"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Monday, October 4, 2010

Exciting Stories for Cool Kids!

That title seems more gripping than "A Few Links About Aid In The Arabian Peninsula".  I think it will also be the title of my forthcoming 1940s-style mystery serial.  Anyway.

The first link is from Nasser Arrabyee, about Germany providing some 110 million bones, US, to Yemen for aid projects such as water and other infrastructure needs.  This is good, of course.  It does, however, highlight a troubling trend, at least in the long-term: the perception that aid comes in two different ways- the US provides guns to the regime, and Europe provides what the people actually need.  This is balderdash, or maybe poppycock- the US is also providing hundreds of millions in direct aid.  But it is also giving over a billion in military aid, and has trumpeted that number far louder.   I understand there are domestic reasons for wanting to highlight the exploding side of aid rather than the weak and palsied "keeping people alive" side of it- that is one of the seemingly unavoidable stupidities in our political climate.  But the dangers of this barely need to be written.  If the only perceived US footprint is a boot- regardless of how accurate that is- we lose.  Maybe not in the short-term, but in the extremely medium term.   The US is the primary foreign target of jihadi rhetoric.  Even if there is a tacit agreement among the Friends of Yemen- we provide guns; you: butter- and even if the end result is the same, the story of the US propping up an apostate dictator to crush the little guy is a propaganda coup.  The US needs better PR on this.

A slightly more difficult question is the proposed $60 arms deal to Saudi Arabia.  This has been percolating for a while, but here is the briefest summary, from the CFR website.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have recently ordered U.S. weapons worth around $123 billion. The largest deal, if approved by Congress, would be a $60 billion package of U.S. arms for Saudi Arabia, including eighty-four new and seventy refurbished F-15 fighters, supplied largely by Boeing, as well as seventy Apache helicopters, seventy-two Black Hawks, and thirty-six Little Birds.

On the above link there is also a learned debate about the merits of such a sale, mostly revolving around whether it will provide a good counterbalance to Iran.  I don't feel qualified to weigh in on that question, so instead I'll talk about the potential impact on Yemen.  I know, weird twist, right?

The helicopters scare me.  The Sauds have never exactly been reluctant to interfere in Yemen, physically if needed.  This was shown again last year, when they foolishly enmeshed themselves in the Houthi war.  And what is the point of fancy new equipment if you can't use it?  I don't doubt the Saudis are very concerned with Iran, but it is a mistake to think that Yemen is an afterthought for them.  The odds of new, well-publicized US arms being used in Yemen are pretty short.  I'd take that bet in a heartbeat. 

And then what?  Well, nothing unites Yemenis like Saudi interference.  Even those who were on the side of the government liked seeing the overbearing older brother get their nose bloodied in Sa'dah.  It is another great marketing gimmick for AQAP and for the Houthis- the US is selling arms to two corrupt governments in order to crush you.   Even if we discount the propaganda bonus, Saudi involvement further complicates an impossible situation in the north- our goal is to keep Yemen from falling apart, not speed that up.  Of course we're going to sell arms to the Saudis, but we also really need to keep an eye on how they are used. 

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