Trump runs aground in the Persian Gulf

By Stephen Bell

US President Trump’s policy in the Persian Gulf is clearly failing.  The drones that halved Saudi Arabia’s oil production capacity highlighted the fact that his key ally can neither win the war in Yemen, nor defend itself.

Blaming Iran for his failure

Immediately Trump’s administration has tried to screen this failure by blaming Iran for the attack.  No evidence has been offered except by the Saudi regime’s display of debris from the weapons used.  These do not appear to be un-duly different from the drones used by Ansarallah/Houthis for some time now.  The Aramco processing plant at Abqaiq is approximately 1,050 km from Houthi controlled territory.  Earlier this year the Houthis launched attacks against Abu Dhabi International airport, 1,300 km away; and against a Saudi military site in Dammam, 1,150 km away.

The Houthis claim of responsibility was dismissed as “implausible” by the E3 premiers, Johnson, Macron and Merkel.  But they provided no evidence, merely parroting US Secretary of State Pompeo.  Nor did they explain why the current comprehensive surveillance of Iran air space failed to detect these drones in, or outside, that space.

There are so many embarrassing questions about the attack.  Why were the Saudis unable to defend their most precious assets?  The regime had the third highest military budget in the world in 2018, spending $67.6 billion.  This represents the world’s highest per capita expenditure, and 8.8 per cent of Saudi GDP.  Obviously those wonderful systems which western firms provided, at such expense, were irrelevant to the needs of the Saudi people.

Trump has sent a token number of troops and missile systems to the Kingdom.  He has also authorised an accelerated sale of further weapons.  It sounds like a door being bolted on an empty stable.

Default position – sanction Iran

Predictably, and sadly, a further round of sanctions has been imposed upon Iran by the US.  Amongst these are sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran and the national sovereign wealth fund.  Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchen said “We’ve now cut off all sources of funds for Iran”.  If so, then how is the supposed exemption for humanitarian goods going to operate financially?

Trump continues to believe that sanctions will yield a deal which is more restrictive upon Iran than the conditions in the JCPOA agreement.  He dreams on.  Iranian President Rouhani refused the opportunity of talks with Trump at the UN General Assembly, insisting that sanctions must be lifted for talks to take place.  Despite his “maximum pressure” strategy becoming “even more maximum pressure” there is no breakthrough in sight for Trump.

Elected to make deals and end fruitless wars, Trump is paying the price of failure.  US polling figures in the last week show him on course to lose the 2020 election.  On approval/disapproval ratings, Trump was 8 to 11 percentage points in negative territory in polls by Economist/You Gov; Reuters/IPSOS; Politico/Morning Consult; Gallup; NBC/WSJ, and Fox News.  In head to head polls by Fox, and Survey USA, he lost to all the leading Democrats – Biden, Sanders, Warren and Harris.

US backed Coalition’s fiasco in Yemen

Even the obvious lack of traction for Trump’s Iran policy palls before the depth of crisis of his policy of supporting the Saudi war upon Yemen.  The Saudi-led Coalition has been in military deadlock since the summer of 2015.  Inevitably there has been a fragmentation of the Coalition, Qatar left in June 2017, and Morocco in February 2019.  This year has seen a major breach in the relations between the two major components of the Coalition, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Previously, the Saudis, former President Hadi’s supporters, and the majority of Al Islah militias supported the ousting of the Aden governor, Aidarus al-Zubaidi, over his support for the Southern separatist movement.  This led to an on the ground realignment in Coalition forces.  Al-Zubaidi established the Southern Transitional Council (STC), and secured the support of the powerful “Security Belt” militias.  The UAE supported this development, providing arms and finances.

Earlier this year, there were armed clashes between the newly divided military forces.  Matters came to a head in the summer.  The UAE announced it was withdrawing from Yemen, supposedly about concerns to defend its territory, after attacks on oil tankers off its coast.  This meant little in military terms, as its forces were mostly officers and trainers linked to mercenary and local militias, including Al Qaeda forces.

The UAE decision drew attention to the lack of Saudi military progress.  It had been the UAE which had lobbied the US hardest over the need for a campaign against Ansarallah at Hodeidah port.  This ran into such stern resistance that the Saudis and UAE were prepared to accept the Stockholm agreement on a ceasefire around Hodeidah.

Allies exchange missiles

The withdrawal of the UAE meant the STC was free to take wider initiatives.  This created the most serious conflict within the Coalition forces seen, so far.  At the start of August the STC seized control of Aden and the governmental infrastructure there, including the Presidential palace.  Effectively this ousted the “internationally recognised government” of Hadi – ironic given that the declared war aim of the Coalition, and its US and British government backers is to restore this “government”.

Fighting took place in Aden, Abyan and Afiq city.  In these clashes the Saudis and UAE air forces launched strikes against each other’s allied militias. The fighting was very serious, hundreds were killed in Aden.  The International Committee of the Red Cross estimated that 200,000 people were left without clean water.  This was taking place in a country suffering successive waves of cholera epidemics.

Peace talks were arranged in Jeddah on September 4th, which appear to have reduced immediate clashes.  But the fragmentation of the Coalition has reached a split which involves different war aims.  The Saudis want to restore a Hadi government with control over all Yemen.  The UAE are, de facto, supporting the establishment of an independent state in the south of Yemen.  No wonder Trump and allies are keen to divert the world’s gaze away from Yemen and towards Iran.

Yemen’s torment continues

Nor has there been any improvement in the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.  The UN reported in September that of $2.6 billion promised in February for immediate aid to Yemen from international donors, less than half had been received by August.  A cross-house group of US senators complained in early September that the Saudis had only given a “small share” of their promised $750 million.

The UN continued that unless the aid arrives “…food rations for 12 million people will be reduced and at least 2.5 million malnourished children will be cut off from essential services”.  19 million Yemenis will not have access to health care, and tens of thousands of displaced families might find themselves without a shelter.  The World Health Organisation reported on September 3rd, that 35,000 cancer patients were deprived of treatment in Yemen, 12 per cent of these are children.

Alongside this, the human rights position is worsening.  The UN Human Rights Council report, drawn up by its ‘Group of Experts’ was published on August 9th.  With reference to Coalition air strikes they find “…reasonable grounds to believe that there may have been violations of international humanitarian law in connection with the above mentioned air strikes, as they raise concerns about the identification of military objectives and respect for the principle of proportionality and precautions in attack”.  The Coalition and Hadi refused to co-operate with the Experts Group, and denied access to information on the targeting process.

The report found evidence of potential war crimes committed by all parties to the conflict, including both Hadi’s forces and Ansarallah. However, the report indicates a wider range of crimes committed by Coalition forces.

End support for Coalition’s war

Trump continues to sustain and support the Saudi led war.  He has overruled the majority in US Congress on two occasions, when the latter voted end arm sales to the Saudis.  Of course, the ever abject Conservative government in Britain is the other key partner in the catastrophic assault upon the Yemeni people.  It is vital that despite the domestic crisis facing the US President, and the British Prime Minister, the horrific failure of their Yemen policy is not forgotten.

It is then encouraging that the Labour Party Conference carried an excellent resolution from Birmingham Hall Green CLP, and Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough CLP.  Its calls for an immediate suspension of arms sales; an independent enquiry into breaches of international humanitarian law; an end to the fighting; and an inclusive peace process, form an excellent agenda for anti-war campaigners.

This article was originally published here by Stop the War Coalition.