I didn't have anything planned today (schoolwork) so instead I am going to do another foreign affairs round-up. Call it "An Occasional Look at the Mess Obama Has Gotten America Into Around the World with Some Stuff on Books."
The title needs work. So, let's start with…
As you might be aware Yemen has undergone quite a lot in recent months. The Iranian-backed Houthis shot their way into the capital city and seized the parliament building, declaring a new government. The US withdrew its personnel from the area. The situation has deteriorated to the point where a UN official declared Yemen to be "on the edge of civil war."
Such a statement is, of course, false. Saying a country is "on the edge of civil war" implies it is not already in a civil war. It is like saying after the Battle of Bull Run that the United States was "on the edge of civil war." The civil war has already begun.
And it is becoming a proxy war between the Saudi-backed Sunni fighters and the Shiite Houthis as Iran is now not only launching air strikes at Houthi targets inside Yemen, but massing troops at its border. The US, under Obama's leadership (presumably), is right now backing the Saudis. Of course, this means we are probably backing by proxy a group quacks with a philosophy close to ISIS but the alternative is a group of quacks bound to Iran, so it's a bit of a lose-lose right now unless we could set up a functioning, secular(-ish) government. But a Saudi-backed government in Yemen is preferable to an Iranian-backed government in Yemen.
Now Yemen is no stranger to proxy wars. During the 1960s it was home to a proxy war between the Saudi-backed Royalists and the Republicans backed-up by Nasser's Egypt, who sent troops to the country in what historian Michael B. Oren called, "an entanglement so futile and fierce that the imminent Vietnam War could have easily been dubbed America's Yemen." Guerrilla warfare and all the hallmarks of nasty, third-world fighting; chemical warfare, villages wiped out, brutal torture of prisoners, etcetera.
Now, to my knowledge neither the Saudis nor the Houthis have used chemical weapons —yet. Neither party may want the bad press. Houthis gassing Sunnis may create some bad press for Iran as well as some uncomfortable questions as to how they attained those chemical weapons, which would make a US-Iran deal harder for Obama. Of course, seeing as how things worked out for Assad when he crossed Obama's red line by launching a chemical attack they might decide, "Hey, why not?" The Saudis gassing Shiites would definitely throw a wrench into the US-Saudi relationship but given how unpredictable Obama has been in the realm of foreign affairs they too might decide, "Hey, why not?"
Oh, I should mention that this country, which is the Lebanon of the Arab peninsula, was previously called a "model" of Obama's counter-terrorism policy by the White House. A bit embarrassing.
US launched airstrikes on Tikrit to support an Iraqi offensive. Things took an interesting turn of events when the Shiite militias backed off with the US claiming we asked them to hold off during the air strikes but some of the militia fighters claimed they held off to protest US involvement, with one militia spokesman* saying, "We are able to conclude the battle ourselves but the US came to usurp our victory." I got nothing.
*Spokesman? Do these Iraqi militias have PR departments, now?
Still a mess. But things took a turn for the bizarre (and comical) when the Speaker of the Chechen Parliament attempted a pathetic version of the Zimmerman Telegram vowed to send arms to Mexico if the US sent weapons to Ukraine in order to help Mexico regain the lands it lost in the Mexican-American War.
You read that right. And the story appears on Newsweek, Radio Free Europe, and Moscow Times so I think this story is legit. And pathetic.
By the way, we should be sending arms to Ukraine. Or something more than night vision goggles.
Now, not all of this is necessarily Obama's fault. Yemen would be a basket case even without Obama, it has been that way for decades. But between his "reset" with Russia and his refusal to do anything when Assad drove a steam-roller over the red line and everything else it is safe to say that if Obama were following different policies towards Russia, the Middle East, and everywhere else half the stuff I described would be nowhere near as bad as it is.
And the thing about foreign policy is that mistakes cost lives, often in the thousands. The conflicts in Iraq and Ukraine have each cost several thousand human lives, many of them civilian. And they will continue to cost lives throughout the decade, maybe beyond. Such is the cost of incompetence.
How about something cheerier?
Read Max Boot's most recent book, Invisible Armies, an excellent history of terrorism and guerrilla warfare going back to the days of Persia and Rome. He points out that (1) Guerrilla, or irregular, warfare is not "asian" and terrorism is not modern but is instead the "warfare of the weak" practiced by those unable to field conventional armies be they indigenous nomads, mid-20th century nationalists in Vietnam, or bomb-throwing anarchists during the fin de siècle and (2) they are not impossible to defeat. Some succeed like the Viet Cong in the 1960s-70s and the Ku Klux Klan in the 1870s but most fail. They are doing slightly better in the modern day but still have trouble. Some, like FARC, have spent decades fighting for their goal but are no closer to it than the day they launched their war.
I am now reading The Conservatarian Manifesto by Charles C.W. Cooke, a British-American writer at National Review. The book was written with a certain group of people in mind, people whom he said "feel like libertarians when they are with conservatives and conservatives when with libertarians," some of whom have begun calling themselves "conservatarians." An obvious portmanteau of "conservative" and "libertarian." So far it is a pretty good book but I am only on chapter 3, about federalism, so I have quite a ways to go. I will tell you about it when I finish.
Two other books I have read recently:
(1) Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas by Jonah Goldberg: This one is very much like his Liberal Fascism but, whereas Liberal Fascism was an (entirely successful) attempt to point out the ties between fascism and modern progressivism, Tyranny of Clichés is a history of liberal evasions and word games such as "only being interested in what works," "violence never solves anything," and others, including stuff about the Catholic Church and "Social Justice".
(2) Seven Deadly Virtues: 18 Conservative Writers on Why the Virtuous Life is Funny as Hell edited by Jonathan V. Last: This one is more in line with the traditionalist strain of conservative writing rather than the Classical Liberal strain so the result is sometimes pessimistic but most of the time the writers are so good at laying out the case for classical, old time virtues and values such as 7 Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Courage, Temperance, Hope, Charity, and Faith as well as some other small but still important virtues such as Chastity, Forbearance, and Perseverance. Writers include Jonah Goldberg, Rob Long, P.J. O'Rourke, and, writing the last essay, on Perseverance, Christopher Buckley, who shows he has at least a modicum of his old man's talent with the pen. I highly suggest it, if only for that essay.
So, there it is. Discuss this or whatever you wish. The events around the world I've described, the ever-hastening decline of Pax Americana, or some book you've recently read. This is a sort-of open thread.