Nafeez Ahmed on 3 April 2015 published an insightful article at the website Middle East Eye that brings together research from David Hearst demonstrating that the US itself, through its Gulf allies, gave the northern Houthis of Yemen a green light for their offensive last September. (See (1) Blowback in Yemen; (2) Saudi Power Struggles ... and (3) US War in Yemen, Saudi-Arabia, Iran,...)
The first of these articles by David Hearst (Blowback in Yemen) revealed that the Houthi offensive was “conducted under the nose of a US military base in Djibouti” from where CIA drones operate. “The Houthis are even protecting the US embassy in Sanaa.” Hearst revealed that the Houthis had been emboldened by a quiet nod from Saudi Arabia, under the watchful eye of US intelligence.
The second article “Saudi's internal power struggles ...”, which analyzed Saudi support for the military coup in Egypt, outlines how Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar met with Houthi leader Saleh Habreh in London. The Saudis wanted to mobilise the Houthis against the Islah Party, Yemen’s Muslim Brotherhood branch that shared power with President Hadi, so that they “cancel each other out” in conflict. But Islah refused to confront the Houthis, and Riyadh’s green light backfired, allowing the militia to march unhindered to the capital.
Nafeez Ahmed explains that “Sources close to Hadi say they were told by the Americans about a meeting in Rome between Iranian officials and the son of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, to secure his assurances that government units loyal to Saleh would not oppose the Houthi advance.” Nafeez Ahmed also unveils the US strategy in promoting full-scale Sunni-Shia regional war-by-proxy: Since 9/11, every country in the region touched by major US interference has collapsed into civil war as their social fabric has been irreversibly shattered: Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya.
The ensuing arc of sectarian warfare bears uncanny resemblance to scenarios explored in a little-known study by an influential Washington DC defence contractor.
"Unfolding the Future of the Long War", a 2008 RAND Corporation report, was sponsored by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command’s Army Capability Integration Centre. It set out US government policy options for prosecuting what it described as “the long war” against “adversaries” in “the Muslim world,” who are “bent on forming a unified Islamic world to supplant Western dominance”.
Muslim world adversaries include “doctrinaire” Salafi-jihadists;“ religious nationalist organisations” like “Hezbollah and Hamas that participate in the political process” but are also “willing to use violence”; secular groups “such as communists, Arab nationalists, or Baathists”; and “nonviolent organisations” because their members might later join “more radical organisations”.
The report suggests that the US Army sees all Muslim political groups in the region that challenge the prevailing geopolitical order as “adversaries” to be countered and weakened.
Among the strategies explored by the US Army-sponsored report is “Divide and Rule,” which calls for “exploiting fault lines between the various SJ [Salafi-jihadist] groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts,” for instance between “local SJ groups” focused on “overthrowing their national government” and transnational jihadists like al-Qaeda.
This appears to be the strategy in Libya and Syria, where local insurgents, despite affiliations with al-Qaeda, received covert US aid to overthrow Gaddafi and Assad.
The RAND report recommends that the US and its local allies “could use the nationalist jihadists to launch proxy IO [information operation] campaigns to discredit the transnational jihadists… the United States and the host nation could even help the nationalist jihadists execute a military campaign to stamp out al-Qaeda elements that are present locally.”
US support for such “nationalist jihadists” would, however, need to be packaged appropriately for public consumption. “Because of the nature of the nationalist terrorist groups, any assistance would be mainly covert and would imply advanced IO capabilities.”
This illustrates the confusion in US defence circles about the complex relationship between transnational and national jihadists. According to Dr Akil Awan, an expert in jihadist groups at Royal Holloway,University of London, before 9/11 the concerns of national jihadist groups were “often very local and parochial”. This changed after 9/11, as al-Qaeda’s “brand value became irresistible to many local groups, who then pledged allegiance to bin Laden in savvy PR campaigns”.
“Funding national jihadist groups is not a particularly bright idea,”said Dr Awan. “Yes it might undermine support for global jihadist groups like al-Qaeda, but whoever proposed it has a very poor memory in terms of recent US foreign policy by proxy warfare and the inevitable blowback effect - case in point: Afghanistan. Supporting violent groups for your own foreign policy objectives is also incredibly damaging to local democratic or peaceful voices, and other civil society actors.
”The US Army-backed report did show awareness of this risk of“blowback,” noting that the “divide and rule” strategy “may inadvertently empower future adversaries in the pursuit of immediate gains”.
Capitalising on sectarianism
According to Dr Christopher Davidson of Durham University, author of "After the Sheikhs: the Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies", the current crisis in Yemen is being “egged on” by the US, and could be part of a wider covert strategy to “spur fragmentation in Iran allies and allow Israel to be surrounded by weak states”.
He suggests that the Yemen war serves US interests in three overlapping ways. (1) It tests whether or not Iran will “ramp up support for Houthis”. If not, then Iran’s potential role “as a reliable, not expansionist regional policeman (much like the Shah) will seem confirmed to the US.” (2) The war could also weaken Saudi Arabia. Pushing the House of Saud into a “full-on hot war,” said Dr Davidson, would be “great for the arms industry, [and] gives the US much needed leverage over increasingly problematic Riyadh… If the regime in Saudi Arabia’s time is up, as many in the US seem to privately believe, in the post-$100-a-barrel era, this seems a useful way of running an ally into the ground quite quickly”. (3) The Yemen conflict also “diverts global attention from IS [Islamic State] in Levant and the increasingly obvious uselessness or unwillingness of the US-led coalition to act against it”.
Read the full article “The Pentagon plan to ‘divide and rule’ the Muslim world” by Nafeez Ahmed at http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/pentagon-plan-divide-and-rule-muslim-world-1690265165