Saturday, October 15, 2016

Semantics, how does it work?

Update: I'm as annoyed with NPR as ever on this, but the US position looks a lot better to me in the light of some neglected Yemen news.

The port of Aden, 1876, via Qatar National Library.
Bizarre exchange on NPR Thursday morning in reference to the Navy attack on missile installations held by "rebels" in Yemen that (very ineptly) attacked a US ship:
TOM BOWMAN: Well, there's a civil war going on in Yemen right now. The Houthi rebels are aligned with the former president of the country, fighting the current president. And the U.S. is providing support to Saudi Arabia, who's fighting to keep the current president in power. The U.S. is providing air refueling capability, intelligence capability as well. And they've refueled as many as 5,000 bombing flights over Yemen.
And a concern here, Renee, is that there have been a lot of civilians killed here in this effort to support the Saudis, as many as 4,000 civilians killed. And there was one incident last week where 140 civilians were killed at a funeral. So this is the first time the U.S. has actually been involved militarily here.
RENEE MONTAGNE: Right. I mean, that's a key here, that the U.S. is actively supporting these Saudi airstrikes. It's not a passive sort of support. And this funeral has really kicked up a big controversy there, a lot of resistance. What is that doing to - what kind of problem is that for the U.S.?
Where Bowman says the US has never previously been militarily involved, and Montagne agrees that, yes, we have been very seriously involved. And then Bowman comes back to say that in fact with this strike we are also not involved, disagreeing not so much with Montagne as, weirdly, with himself:
BOWMAN: Well, it's a particular problem. I mean, you know, the U.S. is - first of all, said this is a limited self-defense strike. So I don't think they would say that they were involved in the civil war
The incoherence of this has to reflect an incoherence in the thinking of the military authorities Bowman gets his information from, and it's pretty disturbing.  This continues to be the worst single failure of Obama foreign policy, as far as I'm concerned, the one that can least be blamed on Bush, the most unnecessary mistake (I last wrote about it here, it's too depressing to come back to often), the slippery slope with the clearest warning signs,  and I think the failure comes from an inability—no, a refusal to think straight. Because the aim of whatever the US does here seems to be to help King Salman feel good about himself, and he really ought to feel bad about himself.

The Saudi government of King Salman isn't the same as the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, by the numbers—it's orders of magnitude less murderous. But its misconduct is even less justified, in that Assad's enemies really do want to destroy him (with good reason) and Salman's enemies, the Yemeni Houthi rebels, simply want to be left alone, and aren't even in his country. Saudi airstrikes are (naturally) making the Houthis more popular, as Professor Cole points out, so they're actually making things worse in terms of any policy aim the Saudis might have.

As for US policy aims, Cole goes on to say,
My advice to the Obama administration would be to dissociate itself from the Saudi war and to open its own lines of communication to the Houthis. Seeing the latter as Iranian proxies is a form of geopolitical paranoia, and failing to recognize that Wahhabi proselytizing is a cause of a lot of the problems in the Muslim world is shortsighted on the part of the US.
Or "shortsighted" is putting it mildly—it seems more as if we're sticking our fingers in our eyes.

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