Well, if nothing else, Stephen Harper might just have earned Canada a ringside seat to the outbreak of a Middle East regional war. The way the International Crisis Group sees it, the Saudi air war on Shiite Yemeni rebels might just be the burning fuze that explodes the Sunni-Shia powder keg.
Obama and the Euros are trying to calm the situation, urging a negotiated peace between Yemen’s Sunni government and the Houthi rebels but, according to the ICG, the mixed up gaggle of players aren’t in the mood for talking.
No major party seems truly to want to halt what threatens to become a regional war. The slim chance to salvage a political process requires that regional actors immediately cease military action and help the domestic parties agree on a broadly acceptable president or presidential council. Only then can Yemenis return to the political negotiating table to address other outstanding issues.
The Huthi-Hadi divide is the most explosive, but it is not the only conflict. Tensions are also unsettling the recent marriage of convenience between the Huthis and former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who, after being deposed in 2011, has taken advantage of popular dissatisfaction and tacitly allied himself with the Huthis against their common enemies to stage a political comeback through his party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), and possibly his son, Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh. Divisions in the south, which was an independent state prior to its 1990 union with the north, are rampant as well. Southern separatists are internally split and suspicious of Hadi, a southerner who supports continued unity with the north. Then there are al-Qaeda and a nascent Islamic State (IS) movement, both determined to fight the Huthis and take advantage of the state’s collapse to claim territory.
…GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council – the Sunni Arab states] countries have lost faith as well and are increasingly committed to reversing Huthi gains at virtually any cost. Saudi Arabia considers the Huthis Iranian proxies, a stance that pushes them closer to Tehran. Throwing their weight behind Hadi, the Saudis moved their embassy to Aden and reportedly bankroll anti-Huthi tribal mobilisation in the central governorate of Marib and the south. They lead efforts to isolate the Huthis diplomatically, strangle them economically and, now, weaken them militarily. In turn, the Huthis denounce Hadi as illegitimate and offer $100,000 for his capture. They have conducted military exercises on the Saudi border and likely will harden their position in response to Saudi military intervention. They are less dependent on Tehran than Hadi and his allies are on Riyadh, but on today’s trajectory, their relative self-sufficiency will not last long. They are already soliciting Iranian financial and political support.
…Without minimum consensus within and beyond its borders, Yemen is headed for protracted violence on multiple fronts. This combination of proxy wars, sectarian violence, state collapse and militia rule has become sadly familiar in the region. Nobody is likely to win such a fight, which will only benefit those who prosper in the chaos of war, such as al-Qaeda and IS. But great human suffering would be certain. An alternative exists, but only if Yemenis and their neighbours choose it.
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|Is it better to have gambled and lost?|
Theories as to why OPEC didn’t reduce quotas at its meeting in Vienna on Nov. 27 are as cheap and abundant as crude in North Dakota. One holds that the Sunnis of Saudi Arabia want to hurt the Shiites of Iran, who need high-priced oil to finance their government.Another, expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, is that the whole thing is a conspiracy to undermine Russia, the world’s biggest oil producer. Yet another is that the Saudis hope to drive oil prices below where it makes sense for American shale producers to invest in new production. But shale producers have lowered their costs so much that in key fields they can make profits at $50 to $70 a barrel. That’s above core OPEC members’ exploration and production costs but below what many need to cover their government spending. “If my calculations are correct, this will go down as one of the worst commodity trading decisions ever,” Wilbur Ross, billionaire investor and chairman of WL Ross (IVZ), wrote in an e-mail.In fact, prices are being forced down not by any action (or inaction) of the Saudis but by the American shale producers, who are simply producing all the oil they can to maximize their profits. “Collectively, they’re not the most sophisticated folks, especially when it comes to world markets,” says Charles Ebinger, a senior fellow in the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution.With apologies to Ebinger, the shale producers don’t need to be sophisticates. Each operator is so small, it can increase production without pushing down the market price. That makes them price “takers,” not price setters. And because shale wells are short-lived, producers don’t have to plan far ahead, says Karr Ingham, a petroleum economist in Amarillo, Texas.Singly the shale busters are nothing. Collectively, their breakneck production is breaking OPEC’s neck. This is the remorseless, leaderless free market at work.