Columns

Is Yemen the Next Afghanistan?

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

There are bad vibes in the air. Some of it is driven by politics. In the West, an SUV plowed through the Waukesha holiday parade in Wisconsin, fanning the flames of domestic tension. The BBC reports huge protests across Europe over new Covid restrictions. Even paradise is bitten by the serpent. France sent special forces to its Caribbean region of Guadeloupe after Covid riots.

But a lot of the discontent is driven by plain economics. High gas prices have forced “Americans to rejigger household budgets and forgo leisure activities,” says the NYT. People are getting poor. It’s even boomeranged on the environmentalists as the energy crunch drives Europe to burn more coal, according to Bloomberg:

Europe is growing increasingly reliant on coal to keep the lights on as the weather turns cold, sending the cost of polluting to a record. … With shortages of natural gas sending prices quadrupling this year, traders are preparing to burn more coal this winter, and that will require more pollution permits. At the same time, the European Union has increased its climate ambitions, vowing to cut emissions faster this decade. That means the carbon price will have to increase more quickly.

Some pundits have put the blame on Saudi Arabia. “Ignore the right-wing spin about inflation. A key reason inflation is up and gas prices are high is because Saudi Arabia is withholding oil production. Biden won’t meet with MBS after the murder of Khashoggi, and the kingdom is enacting revenge by driving up energy prices.”

Whose fault it is may soon become academic as Saudi Arabia continues to lose the war in Yemen, bringing one oil-producing facility after the other within range of Iranian proxy weapons. “Yemen’s Battleground Shifts in Favor of Iran-Backed Houthis. Saudi Arabia is scrambling to defend oil-rich city [Marib] against [the] group, as Biden administration debates whether to back Riyadh in Yemen civil war” writes the WSJ.

The surprising shifts in the front lines of a seven-year war have allowed the Houthis to reopen the road from Hodeidah to the capital, Sana’a, where the group recently stormed a largely abandoned U.S. Embassy complex and took Yemeni employees captive.

The battleground realignment is another strategic twist for the Saudis, who initially believed in 2015 that, with American backing, they would need just a few weeks to defeat the Houthi movement, a Shiite offshoot group in Yemen aligned with Iran that had taken over Yemen’s capital. Instead the country’s civil war has dragged on, killing tens of thousands of civilians, including from errant airstrikes, triggering one of the world’s worst humanitarian disasters and draining Saudi coffers.

A former senior Yemen official warned that the strategic dam will break if rebels take Marib, according to the Independent. That might be hyperbole, but investors are genuinely worried. “Saudi Arabia’s stock market posted its biggest one-day drop in more than a year on Sunday, a day after Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis said they had fired 14 drones at several Saudi Arabian cities, including at Saudi Aramco facilities in Jeddah,” writes Reuters.

While the loss of Marib would be significant in itself, it is the threat to Aramco and the Red Sea that could prove catastrophic. “Ever since the Saudi-led military campaign was launched in Yemen in 2015 against the Shia Houthi rebel movement that had risen on Saudi Arabia’s doorstep, the kingdom’s territory increasingly became a target for airborne retaliation attacks carried out by the Houthis, using rockets and ballistic missiles provided by Tehran (which saw an opportunity in the Saudi-Houthi clash to deepen its grip in Yemen).”

Two years since the attack on the Aramco facilities, it is evident more than ever that the menace Iran’s drones pose to Saudi Arabia is not a temporary implication of the Yemen War, as believed at first, but one that is here to stay as a linchpin in the regional attack and deterrence capabilities of the Islamic Republic. This is a far-reaching development, as it has granted Tehran a new and efficient way to coerce both its neighbors and the West by impairing, whenever it wishes, maritime pathways and the global energy market.

“Some Biden administration officials are urging the president to ease restrictions on military support to Riyadh so that the U.S. can help them beat back Houthi advances. But that would mean backtracking on one of Mr. Biden’s first foreign policy moves, to end offensive support for the Saudi-led campaign,” writes the WSJ. Biden’s going to have a tough time selling a military assistance package to the Democrat left wing, as this tweet from Bernie Sanders illustrates.

While the biggest current media talking point is “Kyle Rittenhouse,” the unfolding threat to the Gulf oil order from Iranian proxies is potentially more significant. If the plan is to throw the Kingdom to the wolves, there ought to be some backup domestic oil production contingency against the possible shortage of ‘fossil fuels’ beyond the capacity of a defeated Saudi Arabia to ameliorate it. Perhaps the global warmists don’t see it as a problem, but the average Joe might.

The lack of such preparations triggers a sense of deja vu. Is Yemen the Next Afghanistan? The comparison fails in that the Arabian peninsula is far more important than the landlocked Afghan mountains. But it succeeds admirably to describe the same absent-minded process of walking right into catastrophe.

Books: The Last Duel by Eric Jager. In 1386, a few days after Christmas, a massive crowd gathered at a Paris monastery to watch two men fight a duel to the death. A trial by combat to prove which man’s cause was right in God’s sight. The dramatic story of the knight, the squire, and the lady unfolds during the tumultuous fourteenth century. A time of war, plague, and anarchy, as well as of honor, chivalry, and courtly love. The notorious quarrel appears in many histories of France, but no writer has recounted it in full until now.