Yemen. They now seek to exploit it. Oftentimes, they’re opportunistic. That’s part of the reason why my argument has been to my allies in the region, let’s stop giving Iran opportunities for mischief."
So I have no doubt the president is mentioning Yemen in every conversation with the rulers of the Gulf states, but I'm pretty sure what he's saying is, "Will you just fucking stop it?" They're doubling down to punish him for doing the Iran agreement—incidentally bolstering the Al-Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula organization in the Yemeni hills by taking the pressure off them, and the Da'esh as well, if it really exists there—no doubt with Israeli support.

It ended, unfortunately, with the election of 2000:
December 28, 2000: President Clinton announces that he will not travel to North Korea before the end of his term, citing "insufficient time to complete the work at hand." According to a March 6 New York Times article, Clinton's national security adviser Sandy Berger was hesitant to have the president leave the country during the presidential election dispute, which he deemed "a potential 'constitutional crisis.'"...
January 2, 2001: The United States imposes sanctions on North Korea’s Changgwang Sinyong Corporation for violation of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000.*
March 6, 2001: At a joint press briefing with the Swedish foreign minister, Secretary of State Colin Powell says that the administration “plan[s] to engage with North Korea to pick up where President Clinton left off. Some promising elements were left on the table and we will be examining those elements.”
March 7, 2001: In a New York Times op-ed, Wendy Sherman, former special adviser to the president and secretary of state for North Korea policy, writes that a deal with North Korea to eliminate its medium- and long-range missiles and end its missile exports had been “tantalizingly close” at the end of the Clinton administration.
After a working meeting with South Korean President Kim Dae-jung at the White House, President George W. Bush tells reporters that he “look[s] forward to, at some point in the future, having a dialogue with the North Koreans, but that any negotiation would require complete verification of the terms of a potential agreement.” According to Clinton administration officials, the issue of how to verify a missile deal remained one of the final stumbling blocks to a successful arrangement. Bush also questions whether Pyongyang is “keeping all terms of all agreements.”
Just prior to Bush’s comments, Powell amended his remarks from the previous day, noting that if “there was some suggestion that imminent negotiations are about to begin—that is not the case.”
March 13, 2001: North Korea, apparently reacting to Washington’s new tone, cancels ministerial-level talks with Seoul. The talks were intended to promote further political reconciliation.
March 15, 2001: Pyongyang threatens to “take thousand-fold revenge” on the United States “and its black-hearted intention to torpedo the dialogue between north and south [Korea].” The statement, issued by the Korean Central News Agency, called Washington’s new policies “hostile” and noted that Pyongyang remains “fully prepared for both dialogue and war.”
And yadda yadda yadda, new sanctions (June), Axis of Evil (January 2002), yadda. The botched election itself, the hostile and confused beginning, the refusal to let Powell do his job, the failure to keep US commitments, all made sure that North Korea would have a real nuclear weapon soon, as it did. I mention all this because if you want Iran to have a nuclear weapon too, you know what to do: vote Republican in 2016.

Id Mubarak to all!

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