Saudi Arabia takes a page out of Asad’s playbook, and another country spirals further out of control.
Here’s a question that wasn’t asked last night: One of our allies, Saudi Arabia, has been waging a war of scorched earth inside of Yemen, with tactics that wouldn’t be out of place in Asad’s murder of Aleppo, with the most horrific moment happening just yesterday, when a bombing of a funeral reception killed 140 people and wounded hundreds more. How do you handle Saudi Arabia and what will be your Yemeni policy?
Of course that wasn’t to be asked, and if it was, we wouldn’t have gotten a good answer. Clinton would have dodged around the Administration’s failings here, and Trump wouldn’t have known anything. Remember: he knows maybe 4% more about Aleppo than does Gary Johnson, in that he knows it is in Syria and that there is something bad happening there, but he honestly believes it is controlled by ISIS, and that at least Asad is doing something about it (he isn’t).
In a way, that’s to be expected. Save for the occasional burst in the news, Yemen is largely out of sight, out of mind. It’s been a testing ground for new strategies, such as drone warfare combined with special forces advising local troops, but in the absence of a central government, it is just chaos. But that’s really the history of modern Yemen. It’s a testing ground for ideas, a battleground of proxies, from Nasserism to jihadism, from robot war to Saudi/Iran rivalry. It’s less a country than it is an idea. Except, of course, to the people who live there.
And, to be clear, I understand why. The US can’t know everything and do everything, and certainly no US preident can. And I get that Yemen has been my hobby-horse, and it isn’t entirely fair to say “why aren’t you as focused on this as I am!” I’m sure that there are Central Asian experts who are just bonkers livid that post-Karimov Uzbekistan didn’t get brought up. There’s only so much time. (To be clear, I would have loved to see that come up. Could you imagine?)
But Yemen’s agony is not to be ignored. It’s essentially post-state at this point. It is a land of IDPs. It is where al-Qaeda and ISIS are battling for the soul of jihad, and where Qaeda can mount a comeback. San’a has a looming water crisis, one of the first real explosions of climate change and population (not to mention incredible mismanagement, but isn’t that what climate change really is?). That will be a disaster unprecedented in modern times, and a harbinger of what is to come.
So yeah, Yemen is still all about ideas: it’s the forerunner of a terrible and not-too-distant future. It’s proof that everything is connected. It’s a demonstration of how the modern world is incredibly complex, and maddening, and maddened, but still boils down to the basic needs of food and water, and the desperation the lack of which will bring.
Yemen’s suffering belongs to them. It belongs to the people who are dying, and having their lives torn apart. That, in and of itself, is enough to care. But in the bigger picture, the board on which Yemen has always palyed a small role, the country looms large. It’s present is rapidly catching up with our our species’s tomorrow.