Strategy of Using Gulf Monarchies to Project US Power in Mideast is Unraveling
Glen Ford says US-backed Saudi-led air attacks on the Houthis, who are dedicated fighters against al-Qaeda, are making al-Qaeda the real winners in this war
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore, and welcome to this edition of the Glen Ford Report.
At least 40 people are reported dead as a result of the Saudi-led, U.S. backed air strikes in al-Mazraq refugee camp, says Pablo Marco, the manager of Doctors Without Borders in northern Yemen. This is according to Al Jazeera. The AP is also reporting that according to witnesses on the ground, dozens of Yemenis were also injured. Witnesses say that the camp was housing displaced persons of Houthi sect from an earlier conflict.
What does all this mean in the latest frontier of war in the Middle East, backed by the U.S.? Now joining me for his commentary is Glen Ford. Glen is the executive editor of the Black Agenda Report. As always, thank you so much for joining us, Glen.
GLEN FORD, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLACKAGENDAREPORT.COM: Thank you.
PERIES: So Glen, what’s your take on this latest frontier of war that the U.S. is supporting?
FORD: Well, it’s always disturbing to hear about military aggressions and U.S. depredations in the Middle East. But I think we have to understand that this is actually part of the unraveling of the U.S. strategy to dominate that region. And it’s unraveling because the United States is totally dependent on these Gulf royal states for projection of U.S. power in the region. And those Gulf states are totally dependent on jihadists whom they finance. Those jihadists include al-Qaeda, and have historically included al-Qaeda.
The U.S. is, of course, openly backing the Saudi invasion of Yemen. The invasion is designed to crush the Houthi. And the Houthi are the most dedicated opponents in Yemen of al-Qaeda. They are dedicated to crushing al-Qaeda, getting rid of al-Qaeda, because al-Qaeda has marked the Houthis for extermination as heretics. The U.S.-Saudi coalition is a wide one, but it’s not a broad one. It’s made up almost entirely of the U.S. friends among the royal classes in that region of the world, Jordan and Morocco and Bahrain. It also includes Pakistan and Egypt.
But ultimately this war is going to further destabilize Saudi Arabia itself. Saudi Arabia sharing the Arabian peninsula with Yemen. Four million Yemenis work in Saudi Arabia. They are migrant laborers. And they are Shia, of course. And the oil fields in Saudi Arabia are in regions that are heavily populated by Shia Saudis, who are, of course, discriminated against by that Wahhabi regime. So this can only increase tensions and destabilize Saudi Arabia itself.
I want to mention that Egypt says that it’s willing to commit troops to Yemen. Egypt did have troops in Yemen from 1962 through 1967. This was when Nasser was president of Egypt. And those troops were there fighting Houthis. At that time, a Houthi royal government was trying to hold on in northern Yemen. Nasser sent his troops and he lost 26,000 of them, dead from ’62 through ’67. So Yemen has a reputation that rivals that of Afghanistan for being a graveyard for invaders. That will have a destabilizing effect on anybody who gets involved in this conflict.
Al-Qaeda is the real winner in this, because the U.S.-backed coalition is fighting against its main enemy, the Houthis. And that is fundamentally detrimental to U.S. policy in the long run, because the United States tells its people that the reason that it’s in Yemen, this far-away country that most Americans can’t locate on the map, is because it’s fighting al-Qaeda there. And that the Yemen al-Qaeda branch is the most dangerous one in the world, but there they are now backing the Saudis, and all these other royal, corrupt folks, fighting the force in Yemen that is most opposed to al-Qaeda.
The United States is doing the same thing there in Yemen that it’s doing in Syria: using U.S. power to undermine the people who are really the enemies of al-Qaeda and ISIS. In … in Iraq, the United States has used its air power, that is, by withholding its air power, to bully the Iraqis into not severing, of course that can’t happen. But diminishing their military links with Iran, and downplaying the Shiite militia’s role in trying to re-take that critical city.
This is seen by everybody in the region, and not just by the Shia, as the United States using the battle, the so-called battle against ISIS to its own advantage or worse. Some even imagine in that region that the U.S. is coddling ISIS and is protecting ISIS on the ground. Certainly that’s the way a lot of Iraqis feel. That’s the way much of the Syrian government feels.
And in Lybia, we have a situation in which the most prominent jihadist brigades that the United States put in power in 2011, with the U.S.-NATO air war against Col. Qaddafi’s government. The Misrata brigade. It’s an infamous military unit. It was the brigade that sodomized by knife and murdered Qaddafi, but also wiped out the black Libyan town of Tawergha. These are fierce jihadists. Many of their units are in the city of Sirte, which was the hometown of Qaddafi, and they have aligned themselves with ISIS. And other units from Misrata are on the outskirts of the city. They were ordered to take that city from the ISIS-affiliated Misrata fighters, and they refused, because they won’t go against their comrades.
So deep in the bosom of the military alliance that the U.S. put together to do regime change in Libya, we see ISIS gaining ground. And that conflict has further deepened the split between the U.S. allies in the Gulf, those allies upon which the United States depends. So a huge rift has developed between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. And with Turkey, a Muslim country that is a member of NATO, who are quite upset with the Saudis and also with Egypt, before their suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood.
These wars, such as in Yemen, the outbreak of violence and death only exacerbates these deep schisms within that very fragile coalition of states that the U.S. depends upon to keep its hold in the Middle East. So we see a process of unraveling.
And when we watch these terrible, terrible things devolve in the Mid-East, we of course should feel great sorrow and empathy with the victims of the violence. But we should also know that the United States’ position in the world, that is, U.S. imperialism, slips a notch or two every day in that region because of the contradictions that it faces.
PERIES: Glen, let me take up one point. If the Houthi minority in Yemen is actually helping fighting al-Qaeda in Yemen, why would the U.S. be in conflict with that position?
FORD: It shouldn’t be. But the Houthis, who make up 30%, they’re not a small minority, and as I said, they used to rule northern Yemen, they’re Shia. And so they get some support, at least moral support, probably some material support from Iran. And the Saudis, of course, hate anything that smacks of Iranian. So the Saudis are waging a proxy war against the Houthis, who they had no problem with when the Houthis were fighting the Egyptians in the 1960s. They’re fighting the Houthis today so that they can strike a blow against the Shia in Iran. That’s the Saudis’ world war. It’s a sectarian world war that plays out.
Also, the Saudis have always tried to destabilize Yemen. It’s the second-largest population center on the Arabian Peninsula. It’s a civilization that goes back thousands of years and is far more rooted than the House of Saud, which came to prominence under the British, and consolidated its position in the rest of the country. So the Saudis have never wished well to the Yemeni people, in terms of that country’s political and territorial integrity, and they’re even more malicious in their treatment of Yemen when the Houthis, a Shia group, is in ascension there.
PERIES: All right. And Glen, if the objective here is to have … if this is a proxy war between Iran and the Saudis for regional dominance, and it’s a matter of who’s guy is in Yemen, how do you think this is going to play out in the next few months to come?
FORD: Well, I don’t really think it’s a proxy war if we mean war by two people playing the game. There’s really very little evidence that the Iranians are or even can lend much material support to the Houthis. The Houthi’s allies are Sunni citizens of Yemen, who have problems with the regime that the Saudis were so instrumental in implanting in Yemen. The regime that was in power, that the United States and its corporate media keep on calling democratically elected was actually appointed by the Saudis when civil unrest forced the previous president to step down, so it’s no more democratic than Saudi Arabia is.
PERIES: Thank you so much for joining us, Glen.
FORD: Thank you.
PERIES; And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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