Edited by Sam Thielman
INSTEAD OF STOPPING A GENOCIDE BY A U.S. CLIENT, Joe "We Will Not Go Back To Forever Wars In The Middle East" went back to forever wars in the Middle East and bombed Yemen on Thursday night.
The respectable set says that once the Houthis started attacking Red Sea shipping, a U.S. reprisal was inevitable. There's a lazy-person's truth here, for sure. Like the Royal Navy before it, the U.S. Navy sails under the banner of free trade. Any form of trade requires safe shipping lanes. Suez Canal traffic is down by something like 25 percent. Something like 10-12 percent of global commerce traverses the Red Sea.
The problem with this sort of thinking is that it confuses a justification for a military action with a strategy that produces a desired result. It treats a choice as an inevitability, and then, when convinced there is no alternative, intensifies a losing course of action when the choice doesn't produce the desired result and instead makes everything worse. Someone should write a book about this.
The Houthis survived over seven years of intense, U.S.-backed Saudi bombing, Emirati invasion and occupation, and a besiegement that made Yemen a hell on earth. The Emirati Navy, circa 2017, even "contribute[d] to keeping open the vital Bab al-Mandab waterway linking the Red Sea with the Arabian Sea" from Houthi missiles, as the Carnegie Endowment put it at the time. And look what the Houthis, after all that, are currently able to do!
Yemen experienced a war so horrific that even those who served in the Obama administration, which began the U.S. contribution to the Yemen war as a consolation prize to the Saudis and Emiratis for the Iran nuclear deal, demanded in 2018, when a Republican held the White House, that those U.S. contributions end. They included now-Secretary of State Tony Blinken, now-national security adviser Jake Sullivan, now-U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, now-Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, now-USAID Administrator Samantha Power, now-CIA Deputy Director David Cohen, now-Pentagon Chief of Staff Kelly Magsamen, and I could go on. What did they "urge an end" to?
Civilian casualties have skyrocketed, climbing 164 percent between June and September of this year alone. Deadly strikes on civilians have continued, including on markets, weddings, and school buses. By blockading the port city of Hodeidah, the coalition exacerbated the humanitarian crisis by preventing critical food and medical supplies from reaching the Yemeni people. The UN has warned of mass starvation as famine threatens up to 14 million people. Rather than remain complicit in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the United States should be leading the world in demanding access and providing humanitarian assistance.
They don't like skyrocketing civilian casualties, manufactured famine, or the bombing of weddings, markets and school infrastructure, or blockades? Wait till they hear what's happening in another war the U.S. is supporting!
BUT THE BROADER POINT is that bombing what Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called "sites associated with the Houthis’ unmanned aerial vehicle, ballistic and cruise missile, and coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities"* won't break Houthi will or Houthi capabilities. There is just too much accumulated evidence from a war that has not even technically ended attesting to that.
And so, when the Houthis continue to attack commercial Red Sea shipping, the U.S. will face the what-next problem. There will always be another military planner with another targeting proposal to bomb this-or-that site in an already-devastated country. When that once again doesn't work, there will always be voices demanding to go over the heads of the Houthis and take the war to their Iranian patrons, all without getting any closer to the objective of stopping the threats to Red Sea shipping. If you want If you want a glimpse into the future, just look at how the rocket-and-drone attacks on U.S.-occupied bases in Iraq and Syria prompted U.S. reprisals that didn't "restore deterrence" but instead jeopardized the U.S. relationship with the Iraqi government. Another certainty is that Yemenis will continue to die from U.S.-made ordnance. And right now those Yemenis are showing up in huge protests against the U.S. and UK bombings.
These two problems are the same problem, because they emerge from the same root cause: the Israeli genocide in Gaza. The Houthis were not declaring open season on Red Sea shipping before the current post-Oct. 7 war. The Iraqi and Syrian militias certainly had been attacking U.S.-used bases before then, but they had paused for months, and only after the Israeli military assaulted Gaza did they ramp up to the current now-more-than-130 attacks in 100-ish days tally. (And all of this is putting aside what is happening between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon/northern Israel, which is also directly connected to Gaza.)
What this shows us is that the Iranian-led coalition has a strategy: Attack the forward-deployed forces of the U.S. imperium, beneath the waterline prompting a direct retaliation, to pressure the U.S. into calling off the Israelis. It's important to observe, so as to not give the impression that the Iranians are geniuses, that this strategy isn't achieving its principal objective. But it is succeeding at drawing the U.S. into counterproductive, no-win situations, like the proven quagmire of war against the Houthis in Yemen (all those drone strikes in Yemen under Obama were against al-Qaeda targets, not Houthi ones, just for clarity's sake.). The Iranian strategy is also inhibiting U.S. freedom of action in Iraq – where the militias are now vowing to avenge Yemen.
The Biden administration, by contrast, has no strategy. It is reacting to events created by both its Axis of Resistance adversaries and its Israeli ally. Blinken was in the Middle East just this week pleading for a lack of escalation right before the U.S. escalated against the Houthis. Yesterday he was still talking about regional integration with Israel, the old U.S. strategy that collapsed after Oct. 7. Seriously, read this briefing transcript and tell me there is anything like a strategy here.
There is one way and one way only to stop all the problems that the U.S. now confronts in a Middle East spiraling toward the abyss: to use its enormous leverage over Israel to stop its genocidal war. Every day the Biden administration avoids that course of action is a day that threatens the survival of the Palestinians. It is also a day when the U.S. continues to be funneled, as if under fire from a tactically competent maneuvering enemy, into choices that only lead it further from its objectives. I have been writing since October that the U.S. is locking itself into an escalatory spiral that it seems not to acknowledge. There is a way out. And it is a choice—a choice only leadership can make. But the leadership we have doesn't seem willing to make it. Without that choice, tell me how this ends?
I didn't think I had it in me to write an edition on this, having now written four pieces this week and six since in the past eight days. That's why last night, right as the bombing was announced, I was on my friend Derek Davison's podcast American Prestige—our pal Danny Bessner was AWOL—to talk about the South Africa genocide charge at the ICJ and then the Yemen bombing. The episode is out now. Subscribe to their podcast so you can hear much more from me about this.
*CHECK THIS OUT, THOUGH. Austin's original statement to reporters, which hit my inbox at 8:17 p.m., said that "Today’s strikes targeted the Houthis’ unmanned aerial vehicle, uncrewed surface vessel, land-attack cruise missile, and costal radar and air surveillance capabilities." Seven minutes later, a corrected statement changed that to say: "Today’s strikes targeted sites associated with the Houthis’ unmanned aerial vehicle, ballistic and cruise missile, and coastal radar and air surveillance capabilities." They hedged about what they actually hit. Doesn't speak well for the state of U.S. intelligence on Yemen, a place U.S. intelligence has bombed a whole lot over the past 15 years.
READ VAN JACKSON on this, too. As well, read Van's piece about the wages of continuing to serve in the Biden administration.
FINALLY, pre-order the collected edition of WALLER VS. WILDSTORM and/or take advantage of a nearly-last chance to buy a set of all four issues signed by me from Bulletproof Comics! Also, and I don't pitch this as much as I should, buy my book, the smash critical success REIGN OF TERROR: HOW THE 9/11 ERA DESTABILIZED AMERICA AND PRODUCED TRUMP!