No sooner had I predicted that the Trump administration would be “unlikely” to continue support for the Saudi invasion of Yemen after the Khashoggi affair. Then, lo and behold, so it was. That’s my job, now isn’t it? Giving my readers some idea of what is actually happening in the world – as opposed to, say, confirming their biases and preaching to the choir.
Here is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement, which, in the context of our historic alliance is a real slap in Riyadh’s face. Not only are the Saudis told that military activities in Yemen’s populated areas “must cease,” but they’re given a deadline of thirty days to stop the slaughter. The new US position is carefully phrased: the Houthis have to stop lobbing missiles into the Kingdom, and then “subsequently” the Saudis will stop the wanton killing.
However, everything is negotiable, especially with this administration, and indeed another seemingly compulsory American diktat is that talks to find a political solution to Yemen’s decades-long civil war are to begin as soon as possible.
This is an enormous breakthrough for the anti-interventionist movement, closing off one of the major spigots of murderous conflict left open by the previous administration. It confirms the high hopes of those of us who bet the America First anti-globalist faction would win out against the pro-Saudi group centered around Jared Kushner.
There was a debate within the administration over US support for the Yemen war, with the hardcore nationalists opposed, but they were outvoted by the generals, whose closeness to the Kingdom is traditional. Yet the Khashoggi killing wasn’t the only factor dooming the Saudi lobby to defeat: it was also the slow drip of atrocity stories, disturbing photos of starving children – and a famine deliberately induced by the Saudis.
We hear much weeping and wailing by our virtue-signaling liberals that the death of tens of thousands of Yemenis wasn’t enough to end US complicity with Riyadh’s evil, but this only shows a complete ignorance of human nature. It’s not a moral failing but a failure of the imagination: people simply cannot conceive of so enormous an evil. The Khashoggi atrocity brought the Saudis’ barbarism down to a human individualized scale and made it comprehensible.
This puts a huge obstacle on the road to the near-inevitable war with Iran that Trump was supposed to have started by now. For the Saudis, whose hold on their Kingdom was casually assumed up until a few weeks ago, don’t exactly look like a model of stability. And that has always been their appeal as the anchor of the US military presence in the region. Yet now the formerly formidable regime of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is exposed as a house of cards, with rumors of a coup and several senior princes jockeying for position.
Of course, the successful coup plotter would require Washington’s on-the-downlow imprimatur, and ultimately a green light from the White House. As the gory details of the Khashoggi killing come to light, and the plight of Yemen as a nation comes to the fore, this is just the sort of thing that Trump hates. Pictures of starving children and video-audio of Khashoggis’s dismemberment? As the President would put it: not good!
What this all boils down to is that a seismic shift in our Middle Eastern policy is in the works, one that would have happened regardless of who occupies the Oval Office. The Saudi system is corrupt to its very core, and is inherently unstable: the efforts of the despotic Crown Prince to “reform” the Kingdom by instituting a reign of terror represent the first audible death rattle of the Saudi monstrosity.
The question that US policy makers have hardly ever verbalized in public – what comes after the monarchy? – may confront the Trump administration sooner rather than later. Which is why I have no doubt that the US would throw the Crown Prince to the wolves in a New York minute if they thought it would save the dynasty.
In any case, we see here that the Trump administration is playing it’s historic role as the Great Disruptor of Cold War institutions, despite its own intentions. Which does seem a bit spooky, don’t you think, but it’s Halloween, after all….
The three pillars of the old Cold War architecture of superpower competition – the US-Saudi alliance, NATO, and our Eastasian military presence – are either being downsized or are falling down altogether. That’s because they are outmoded and expensive – with this latter concern the focus of the Trump administration’s ire. The old structures of entangling alliances, the instruments of “collective security,” kept the American Gulliver tied down with the invisible strings of dozens of tripwires, treaties, and “mutual” defense pacts that amount to a one way ticket to World War III.
Now along comes Trump to question the internationalist orthodoxy and shake the “liberal international order” to its foundations. Yet to see the President as the prime mover in all this is to blame the wind for the collapse of a structure honeycombed with termites and decayed beyond repair. On the other hand, Trump in the White House has escalated a process that might have been stretched out over twenty years or so.
There is a lot happening in the world and a lot to write about. Alas my health has not been good and I apologize for the brevity of this column – but we do only what we can.
I also want to thank our readers for making our recent fundraising drive a great success. I take this as a vote of confidence not only for my own work but also and especially the hardworking staff of Antiwar.com. I’m just another pretty face around here – they are the real deal.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.