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Ed Webb

From SEALs to All-Out War: Why Rushing Into Yemen Is a Dangerous Idea | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • As is often the case with Trump’s comments on policy, they quickly become the focus of media attention, rather than what the administration is actually doing — or what the facts are on the ground.
  • two separate but overlapping conflicts
  • a counterterrorism fight waged by Yemeni government, with U.S. support, against AQAP, al Qaeda’s most virulent franchise
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  • The second, and more damaging conflict, is a civil war between the government of Yemen and the Houthi minority, which was expected to last a matter of weeks, and maybe months, but is now well into its third year. It began when Houthi militia fighters descended on the capital Sanaa in late 2014 and soon evicted the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a close partner of the United States.
  • if new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson wants to make an early diplomatic contribution, then there is a confounding but vital mission with his name on it: de-escalating a Yemen civil war that is damaging U.S. interests and should have stopped a long time ago
  • The civil war escalated dramatically in March 2015, with the intervention of a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, which understandably felt threatened by the turmoil on its border and by ties between the Houthis and Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran. The United States, which had long been urging Saudi Arabia to take greater responsibility for security challenges in its region, offered a range of support, including with intelligence, weapons sales, aerial refueling for Saudi planes, and various measures to help secure the Saudi border
  • According to the United Nations, 16,200 people have been killed in Yemen since the intervention, including 10,000 civilians. The humanitarian situation in what was already one of the world’s poorest countries, is now, after Syria, the most dire on the planet, with one in five Yemenis severely food insecure
  • The war has preoccupied key partners with an enemy that does not directly threaten the United States. Indiscriminate air strikes, conducted with American weapons and in the context of American assistance, have killed scores of non-combatants (such incidents eventually compelled the Obama administration to review and adjust our assistance to the coalition). And while Iran and the Houthis have historically maintained an arms-length relationship, the long conflict has brought them closer and led to the introduction of more advanced weapons, such as missiles capable of striking deep into Saudi territory or of threatening the Bab al-Mandeb Strait, a critical channel for maritime traffic.
  • Saudi officials and their Emirati coalition partners have been signaling for months that they are eager to end the conflict, which they did not expect to last nearly this long
  • after years of U.N.-led negotiations that sought to sell a relatively one-sided peace to the Houthis (despite what was, at best, a stalemate on the ground), the Obama administration developed and bequeathed to its successors a more balanced roadmap to which all key parties (the Saudis, the Houthis, and the Yemeni government — as well as the United States, U.N., and U.K.) grudgingly agreed
  • the Houthis are infamously difficult to work with. When Secretary of State John Kerry met for several hours with their representatives in Oman last November, he was forced to endure a lengthy airing of historical grievances before embarking on the topic at hand. They also have a long history of violating dozens of agreements, which every Saudi diplomat can recount, chapter and verse.

    Negotiating peace will also inevitably involve straining relationships with our key partners, who will need to be pushed in the right direction

  • Hadi, who all relevant players acknowledge cannot govern a reconciled Yemeni state, has consistently scuttled deals that would require him leave office. His Saudi patrons have proven either unwilling, or unable, to compel better behavior and are themselves too are quick to revert to unreasonable demands — a tendency that would be reinforced if the Trump administration signals it unconditionally has Riyadh’s back
  • the Emiratis, who maintain a heavy troop presence in southern Yemen but have, wisely, been more focused on AQAP (the first war) than the Houthis (second), have for many months been threatening to attack the Houthi-held port of Hudeidah, a provocative step that would almost certain set back any peacemaking efforts indefinitely
  • an expanded presence of U.S. forces — while Yemeni and Saudi governments are still at war with the Houthis — could bring U.S. troops into close quarters with Iran and its proxies, with all of the escalatory potential that entails
  • While the Houthis fired on a U.S. ship late last year, they have not repeated that mistake since the Obama administration retaliated by destroying radars located along the coast. If President Trump chooses to put U.S. forces into the middle of a civil war, it should explain a purpose and objective more concretely than simply “pushing back” on Iran. Moreover, it must do so with its eyes open to the risks those forces would be assuming and the reality that a limited special forces mission is unlikely to turn the tide on the ground
  • the longer the conflict with the Houthis continues, the more AQAP will continue to benefit from our, and our partners’, divided focus, as it strengthens its hold on ungoverned territory
Ed Webb

How Trump can deal with Iran-GCC conflict - 1 views

  • Coupled with Trump’s desire for regional allies to do more to provide for their security is an explicit understanding he has that US military intervention in the Middle East has achieved little and comes at far too great a cost. “We’ve been fighting this war for 15 years,” he told "60 Minutes" Nov. 13. "We’ve spent $6 trillion in the Middle East, $6 trillion, we could have rebuilt our country twice.”
  • Recently, I attended the Third Annual Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, where hundreds of regional Arab participants claimed that Iran is bent on regional hegemony and interferes in the affairs of Arab countries. Additionally, they blamed the United States for attacking Afghanistan and Iraq and handing the region to Iran. As the only Iranian at the conference, I reminded them that the US war on terror was triggered by the Sept. 11 attacks, which was carried out by 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudis. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was for years also a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) ally, which supported him throughout the brutal eight-year Iran-Iraq War. Afterward, when Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, the GCC called on the United States and its allies to come to their rescue and push back Saddam. In the case of two other Arab countries — Liby

