Andrew Bacevich comments on the recent unusual speech given by Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the current head of Central Command, at a gathering hosted by the poorly-named Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD):

At any rate, General McKenzie is not inclined to bother with the past. His focus is on the future. “I’ve always tried to have a bias for action,” he told his listeners.

Now let me say for the record that this is exactly the attitude the United States wants to have in its battalion commanders and perhaps in its fighter pilots as well. Yet, given the events that have occurred over the past several decades as a direct or indirect result of U.S. military interventions across much of the Greater Middle East, mark me down as preferring senior commanders with a bias for careful reflection and perhaps even for critically examining how the United States got where it is.

The new CENTCOM commander exhibits no such inclinations [bold mine-DL]. Indeed, one of the reasons he admires the FDD is that it doesn’t consist of “a group of luminaries just sitting around admiring the problem set.” No, FDD attracts “people that make things happen.” Those are his kind of people.

It is not a surprise that someone with a “bias for action” and hostility to Iran would find much to like in the most hawkish, anti-Iranian think tank in Washington, but it is worrisome and provocative for the head of Central Command to be delivering an explicitly anti-Iranian message in front of that audience. Part of Gen. McKenzie’s speech addressed other issues related to great power competition, but his focus was on Iran and its “malign activities.” Bacevich doesn’t mention it in his article, but perhaps the most troubling and outrageous remarks that Gen. McKenzie made were about the war on Yemen and the humanitarian crisis that it has created:

And as we witness the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen, it’s important to remember that Iran is behind the irresponsible behavior that actually led to the overthrow of the government of Yemen and created the crisis we now have in Yemen. The humanitarian tragedy that we confront in Yemen is the child of Iranian ambition and their support for the Houthis in trying to create a Hezbollah-like state in Yemen.

None of this is true, but it is a measure of how pervasive the obsession with Iran is in our government that the head of Central Command is reciting pro-Saudi talking points as if he were one of their lobbyists. Iran’s government specifically advised the Houthis against taking the capital, and the Houthi-Saleh alliance wanted to overthrow Hadi’s government for their own reasons. The causes of the conflict in Yemen were local and internal, and Iran’s involvement was negligible at most. Iran didn’t cause the war in Yemen, it certainly didn’t escalate the war, and its involvement has been minimal throughout. Blaming Iran for the famine and destruction in Yemen is nothing but the most shameless pro-Saudi propaganda, so I suppose it is what we would expect from an Iran hawk at a gathering of even more rabid Iran hawks.

To the extent that Iranian influence has grown over the last four years, that has happened in response to the Saudi coalition’s war. The Saudi coalition’s intervention, blockade, and economic war are responsible for causing most of the devastation in Yemen, and along with the U.S. they bear the bulk of the responsibility for creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Iran’s government may be responsible for other destructive behavior in the region, but it is not credible to blame them for the war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The responsibility for wrecking and starving Yemen lies with the warring parties, and most of that responsibility rests with the Saudi coalition and the U.S. It is because our policy of backing the Saudi coalition war has caused so much devastation and horror that our government goes out of its way to shift the blame for all of this to someone else.

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