February 3, 2018
Outside of the Opinion page of the New York Times, not much has been going well for the up-and-comming next generation royals from the Arabian Penninsula. American’s paper of record, of course, is fawning over the millenial and faux millenials. Tom Friedman himself, always reliable as migratory geese when it’s time to honk manufactured consent, has told us that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is ‘more McKinsey than Wahabbi.’ But off the NYT opinion pages news is much worse. The proxies in Syria are being mopped up, the Qataris seem to be getting by just fine with their American air bases and Turkish tanks, and Iran has still not done the Saudis a solid by disappearing.
But as bad as all of those are, Yemen was even worse and is now going further downhill. December saw the murder of Abullah Saleh at the hands of the Houthi rebels who had recently been Saleh’s army. Saleh was an exquisitely amoral and larcenous despot, even by Middle East standards, and had for years been a cheerful proxy for whoever’s war on terror was writing checks. He chummed up wtih pre-millenial Saudi kings, Dick Cheney, Dubya, Mubarak, and Pakistan at different times. When the Arab Spring made it to Yemen he was booted out of office and replaced with his vice president, and Saleh suddenly discovered a deep dislike for everyone he had liked so much before, in particular those Saudi royals. The Saudis accepted the issue with great enthusiam (and American hardware), claiming their old friend Saleh was now an existential threat to the region. That held until this past December, when Saleh apparently requested from the Saudies a chance to come back in from the cold. Whoever was in charge of this skulduggery was so incompetent that Saleh’s newest treachery was caught, at which point the former president was captured and dispatched immediately to the herafter by the Houthi forces who a few days before fought for him. The Saudis apparently can’t even do backstabbing right, unless the targets are docile cousins who can be stashed for shakedown in the Ritz-Carlton.
But things have, amazingly, gotten yet again worse for the Saudis in Yemen. Things can’t get much worse for the cursed Yemenis of course, but even the Saudis must be feeling like they are out of their depth. To understand that, we must introduce Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of the United Arab Emiriates, or in squid jigger terminology, the Fresh Princeling of Abu Dhabi. MbZ is of an older generation than MbS, but he is widely thought of as a great friend, confidant, and counselor to Mohammed bin Salman. Think of them as the Two Coreys but wearing thawbs, and instead of sending each other to rehab they’re fucking up entire countries.
The scuttlebut is that it was MbZ who convinced MbS to get into Yemen in the first place, since MbZ in his capacity as Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces knew the southern Yemenis and thought the Houthis could be dealt with in no time. The Fresh Princeling’s allies also gave a light patina of legitimacy to the operation, since they could claim to be restoring the rightful government of Yemen against the evil Houthi rebels. In practice, this meant backing whoever was in charge of Aden and the titiular Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. On good days, Hadi might even actually be in Yemen, instead of screaming stuff over the itnernet from Riyadh.
Well, that all went to hell in the past couple of days, when Hadi loyalists started to fight with South Yemen seperatists, proving that the supposed president of Yemen couldn’t even keep his own militias from murdering each other. Apparently MbZ not only backed the southern seperatists, but UAE troops were fighting on the side of those seperatists against Hadi’s forces. If you’re confused by now, that understandable. To put it in one sentence, the Saudis and Emiratis were ostensibly fighting to restore the Hadi government to its rightful place, except now the Saudis and Emiratis appear to be fighting against that same government and possibly each other.
Which is AT LEAST a geopolitical Keystone Cops routine, and possibly something much worse. The chaos in Yemen shelters really awful Islamic State and IS-like organizations, for one. Pictures of women and children murdered by US bombs (even if a Saudi pilot pushes the button in the cockpit) continues to broadcast into social media. And that says nothing of the twenty-plus million Yemenis, suffering from hunger, cholera, and according to the UN about two thirds of whom are in need of immediate humanitarian aid. In that devastation, the Two Coreys can’t even keep from taking shots at each other with their proxy forces. You have to guess everyone in Riyadh is waiting for another Tom Friedman interview to make this all seem like it’s happening far further afield than it actualy is.