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Yemen and the Folly of “Reassuring” Bad Clients

Rouala Khalaf highlights [1] the costs of “reassuring” our bad clients in the Neat East:

But it is in Yemen that the US mollification of Arab allies could have the most destructive impact. At a time when the US priority is — and that of all its allies should be — the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the group known as Isis, Washington has supported a Saudi-led military campaign that has spread more chaos.

To make matters worse, the U.S. has no need to mollify its clients, but it does anyway. They already get a great deal out of the relationship with Washington, and they contribute virtually nothing in return, but all they need to do to get more out of the relationship is to make noises about how neglected they are. We have an absurd situation in which the U.S. feels compelled to bribe and indulge despotic client states at the same time that those states pursue regional policies that are actually at odds with our interests, and our government does this not to avoid “losing” these clients to another patron but only to keep them from moaning too loudly in public. Far from benefiting the U.S., these client relationships keep pulling us deeper into regional conflicts that our government has no business joining. Yemen is the most obvious example of this, but it isn’t the only one, and if this pattern continues it won’t be the last.

As Khalaf notes later in her column, U.S. support for the campaign in Yemen hasn’t had the effect of “reassuring” the Gulf states, but has prompted a new round of complaints: “Gulf officials are vocal about their frustrations — the US, they say, is not doing enough for them in Yemen [bold mine-DL].” In other words, these officials expect the U.S. to take on more of the costs and risks of an unnecessary and reckless war that their governments started. Since the Saudi-led coalition has struggled to make much progress in their intervention, it’s not surprising that they want the U.S. to bail them out of their horrible blunder, but there is absolutely no reason why the U.S. should do any more than it already has. Indeed, the U.S. should never have lent support to this campaign, and failing that ought to have withdrawn its backing months ago. U.S. backing for this war is one of the most disgraceful episodes of reckless interventionism in recent history, and it is fitting that the administration’s terrible decision to take sides in the war hasn’t even “reassured” the despotic governments that it was meant to satisfy.

This is what the U.S. was bound to get by indulging these clients in the first place: increased demands for even more indulgence. Client governments know that if they complain loudly enough they will be able to extract more benefits from Washington, which is always far too eager to placate its clients’ whining. The client states in the Gulf therefore have every incentive to blame the U.S. for being too stingy, and they are repeatedly rewarded for doing this. Even though the U.S. is aiding the Saudis and their allies in an unnecessary war that is at odds with our own security interests, they demand even more assistance with the knowledge that many of our political leaders are keen to placate them regardless of the cost to America.

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5 Comments To "Yemen and the Folly of “Reassuring” Bad Clients"

#1 Comment By CharleyCarp On August 31, 2015 @ 12:58 am

Honestly, Daniel, don’t you think that domestic US politics are a bigger driver of our policy with respect to this war?

#2 Comment By Kurzleg On August 31, 2015 @ 7:55 am

“They already get a great deal out of the relationship with Washington, and they contribute virtually nothing in return, but all they need to do to get more out of the relationship is to make noises about how neglected they are.”

I’m going to push back on this a bit. I’m speculating here, but bear with me. I’ve been puzzled for awhile about OPEC’s decision to keep oil production at a pretty high level, which has kept oil prices fairly low. Even as this would have a negative impact on American oil companies, I’ve wondered if this decision was at the behest of the U.S. as a means to put Russia in a tough spot. Russia’s so reliant on oil revenue that low oil prices put a lot of pressure on their economy. I could see the U.S. lobbying Saudi Arabia to steer OPEC to maintain production as a means to box in Russia. By keeping oil production high and prices low, Saudi Arabia is foregoing revenue, and I would think they’d want something in return for that.

#3 Comment By Fred Bowman On August 31, 2015 @ 9:37 am

The US is acting like an indulgent parent unable to tell a child “NO!” and then wondering why the child keeps demanding “More and more.”

#4 Comment By Mr. Libertarian On August 31, 2015 @ 10:56 am

Right. So, this is exactly what I have been talking about for a long time. Almost the entire bi-partisan foreign policy edifice is concerned with how we appease our “allies” who make increasing extreme demands on us. When they say jump, we ask, how high? Should it not be the reverse. We’re treated like a satrapy, but we should be their suzerain instead.

This is where the Trump factor enters in. Two points: 1) He will ask one question and one question only, viz. what’s in it for America? And how to you propose to make it worthwhile for America? No other candidates gives two hoots about that. Not even Paul or Sanders, at least as far as the 2016 presidential nomination is concerned. As for heiress apparent to the throne, Hillary Clinton, whose coronation ceremony proceeds apace, or JEB?, a vote for them is a vote for the same stale, doomed status quo of the Clinton-Bush-Obama years. 2) Trump is non-ideological, like a business man. What is decried by the ideologues in the leftwing press and the conservative and socialist intelligentsia is his most important virtue. Obsession with ideology whether of the Wilsonian liberal variety espoused by Clinton, Susan Rice, or Samantha Powers or of the neocon variety propounded by Krauthammer, Kristol, Cheney, Feith, Wolfowitz, Bush-Cheney, Wurmser, Abrams, Brett Stephens, David Brooks or Tom Friedman, has been the single most destructive factor in America in the past thirty years. Their power has to be broken. Neither the antiwar left nor the libertarian right (myself included) has been able to dislodge their omnipotent, omnipresent power in American foreign policy. Only a whirling dervish is seems, someone with a businessman’s disdain for unproven conjecture, can defeat and put in a bottle, these hardened, entrenched ideologues and the foreign special interests they often act as stalking horses for.

#5 Comment By Clean House On August 31, 2015 @ 4:01 pm

“This is what the U.S. was bound to get by indulging these clients in the first place: increased demands for even more indulgence. “

Exactly. Our easily manipulated politicians start the wars that that these client states push for, and then the client states demand more aid because of the ensuing chaos, saying “you made the mess, now you clean it up, and while you’re at it, give us more money and weapons.”

They’re dependents, parasites, hangers-on. They drag us into their quarrels, with corrupting effects that reach into our domestic politics. We need to rid ourselves of them.