US and S. Arabia: More Military Misfires

US and S. Arabia: More Military MisfiresUS and S. Arabia: More Military Misfires

No concept has proven to be as strategically shortsighted as the assumption of military superiority. It leads powerful nations to give in to the temptation to bomb their way out of a problem, as if anyone could.

While in Washington this lesson is still sinking in, Saudi Arabia, the United States’ major ally in the Persian Gulf region, seems to have learned nothing from the ill-fated US strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bill Humprey and Stephan Richter wrote for Al Jazeera.

This is very surprising for a number of reasons: The Saudis not only had a front-row seat to observe the US’ presumably “overwhelming” force, but they also have much more at stake, given their keen interest in preserving stability in the region.

The Saudi way of handling the slow-burning crisis in Yemen shows that they are following in the US footsteps far too closely.

The case of Iraq showed conclusively that none of the US superiority in terms of military material translated into any sustainable advantage on the ground.

Ultimately, all that weaponry merely ensured that the US managed to break the “china” faster, and as a result, they got to own the consequential debris.

With regard to Yemen, Saudi Arabia is allegedly nervous about the quality of governance and economic performance of its very poor southern neighbor. Riyadh is afraid that Yemen’s narcotics networks and mass joblessness will represent a serious risk on the ground that could easily undermine Saudi Arabia’s desire for regional and domestic stability.

Given the nature of those challenges, what could possibly be the point of buying, and deploying, ever increasing numbers of defense goods?

That certainly is not the right strategy to deal with what is essentially a human problem, and a socioeconomic development issue of wide-reaching proportions.

The only ones who benefit from Saudi Arabia’s current strategy are defense contractors and arms merchants. Pleasing them and their mercenary interests will come to haunt Saudi Arabia’s government.

 Weapons in Wrong Hands

Does anyone seriously need a reminder of the possible consequences of delivering more significant arms and military vehicles to a failed state?

We have only just watched the Islamic State militants scoop up US-supplied armaments abandoned by the Iraqi Army.

Such a scenario in Yemen is obviously the last thing that Saudi Arabia needs to foster in its immediate vicinity. Let’s not forget the fact that Yemen already has the second-highest gun ownership in the world.

Now, the Saudis and Emiratis find themselves committing 1,500 ground troops. But to what end?

The official rationale is to make sure that the equipment they delivered to local fighters, who are not trained in using them, can be brought to bear.

This “rationale” puts the country on a slippery slope towards full-scale involvement in what was believed to be, and sold at home as, an “easy” air war.

 Misleading the Public

Taking this next step is the inevitable consequence of the Saudis repeating another US mistake, made during its preparation for the invasion of Iraq, overselling the outcomes, while underselling what it really takes in terms of blood and economic costs to succeed (if, and that is a very big if, “victory” can even be had).

The belief in the curative powers of “air superiority,” shared by the US and Saudi Arabia, is not at all helpful to their ultimate cause. It only results in a serious misleading of one’s own domestic population.

Far from the false “sugar high” of being able to begin bombing at a moment’s notice, what is really needed is to lay down a strategy that serves the region’s medium- and long-term interests.

In this context, the Saudis have plenty of reasons to be nervous, but they need to be strategically smart.

Yemen’s population, at about 27 million, is close to the size of Saudi Arabia (32 million), even though the former’s territory is only one-quarter the size of its much richer neighbor to the north.

The real challenge, though, is contained in this set of numbers: Yemen’s per capita income, at $1,370, is only 1-20th of Saudi Arabia’s ($26,340).

If the Saudi goal is to establish a friendly and stable government in Yemen, the war has gone terribly wrong.

 Shock and Awe

The Saudis’ US-style “shock and awe” tactics have yielded nothing of lasting benefit. In fact, Houthi forces, even though they are outgunned and outmatched on paper, have made major territorial gains. They went so far as to take control of Yemen’s capital Sana’a and send former president Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi and his Cabinet into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Aden has only been retaken with tremendous effort and ground forces. Is that a success of any kind?

Not when 20 million people are now without adequate drinking water. And hundreds (if not thousands) of civilians have been killed in strikes that have been frequently off-target.

Make no mistake about it; if anything, the Saudis’ course of action so far has created disillusionment among Yemen’s population regarding Saudi Arabia’s true intentions and capabilities.

Stunningly, that is true even among those Yemenis who had initially hoped for Saudi Arabia to become a stabilizing factor.

The presumed wealth of advantage of the US and Saudi Arabia over Iraq and Yemen does not serve either country well. This “abundance” tempted them to go for broke, all-out attack mode, and continues to delude them into believing they have “won” the battle, while they ignore that the war is being lost.

The US at least had the excuse of being an outsider to the region, but the Saudis, who live on the Arabian Peninsula with their Yemeni neighbors, cannot tap into that weak excuse.