  • A CSCE-type process for the Persian Gulf — one which includes Iran, Iraq and the six states of the GCC — can be a way toward fostering a stable regional order. While much separates these states today, a gradual process that begins with their simply holding regular meetings where they can communicate their security grievances can result in more cooperative relationships' developing over time.
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    Fascinating proposal from a seasoned Iranian diplomat. I don't see the GCC or Iran's hardliners going for it. But no harm to float the idea.
Ed Webb

How the Iranian-Saudi Proxy Struggle Tore Apart the Middle East - The New York Times - 2 views

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    A useful analysis of issues currently under discussion in the course.
Ed Webb

Widespread Iraqi anger threatens Saudi ties - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • In light of this commotion on the streets, the Iraqi government has distanced itself from the strained Saudi-Iranian ties following the execution of Nimr and other developments, such as the storming of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran on Jan. 2 and the rupture of ties between the two countries. The government also turned a deaf ear to Iraqi Shiite forces close to Iran that demanded that ties be cut with Saudi Arabia.
  • The official Iraqi position was incomprehensible to some extremist circles. Although it has condemned the execution of Nimr, Iraq also supported the Saudi position against Iran in the closing statement of the Arab League meeting on Jan. 10. This statement condemned the attack against the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and supported the Saudi position against Iran, demanding that Iran stop interfering in Saudi affairs.
  • Iraq’s situation is currently complicated by the war against IS and the economic crisis caused by declining oil prices. Abadi seems to be looking to preserve any potential support in the fight against IS, which challenges the existence of the Iraqi state itself.
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    The three-way game between Riyadh, Tehran, and Baghdad begins to reassert itself?
Ed Webb

Can Oman help Saudis save face in Yemen? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 1 views

  • Muscat’s understanding of Yemeni history, where no fighting force has ever been able to seize control of the entire nation. Conflict resolution in Yemen will require a power-sharing agreement in which all sides have a voice at the table, rather than a military campaign aimed at crushing the Houthi rebel movement.
  • the Omani leadership is most unsettled by the threat that a prolonged conflict poses to the security of Oman’s Dhofar governorate, situated along the Gulf Arab nation’s 187-mile border with Yemen
  • As Omanis face the challenges associated with the succession issue, Muscat officials are unsettled by the potential for groups in the historically neglected Dhofar governorate to reject the legitimacy of Qaboos’ successor. Within this context, promoting a peaceful resolution to the Yemeni crisis at the roundtable serves Oman’s national interests.
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  • That Saudi Arabia, the wealthiest Arab country and the world’s top arms importer, cannot defeat an insurgency from the most underserved region of the poorest Arab country is a source of humiliation
Ed Webb

Here's what will happen if Iran joins the WTO - The Washington Post - 3 views

  • While it remains uncertain whether economic and financial sanctions would be technically permissible under the WTO’s national security exception — which allows a member to take measures that it “considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests”– these actions would clearly violate the spirit of the WTO and have therefore been rarely used.
  • the United States has switched to using other tools for coercive diplomacy to punish other recent WTO entrants.
  • Congress therefore created the China Commission, which was specifically formed to monitor China’s human rights practices and maintain pressure on it. Similarly, Congress passed measures designed to allow it to more effectively use visa restrictions and financial asset freezes to coerce Russia, and foreign aid to extract concessions from Vietnam, after these states joined the WTO.
Ed Webb

Yemen and Iran: What's really going on? - 2 views

  • it may be true that members of Hezbollah and the Revolutionary Guard are "embedded" in Yemen. Or it may not. Until the Saudis produce the evidence they claim to possess, we only have their word for it.
  • Iranian involvement in Yemen also has to be judged alongside the involvement of other players. In that regard, Saudi Arabia's meddling in Yemen, over a long period, has been – and still is – far more persistent and pervasive than that of any other country, including Iran. The recent ICG report also points out that the beleaguered Yemeni president (or perhaps ex-president now) Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his allies are more dependent on Riyadh than the Houthis are on Tehran.
  • in terms of fighting on the ground, Iran is not the Houthis' most important ally; former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is
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  • The Saudis have tacitly acknowledged this in their targeting of airstrikes, since many have been directed against Saleh's forces and included attacks on Sanhan, Saleh's home district
  • In the current hothouse atmosphere, however, questioning whether Iran's actual involvement in Yemen justifies the hype is liable to be viewed as heresy or a sign of support for Iran
  • the unquestioning way they are lapped up and regurgitated is very reminiscent of the propaganda surrounding Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the 2003 war.
  • Although it's possible that Iran is supplying the Houthis with weapons, there is a lack of solid evidence to support such claims and other factors suggest they should be treated with caution.
  • One possible interpretation of Iran's behaviour is that while it is certainly stirring things in Yemen it is doing so on the cheap, perhaps as a diversionary tactic. In the words of former US ambassador Barbara Bodine:

    "I think the Iranian interest in this is that the Saudis, as we know, are very much involved in trying to unseat Assad, who is extraordinarily important to Iran, and Iran coming in [to Yemen] and providing support to fellow Shia is a way of distracting the Saudis – and in that sense the Iranians have been terribly successful because we have reports of 150,000 Saudi troops on the border, large numbers of aircraft and ships and everything being pulled into Yemen. 

    "Everything that's being pulled into Yemen [by the Saudis, etc] is not being focused on Syria or, for that matter, ISIL. So, as an Iranian gambit to pull the Saudis away from what they consider more important, it was a very good gambit."

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    Very sound analysis, as usual, from Brian.
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