With this video we bring our investigation into Yemen to a close. Looking at the country in depth, it’s become clear that the stories we tell about Yemen don’t have much relation to reality. Al Qaeda nightmares, and the much heralded hegemony of Iran are ideas that I find annoying at the best of times, but they’re especially pernicious when it comes to Yemen. These issues are tangential to the conflict in Yemen, which is really about independence first and foremost. I hope you find this series useful.
I’m quite pleased with how this has gone. It’s nice to produce a handful of videos with a defined beginning, middle and end. Those who make their way through this Yemen series will know more about the country and the conflict than anybody in Washington, DC. I hope to be able to make more things like this in future. Which is why I close today’s video with another Patreon Pitch…
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. Today I’ll take a final look at Yemen’s disaster and suggest a way forward. First and foremost we need the fighting to stop. We could do it tomorrow. Without US support the Saudi coalition that holds the South of the country would have to sue for peace. I have been talking about the problem of the US-Saudi relationship for 6 months now. I largely think the problem will solve itself, but there is one concrete step we could take to distance ourselves from Saudi Arabia, and save lives. And that’s ending the war in Yemen. The problem is that we can’t do it because Washington, DC has been completely captured by two dumb stories we tell ourselves about Yemen. The first is the Al Queda myth I dealt with in the last video. Continuing the war is the biggest gift we could possibly give Al Queda, and I think most people realize that. So today I’ll deal with the more powerful myth and try to counter it with a better story, that will actually allow us to end the war.
The second myth is the idea that Yemen is part of a larger battle between Iran and the United States. This is the story that the Saudis have been selling the US so they can maintain their war for control of Yemen. The idea here is that Saleh and the Houthis, who control the North today, are in league with Iran, and they’re building a Shia crescent they will use to control the Middle East and fight America!
Most serious analysts of the Yemen conflict acknowledge that this story is largely bullshit. Zaydi Shi’ism, the religion of the Houthis, is actually much closer to Sunni Islam than the Iranian version of Shia Islam. Since the war began, Saleh and the Houthis have been happy to take any help they can, and yes that has included more and more arms and support from Iran. The longer the war goes on, the closer we get to making the myth of Iran’s hegemonic ambitions a reality. Not that that really matters to US interests. Whoever wins control of the Middle East will be desperate to sell oil to the rest of the world. The US’s focus on the middle East over the past 15 years has been a terrible waste of time and resources, and it’s been in service to stupid ideas.
The battle in Yemen isn’t a war against Terrorism, and it isn’t a war against Iran. It’s a war for independence. And the United States is on the wrong side.
In fact it’s two separate wars of independence.
Yemeni Independence From Saudi Arabia
South Yemen’s Independence from the North
And they’ve been going on for quite some time. It’s important not to get too caught up in the individual personalities here.
Saleh is now the face of one of Yemen’s wars for independence, but during his entire time as president he fought both.
In this series I have documented the incredible fall of Yemen’s traditional ruling class of Zaydi Shias. In 1962 a system that had lasted in some form for 1,000 years was crushed by outsiders. The Zaydi Imams fought the Ottomans, the British, and the Egyptians in a battle to live their lives the way they wanted. They thought they won in 1970, and that they had set up a more modern state, but since then their country has fallen further and further under the sway of Saudi Money.
The way I see it, the war of the Houthis is fundamentally a war for independence from Saudi Arabia. The Houthi movement started in the early 2000s to resist Saudi Wahhabi influence. The Houthis are the proud representatives of a 1,000 year old tradition, and they are strong. We’ve been throwing everything we have against them for over a decade and they’ve only gotten stronger. The Houthis are kind of impressive.
What? Oh? Yeah. That’s kind of a nasty slogan isn’t it. I’ve seen a couple reports on Yemen that assume this is all you need to know about the Houthis. I don’t think we should get too hung up on it.
Before 2011 Saleh was the main instrument of their repression. He used US and Saudi money to brutally repress the Houthis in a series of small wars that we ignored. The Houthi rallying cry is tailored to appeal to the sympathies of the Arab street. I don’t think it’s really about the United States and it’s certainly not really about Saleh. Since 2014 The Houthis have been quite happy to ally with Saleh in their war against Saudi influence. Even though he spent a decade bombing them. They’re not looking to trade Saudi Dominance for Iranian dominance. They’re looking for freedom. If we supported them in that, they’d probably be just as happy to ally with us as they have been with Saleh. And maybe change their flag.
The second war for independence is even more straightforward. In this series I’ve highlighted the way that the South’s aspirations were crushed in 1994, and the way that a region with very different priorities was basically occupied by the North.
When we talk about Abd Rabbo Hadi, the man who is currently in charge in the South, we pretend he’s the lawful president of all of Yemen. He’s not. He has no legitimacy in the North. The national reconciliation process he over-saw in 2013 looked nice, but it was built on sand.
Hadi resigned and fled the country in 2015 before the Saudi military brought him back. Hadi has no legitimacy in the North. But he has a little bit in the South. He’s from South Yemen, and was a politician there before unification. There’s a fascinating facet of the Saudi war in Yemen that isn’t often mentioned. When they started their intervention in 2015, Saudi Arabia managed to take the South fairly quickly. Since then they have made only tiny gains in less populated areas in the North at the cost of Billions of dollars. The old division between North and South has been restored.
To be clear, I’m not saying that Saleh and the Houthis have any real right to rule in the North, or that Hadi has any real right to rule the in the south. I’d wager that a lot of North Yemen hates their leaders almost as much as they hate the Saudis. Many in the South probably hate Hadi for his dependence on Saudi and UAE money and military resources. He also spent 17 years helping to loot the south as Saleh’s Vice President. But it’s only peace that will allow Yemen to work on these issues. Continued war solidifies the power of these warlords, both North and South.
So I think we should accept this division. We need to accept that this is a two-fold battle for independence, and help the Yemeni peoples work towards these very real aspirations. It’s not about terrorism or Sunni vs. Shia. It’s about freedom first and foremost. Peace and Independence is the story the United States should get behind. Not continued war for outmoded myths.
You know what, I could be completely wrong about all of this. I’ve never been to Yemen, and I’ve only been studying the country seriously for about six months. Also, I think I advocate carving up other people’s countries way too much on this channel. But I do know that the stories the United States tells itself about Yemen, IRAN MYTH AL-QUEDA MYTH, are a lot worse than the story I’ve tried to tell today. Our dumb stories about Yemen are destroying Yemen. I think the story of Yemen’s two wars of independence makes a lot more sense. And it could help us build the moral courage necessary to stop the fighting. With peace then perhaps a more federalized system could allow for a prosperous future for a United Yemen. I don’t know. What do you think?
Phew! Well that was exhausting! I hope you found this tour through Yemen’s disaster helpful. I certainly did. These videos only happened because of the generosity of the 95 amazing people who support this project on Patreon. Some chip in a buck a video, some chip in 15. You guys may have noticed that all of these Yemen videos were filmed in the same location. After a year of living on people’s couches, I can finally afford to pay rent again. Thanks to you guys. It’s the crowd-funding that made that possible, and I’m incredibly grateful. With this video I’ve completed the first of four things I promised in my Thank you Video two and a half months ago. So I think it’s time I mentioned the next big ask for this channel. I’m incredibly grateful to be making enough money to have an apartment here in Istanbul. But I’d like, by the time I turn thirty-nine, on July 15th, 2018, to be able to afford to live in the United States again. If I hit this goal I should just be able to pull it off. So if you think this content is worthwhile, I’d be honored if you considered chipping in. Also I need a new laptop, which will take about a month of income at current levels. Anyway Regardless.
Thanks so much for watching, please subscribe, and I’d be honored if you considered clicking on the Patron link here, to help me keep going.Thanks.