Saudi “Disorientation,” the Yemen War, and America’s (Self-Imposed) Decline in the Middle East: Hillary Mann Leverett on CNN and RT’s CrossTalk
On RT’s CrossTalk see here and (for YouTube) here, and CNN, see here, Hillary took on the Saudi-led narrative that U.S.-backed Saudi military attacks in Yemen should be seen in the words of Saudi Ambassador to Washington, Adel Jubeir, as a “good-versus-evil” battle, between “good” Saudis and “evil” Iranians. Instead, Hillary argued that the unfolding tragedy in Yemen needs to be understood in the context of Saudi Arabia’s deeply destructive reaction to popular demands in Arab countries for more representative and independent political orders. The negative impact of Riyadh’s highly militarized reactions to internal protests across the Middle East—in Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen—is magnified by Washington’s apparent inability to separate itself from aspects of Saudi policy in the Middle East that are clearly bad for U.S. interests.
On CNN, Hillary recounted how “Saudi Arabia has been militarily involved and trying to manipulate political outcomes in Yemen for decades. The last time they did this in 2009, they lost militarily to the Houthis.”
So why is Saudi Arabia once again intervening militarily in Yemen. As Hillary put it on RT’s CrossTalk:
“This can largely be explained in terms of Saudi Arabia reeling since the 2011 Arab Awakening, pursuing disastrous policy after disastrous policy: helping to overthrow the government in Libya, trying to overthrow the government in Syria, trying to impose a military dictatorship in Egypt and now in Yemen. I think what we’re seeing is a product of Saudi disorientation and terror at a region that could become more representative in terms of its governance, more independent in terms of its foreign policy. The Saudis are trying to prevent that kind of independence in foreign policy from emerging in Yemen, and they have yet again gone down this road with the United States to a war that has no end. And it’s a disaster both for the Saudis and certainly for the Americans.”
As for the repeatedly elaborated Saudi narrative that the Kingdom’s intervention in Yemen is a purely defensive response to Iranian subversion, Hillary told CNN, “There’s no public evidence of Iranian arming or doing any kind of significant arming of the Houthis in Yemen. The Houthis have long been marginalized in Yemen. And they’ve long been a restive, rebellious population. They got a new lease on life during the Arab Spring in 2011, and the Saudis have been furious about that ever since, trying to roll back that outcome and install their puppet, President Hadi, who has now fled to Saudi Arabia.”
On CrossTalk, Hillary responded to the proposition that the only “winner” in Yemen is likely to be al-Qa’ida, by offering a broader perspective on the regional consequences of U.S.-backed Saudi intervention there:
“There are actually going to be two winners in Yemen, as we saw in other arenas (for example, in Afghanistan): one is going to be al-Qa’ida, and the other is going to be Iran. Even though people hate to hear this, a critical component of Iranian foreign policy is to support, not necessarily with weapons, but politically to support politically disenfranchised groups—whether that’s groups in Afghanistan, whether that’s groups in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Palestine. They work to empower those groups to participate in political processes. At the end of the day, this means that Iran gains favor in those countries, because it has supported the political empowerment of previously marginalized groups, who then come to power in elections. So Iran is going to come out ahead—just as it has in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in Iraq. They’re going to come out ahead.
And then the militant group, the terror group on the ground, is going to be al-Qa’ida. And I think that, like in Syria, we’re going to be hoping and praying that al-Qa’ida is actually the ‘junior league’ to an Islamic State/ISIS-type of even more radical, even more brutal group on the ground that the Sunnis look to because they have nothing else. [And they have nothing else] because the United States, with Saudi Arabia, has undercut the representative groups that could represent Sunnis in a political process, like the Muslim Brotherhood—whether it’s in Egypt or their colleagues in Yemen like the Islah.”
On CNN, too, Hillary pointed out that “the train has left the station here. Iran’s influence in Yemen is now solid. We’ve lost yet again in another battlefield to Iran in the soft power arena. In Yemen, Iran has won the soft power argument. And al-Qai’da has won the military battle there.”
On CrossTalk, Hillary identified an important part of Saudi Arabia’s motivation for persisting in its misadventures in Yemen by looking at the Kingdom’s own internal politics.
“This Saudi intervention in Yemen is enormously popular in Saudi Arabia. If you look at the Twitter traffic in Saudi Arabia, look at some of the polling data that’s available in Saudi Arabia, it’s enormously popular. And it allows this new government in Saudi Arabia, with King Salman, to shift from an enormously unpopular policy, where they were going against Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, or even against ISIS with the United States. That was enormously unpopular in Saudi Arabia. It allows this new king to pivot from that unpopular position to something that is enormously popular—something that they can frame as a sectarian conflict against what they call the ‘infidel’ Shi’a...
This is something that the United States should not want to be associated with. It clearly is against our interests. But we’ve been doing this with the Saudis going back to 1979 in Afghanistan—that brought us al-Qa’ida and, of course, the direct line to 9/11.”
On CrossTalk, Hillary also noted the disappointing international reaction of the Saudi-U.S. military campaign in Yemen:
“The world is actually standing with the United States in the Security Council—and with the Saudis—to blockade Yemen. There’s nothing, by definition, hopeless about Yemen. They need an immediate ceasefire, they need an immediate national dialogue and all the stakeholders in the region should be involved. It’s a simple as that. Instead, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and a lot of the world community are aiding and abetting the destruction of yet another Muslim country in the Middle East.”
—Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett