"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Huthi Truce Holding?

Tensely.  Will it?  Well, we've been down this road before, about five times, but there are different elements in play this time.  Here's a few reasons why it might, and a few reasons why it might not.  Let's bullet-point this shit.

  • Huthis are largely defeated militarily.  Salih's overwhelming assault- Operation Scorched Earth- was designed to incapacitate the Huthis so that he could deal with the country's other problems.  The intent was to break them.  The Saudis, with their relatively powerful military, aided in that.  Enormous human rights violations aside, this was successful.  The other "peace treaties" ended without political solutions and with the Huthis still able to fight.  This operation seems to have avoided the latter mistake.  
  • The involvement of the West.  To its credit, the west seems to have recognized that merely beating al-Qaeda right now will not be enough to save Yemen, and to turn it away from being a safe haven for terrorism.   We also seem determined to not allow Salih to use our money to destroy his enemies.  We'll see if that works in practice, but in theory we are pressuring for a political solution.  For once, the West's interest in Yemen is not just focused on al-Qaeda. 
  • Salih's intelligence.  The President needs the money to keep coming in to rebuild his patronage network, the single most important element to keeping him in power all these years.  The West is not excited about funding civil wars.  I think Salih knows that to stay in our already wary graces, he needs to play ball.  In a perfect world, he could get our money and crush his enemies.  Luckily, we are not in that world. 
And a few reasons why it won't.

  • Our rhetoric doesn't always match reality.  It's been close to two months since America and allies really began to look at Yemen, and just now is the peace-treaty taking hold.  There has been pressure, but it seems more of a public suggestion type of pressure.  There certainly has been closed-door goading, but the money has still been flowing.  Salih knows that for all our talk, and even intentions, the need to destroy al-Qaeda in the short-term is overwhelming politically. 
  • The narrative has shifted.  Inasmuch as the West paid attention to the Huthi conflict before, the government was always painted as the bad guy, mostly because of how the indiscriminate bombing caused heavy civilian casualties and an IDP crisis.  It was a pretty accurate painting.  Now it seems as if the story has become one of, at least, equal antagonists.  You still hear the misleading "Shi'ite rebellion" story, which no one in America likes to hear.  So while we don't want Salih to kill everyone, we also see the war as a struggle against a government we need, and not for a specific grievance.  Salih will be able to use that to keep money coming in, and paint his terms in a more favorable light.  This won't help with a long-term political solution.
  • Neither will bombing the hell out of people.  Scorched Earth was a military success, but it is hard to entice people whose villages you destroyed back into the warm bosom of the state.  Trust is a long, long way off. 
  • The Kingdom wants a piece.  It was lunacy for Saudi Arabia to get involved.  I understand that national pride might have been in play, a little, but not only did it get involved in an intractable foreign conflict, now it has its hands in on the difficult peace treaty.  The overbearing neighbor now feels it has to be at the bargaining table, which will throw a monkey wrench into everything.   Slaking Saudi pride is no mean feat. 

So, it looks like the final is 4-3, against this holding.  But clearly these aren't all weighted equal, and I am sure there are more arguments on either side.  But right now I feel these are some of the elements at play.  Readers are invited to tell me why I am wrong, or to add to either side, in the comments. 


  1. It seems like it will hold only until the Huthis are strong/angry enough to rise up again. From what I know (read: not much) this doesn't seem like a conflict that will just end. So I agree with your scorekeeping.