Professor Matthew Crosston said the new arms deal that U.S. President Donald Trump signed with Saudi Arabia “is going to have a decidedly negative effect on the situation in Yemen.”
“Everything the Saudis have done in Yemen has been done with defense weapons bought mostly from the United States,” he noted.
Here’s the full text of the interview:
Is there a link between the new arms deal that Trump clinched with the Saudis and the future of Saudi Arabia's war against Yemen?
Matthew Crosston: There is certainly a link in the sense that everything the Saudis have done in Yemen has been done with defense weapons bought mostly from the United States. This new deal, which Trump most assuredly did as a focus on domestic economic improvement and for giving a benefit to major American defense industry conglomerates, is going to have a decidedly negative effect on the situation in Yemen. It is inconceivable that the Saudis would invest so heavily in new weaponry and then not use it in the conflict it has characterized as essential to its regional hegemonic interests (i.e. counter-acting Iranian influence). When you consider the general categories covered in the deal (air force modernization; air and missile defense; border security and counterterrorism; maritime and coastal security; and communications and cybersecurity), it is not difficult to envision how each individual sector can play a major role in ratcheting up Saudi activity against Houthi rebels in and around Yemen as a whole. And if that happens, then the situation on the ground in Yemen only gets worse.
Keep in mind this ‘link’ is indirect and secondary when it comes to connecting back to Trump. I do not think Trump is anti-Houthi. To be honest, I highly doubt Trump even knows who or what the Houthis are and where they are located or what their interests and goals are. This was an economic deal for the United States and it is largely all Trump cares about. When someone on his team could also, on the side, say this deal will also supposedly undermine ‘radical Islamists in the Persian Gulf,’ it is just the sort of side benefit Trump crows about, even if he has not personally vetted such a claim from an intelligence and national security perspective and even if the claim is largely untrue. Trump cares more about how the soundbite will play to his base than whether the soundbite carries actual facts.
What countries benefit from the chaos in Yemen?
Matthew Crosston: I am not a fan of ‘beneficial chaos,’ as it were, so I say no countries TRULY benefit from the horrible human catastrophe taking place in Yemen and largely going unnoticed in the West. It is without question a proxy playground for Iran and Saudi Arabia, flexing their political and military muscles and trying to exhibit for the region who is the strongest and who has the proper claim to ‘regional hegemon’ for the greater Middle East. What I find so distressing in this conflict is how little Yemen has to offer either of the two greater powers as a geographical or diplomatic pawn. Yemen is not and was not a major political actor in the region (at least, not compared to half a dozen more powerful states) and the State vs. Houthi rebels angle is, to me, a rather weak justification for all of the devastation and suffering that has been inflicted upon the Yemeni people. I am a scholar and expert on international security and intelligence studies, which means I am not decrying the fact that states still largely act according to hyper-realist logic and almost always look to maximize their national interests and global positioning. I honestly do not have a problem with that reality. But when two larger powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran play these realpolitik grandstanding games out on a far weaker country, where the known consequence is going to be total anarchy and a gigantic humanitarian crisis, then the two countries should both be shunned and hindered by the larger global community. Unfortunately, no one within that community has tried to be a leader yet on this account.
The humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen is worsening by the moment. What could end such disaster?
Matthew Crosston: I was just hinting at that at the end of the last question: there has to be greater determination and effort by the global community at large to put into effect REAL deterrents that would impact both major players (Saudi Arabia and Iran). If these two countries stopped their support of the conflict in general, then the smaller internal unrest between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels would likely either extinguish itself or at least be at a much much smaller level of intensity. This would subsequently allow aid agencies and humanitarian organizations real operating space to enter the country and alleviate pain, suffering, and famine.
So far it has been a horrible stain on the reputation of the international community that the events in Yemen have not really registered a big enough mark in public consciousness. As such, no state seems compelled to step forward and take initiative. Honestly, there isn’t even really much VERBAL condemnation, if you ask me, not in comparison to the level of suffering. So, if we cannot even register high enough attention in terms of verbal acknowledgement, I highly doubt anyone is going to suddenly do an about-face of conscience and decide that the Yemeni people’s suffering should end and end right now! This is one of those instances where the only thing worse than the suffering is the woefully inefficient international response to it.
What's your take on Western media's coverage of Saudi Arabia's onslaught against Yemen?
Matthew Crosston: Most Americans would be very hard-pressed to find Yemen on a map, let alone understand the internal dissension dynamics going on at the moment between the central government and local factions. This basic fact of ignorance goes a long way in determining how little media coverage emerges on the conflict. Too many media organizations are still governed by advertising revenue and ‘viewers’ in one form or another. As a result, our media coverage has suffered from a tremendous ‘dumbing down’ over the past three decades. The onslaught of online ‘news’ has not necessarily signaled an increase in quality, detail, and probing analysis. Yes, we have access to more news from more sources than ever before. But have we, as Americans, become more nuanced, more appreciative, and more global in the news we decide to track and follow? I fear the answer to that question is a resounding ‘no.’ Consequently, Americans will often create a ‘shortcut’ version of the news that can be horrendously misguided.
For example, Yemen is in the Persian Gulf. Therefore, it will lead many Americans to simply think any internal unrest has to be an issue strictly guided by radical Islam and is about the government trying to defend itself against extremists. This is in fact how MANY news outlets all over the world that are in favor of Saudi interests have characterized the Yemen conflict. But as we have explained above and which is readily available for the discerning global citizen interested in more nuanced analysis and root causes, the conflict is far more complex and layered. So, what Western media needs more than anything else are Western citizens interested in that more complex and layered story. If those citizens exist, then media organizations will give the ‘more difficult’ story to them. It is a very basic media version of supply and demand. But we do not have very many of those citizens right now in America. And thus, our media outlets are not supplying people with analyses of the Yemen unrest that do justice to its complexity, importance, and larger international impact.
Dr. Matthew Crosston is Vice Chairman of Modern Diplomacy and member of the Editorial Board at the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.
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