Tuesday, August 23, 2016

When Leading from Behind it is Easier to Stab in the Back

So are we downgrading our cooperation with Saudi Arabia in the Yemen civil war because of civilian casualties?

The U.S. military has withdrawn from Saudi Arabia its personnel who were coordinating with the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen, and sharply reduced the number of staff elsewhere who were assisting in that planning, U.S. officials told Reuters. ...

The June staff withdrawal, which U.S. officials say followed a lull in air strikes in Yemen earlier this year, reduces Washington's day-to-day involvement in advising a campaign that has come under increasing scrutiny for causing civilian casualties. ...

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the reduced staffing was not due to the growing international outcry over civilian casualties in the 16-month civil war that has killed more than 6,500 people in Yemen, about half of them civilians.

But the Pentagon, in some of its strongest language yet, also acknowledged concerns about the conflict, which has brought Yemen close to famine and cost more than $14 billion in damage to infrastructure and economic losses.

I'm not sure why the civilian casualties are a major factor in any decision we make. As I recently wrote, the 6,500 casualties in nearly a year and a half are really a low rate--assuming the casualty count is accurate.

And the article says that civilian casualties are half of the total, making the toll even smaller.

A "arms watchdog" group is calling for a reduction of arms to Saudi Arabia in punishment:

An arms watchdog on Monday urged major weapons exporters, including the United States and France, to cut sales to Saudi Arabia over its actions in Yemen, as a conference on global arms trade opened in Geneva.

As I noted, the death toll isn't that high compared to other wars. Plus, does the watchdog group account for enemies using human shields? Saudi Arabia is not obligated by the rules of war to refrain from striking valid military targets just because civilians are close. In that case, the responsibility for the civilian deaths lies with the side that places civilians close to their military assets for protection.

And the rebels seem to have plenty of weapons, as does Assad where the death toll of Syrian civilians is an order of magnitude greater than civilian deaths in Yemen (and possibly a couple orders of magnitude greater by now).

I don't know, but this whole issue sounds more like caving in to Iranian information operations designed to portray the Saudi-led intervention against Shia forces that Iran backs as bloodthirsty.

Why we'd go along with Iranian efforts to turn America into a responsible (according to Iranian definitions) power in the region is beyond me.

And given that the Obama administration prides itself in "leading from behind," why we'd undermine an ally actually willing to get in front of us is also beyond my powers of analysis.

But I've always been nuance deficient, I admit.