Sunday, March 18, 2018

How Bad is Yemen?

Unless I'm missing something, I don't understand what appears to be the exaggeration over the Yemen civil war:

[Saudi heir apparent Mohammed bin Salman] seems to be scaling back his war in Yemen after three years that have achieved little beyond mass civilian slaughter, famine and a cholera epidemic, at huge cost to both the kingdom’s reputation and its finances (a cost of $120bn so far, according to one Saudi defence expert).

Slaughter? The death toll doesn't support that claim, as I noted recently in a data dump:

I don't understand why Westerners so often say that the scale of death in the Yemen civil war, as an aside in an otherwise interesting article on reforming Islam said, "has brought famine, disease and death on a scale that is almost unimaginable." The death toll in nearly 3 years in Yemen is under 14,000 dead. People are dying and suffering, but the scale is hardly unimaginable at under 5,000 per year. Yet Yemen inspires indignant horror in Britain while Syria's 400,000+ dead in about 6 years of serious fighting (the first year seemed more protest based with casualties rather than a civil war it evolved into, to me). Or compare it to the war in Russian-occupied Ukrainian Donbas where about 12,000 had died in nearly four years of war. The world yawns at 3,000 dead per year but 5,000 is unimaginable?

Famine? A recent Washington Post article doesn't say more than that millions are at risk of famine--not dying in actual famine:

Nearly 80 percent of Yemen's population is food-insecure; millions are teetering on the edge of famine. The situation — described as critical for nearly two years — has grown even worse since early November, when Saudi Arabia enacted a near-complete blockade on its borders with Yemen, making it nearly impossible for anyone to import food, water and medical supplies from Saudi Arabia.

I have no doubt that food is scarce and something should be done. But the blockade is for the purpose of stopping Iranian arms shipments to Houthi rebels who fire missiles at Saudi civilian targets.

Yes, there seems to be a cholera epidemic. And while it could cause mass deaths it doesn't seem to have yet. That's no reason to remain passive, but I don't think the claims so far are accurate.

Nor do I see the Saudi reputation taking a hit. The Saudi effort did stop the pro-Iran momentum in Yemen's civil war and is slowing achieving results.

Besides, if the Saudi reputation has survived the Islamist ideology that spawned 9/11 and the terrorism we've fought since then, it can survive opposing Iran.

And I seriously doubt the financial cost claim unless it counts military expenses that would have been incurred even in peacetime.

Also, this is misleading from the Post:

Thousands of bombs have been dropped; many have hit and killed civilians. According to research, out of about 8,600 of those attacks, 3,577 hit military sites, and 1,510 struck residential areas, school buildings, hospitals and other civilian sites.

Does the "research" (linking to a far-left Guardian article!) indicate whether rebels were using civilian sites as fighting positions or otherwise using them? If so, that makes them military targets. The rules on war do not require combatants to treat any civilian site as a sanctuary for enemies.

I'll not deny that being in a war zone is anything but a horror show. But so much of the Western reporting on Yemen seems like Iran-inspired propaganda, quite honestly. I'm open to being persuaded by better information. But so far I don't see it.

And I want the Saudis to win.

UPDATE: Strategypage sketches the clusterfuck that is "modern" Yemen.

UPDATE: I suspect the bias of the head of the Yemen Peace Project from saying that Yemen is the "world's worst humanitarian crisis."

As I've long argued, Yemen is a clusterfuck. All we can do is try to kill jihadis who use Yemen as a base to attack us and make sure Iran doesn't gain a foothold at the southern access point to the Red Sea. The Saudi alliance with our help is working to do that latter while our air strikes and special forces raids work on the former.

America is not at fault for making the Yemen clusterfuck. If you haven't read the Strategypage update, do so now. We made that worse? Good luck with that peace project.

UPDATE: However bad the war is objectively, the image is amazingly bad. Secretary of Defense Mattis let the Saudis know they should get on with winning and ending the war.