Chief Editor of IranNuc.IR and Expert on Strategic Issues
The ongoing war in Yemen will most probably trigger a domino-like set of important geopolitical changes in the Middle East region.
In one sense, the forthcoming changes will be continuation of past changes, but in another sense, they can be understood and analyzed independent of the Arab Spring developments and their consequences.
In its invasion of Yemen, Saudi Arabia has not shown considerable power and basically, they are not able to do that. Saudi soldiers have proven that they are unable of even protecting their own country’s frontiers, let alone dreaming about conquering another country. The same is true about the Egyptian army, which has proved incapable of keeping Sinai desert safe, but considers itself entitled to threaten Yemeni Shias who are natural born guerillas.
The hurried start of Saudi airstrikes against Yemen is the result of a number of factors.
First of all, a very important point is that we are facing a project which is totally backed by the United States. Since a long time ago, both Saudi Arabia and Israel have been accusing the United States of having changed its regional policy and that Washington “has changed in nature.” It was the same common geopolitical understanding that has brought Israel and Saudi Arabia so close together. According to that understanding, both countries have reached the conclusion that the United States has left its regional allies alone and is trying to reach a deal with Iran behind their backs. They also believe that the United States has lost its courage, power or motivation to intervene in favor of its allies and put a decisive end to regional conflicts and is, in fact, going through some kind of self-imposed expulsion from the region. This is also why both Saudi Arabia and Israel have been so staunchly against a possible nuclear deal between Iran and the United States. Both countries believe that the ongoing nuclear talks and a possible agreement over Iran’s nuclear program are all parts of a large-scale, and of course clandestine, geopolitical deal according to which Iran will no longer be an enemy to the United States and in a worse-case scenario will be just a regional rival for Washington. Otherwise, the opposition shown by Israel and Saudi Arabia to nuclear negotiations does not follow a nuclear logic. From the viewpoint of these countries, the only way that the United States could reach an agreement with Iran is exactly the same way that Washington is pursuing now, that is, through forging a nuclear deal with Tehran.
During the past months, both Saudi Arabia and Israel have been asking the United States to guarantee that a possible nuclear deal will not lead to a geopolitical agreement whose result would be recognition of Iran’s regional power. As the nuclear talks draw closer to a possible agreement, it would not be difficult to guess that the US President Barack Obama is coming under mounting pressure. In fact, in parallel with conducting final phase of the nuclear talks with Iran, Obama should also convince his regional allies that he is not seeking to secure a big deal with Iran. This point was clearly announced by the US Secretary of State John Kerry a few weeks ago in Jeddah where he announced that there would be no major agreement with Iran and the United States is just trying to contain Iran’s nuclear capacity, which more than being a threat related to proliferation of nuclear weapons, is a geopolitical threat.
Endorsing Saudi invasion of Yemen by the United States and Washington’s confirmation of this act of aggression right after it begun has left no doubt that this invasion is totally related to nuclear talks with Iran and, in fact, is meant to send two messages. One message is for Iran. As put by the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) John Brennan in an interview with Fox News Channel, Iran should know that in geopolitical terms, the United States is still considering the Islamic Republic as an enemy. The second message is for Saudi Arabia and Israel, which can be considered a kind of geopolitical guarantee as well. That message is that a possible nuclear deal with Iran will not only fail to reduce the regional confrontation between Iran and the United States, but will even intensify it. So, Saudi Arabia may rest assured that it still enjoys the United States’ support in the face of the amazing growth of Iran’s regional power.
Apart from the geopolitical guarantee to Saudi Arabia, which is a factor that relates the war in Yemen to nuclear talks with Iran, aerial invasion of Yemen can be also considered related to the United States from another angle. To understand this point, we must go back to a keynote speech that Obama delivered at the West Point Military Academy of New York in 2014 in which he delineated the main strategic course that the United States was to adopt during the new phase of its foreign policy. In that speech, Obama implied that due to:
1. Remarkable opposition of the American people to getting involved in any new war;
2. Considerable fatigue of the US army;
3. Serious economic problems; and
4. Changing global conditions and threats;
The United States has decided to give up its past strategy of direct intervention in its foreign policy and replace it with:
1. Crisis management from afar;
2. Leaving management of regional problems to regional players;
3. Downsizing the military forces by replacing direct military operations with basic intelligence operations;
4. Encouraging establishment of regional coalitions;
5. Avoiding of direct intervention; and
6. Serious use of such soft power tools as sanctions and multilateral punishments.
Although the strategy outlined during Obama’s speech at the West Point was polished on the surface, it was effectively a clear admission of the fact that the time for the United States to be a military superpower has come to an end. One the other hand, the United States as a political superpower had reached its end many years ago. Therefore, many countries in the region reached the conclusion that the interventionist power that used to get directly involved in regional affairs has left the international scene for good and it is time for them to find a solution to their problems on their own.
Since that time, the United States has tried more than once to practice that strategy with its regional allies. Of course, when it came to forming an international coalition against the ISIS terrorist group, that coalition lost its efficiency very quickly because it was not basically supposed to enter a serious fight against the ISIS to begin with. More importantly, those countries that took part in the coalition against the ISIS were past patrons of the group and, therefore, were not expected to take a serious step against this group. At any rate and from a strategic angle, it was clear in the ISIS case that the United States did not want to get directly involved in this case and meant to achieve its goals through regional actors. As for Yemen, perhaps this is for the first time that the Obama administration is totally following suit with the West Point strategy. The region is grappling with an acute geopolitical crisis. The United States is neither willing, nor able to directly intervene while at the same time, is not willing to totally pass over this issue. As a result, it has asked regional actors that are its allies to form a coalition and go to work. In return, they can reckon on political, intelligence and, at most, logistic support from the United States. In this way, the United States believes that it can solve the problems without having to bear the brunt of finding a final solution for them or having to suffer their consequences.
At present, the United States is trying to use Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt and Sudan as its tools to solve an acute geopolitical problem in Yemen in order to avoid getting caught in another mire similar to Iraq. On the surface, this is a logical choice to make. Those countries that are involved in this issue have direct interest in solving it, have good knowledge of the region and are well aware of ethic and geographic subtleties in this region. The point that has been ignored by the United States in its planning is the concept of skill. When the US Army, which considers itself the world’s most powerful military forces, is trying to stay out of this crisis for the fear of repeating bitter experiences of the past, how they expect Saudi army or inept Egyptian soldiers to pull this off and resolve such an intense and complicated crisis on their own? As some critics of the West Point strategy said at that time, the main bug of this strategy is that it leaves resolution of many profound crises to actors that lack any skill for this purpose and expects them to solve problems that the United States, as their godfather, has been unable to encounter.
The case of Yemen will clearly show that lack of interference will be as detrimental as direct intervention. It will also prove that taking advantage of regional actors to solve this problem is as nonsensical as totally ignoring it. As a result, this coalition will finally face the same heavy defeat that has been the fate of the United States’ unilateral measures. It is also clear that the United States’ regional allies are as inefficient in solving this crisis as Washington itself. Yemen is among few countries in the region which will make the United States understand that it cannot cover up its strategic weakness by strategic smartness. Washington should also know that when it comes to the Middle East, the West Point strategy is not efficient even for the capture and management of a village.
There are many things to say about the crisis in Yemen. This article is just an effort to discuss this issue from the viewpoint of the United States regional strategy with an eye to the ongoing negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
Key Words: War on Yemen, US, Geopolitical Assurance, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, Nuclear Deal, ISIS, Qatar, Kuwait, Egypt, Sudan, Mohammadi