The Houthis have driven Biden into a zugzwang


Tayfun Coskun / Anadolu

For the Obama-Clinton-Biden administration, the decision to defend Israel, accused of genocide of Arabs in the Gaza Strip, and to launch missile strikes against the Yemeni Houthis, who restricted the admission of «unfriendly» cargo ships through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, may turn out to be the straw that will finally break the back of the two-humped camel of U.S. Middle East policy.

The two «humps» are the reliance on Israel as a faithful squire and jumping-off point, and the fulfillment of the unwritten contract with the Arabian and Gulf monarchies, which in the era of undivided US hegemony adopted the formula of partnership: impeccable oil supplies in terms of volume and timing in exchange for security guarantees.

US dominance in the Middle East was based on the US-Israeli patron-vassal relationship, as well as on the tacit agreement with petrodollar suppliers of black gold and dozens of US military bases in the region. Today, against the background of the war in Europe between NATO and Russia in the Ukrainian theater of military operations, the entire structure of international relations is being reformatted, and the Middle East is no exception.

For the U.S. itself, blocking the entrance to the Red Sea and further, through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, does not bear special monetary losses (dependence on Middle Eastern oil has become minimal). But the stakes are high, since we are talking about the reputation of the world and, in particular, regional gendarme, the master of destinies of states that previously had only limited sovereignty due to their economic and military insignificance.

Under the conditions of a radically changed geopolitical situation, when the West as a whole is on the defensive, when the shameful flight of American officials and British special forces, dressed in women’s clothes, from Afghanistan is still before everyone’s eyes, and when the Houthis attacked the holy thing — trade sea lanes, the U.S. administration, formed by neo-globalists from the Democratic Party, could not remain silent.

The signal did not reach the addressee.

The thesis about the high expediency of a blitzkrieg against desert warriors in slippers and with Kalashnikovs was widely picked up in the imperialist press. On January 13, an editorial in the Washington Post, the ideological pro-globalization doppelganger of the New York Times and mouthpiece of the Democrat Party, claimed that after the Houthis’ offensive, «the United States and its coalition allies — Britain, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Bahrain — had little choice but to mount a strong response».

It is noteworthy that the U.S.-led coalition did not include the UAE, Qatar, or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), which two years ago reached a truce with the Houthis and last year, with the mediation of China, first restored working relations with Iran, an old rival for regional leadership, and then expressed its intention to join the BRICS+ countries on an equal footing with it.

«The Washington Post, assessing the launching of 150 missiles at various sites in Yemen, writes that by doing so, the United States «has sent a strong message. Let’s see how it’s received, by the Houthis and their patrons in Tehran».

The reaction followed two days later. On January 15, the Houthis launched a missile that hit a Marshall Islands-flagged container ship that had been hired by U.S.-based logistics companies.

«Phoney War» take two?

The U.S. government seems to have decided to copy the carefully dosed battles between the Germans and the French in 1940, what journalist Roland Dorgelès called Drôle de guerre — «Phoney War».

On paper, everything looks large-scale and brutal. For example, in response to drone and missile raids by the Houthis on merchant ships belonging to or serving Israeli interests, the U.S. responded with airstrikes on an air base near Sanaa International Airport, the capital of Yemen, military infrastructure near Hodeidah and its airport, a military camp east of Sa’dah, and the city of Taizz to maintain its reputation.

The Houthis reported afterward that they had only 10 dead and a couple dozen others injured, but there was no critical damage. The Dubai-based Arabic-language news channel Al-Arabiya claims, without citing a source, that the Americans warned the Houthis in advance: «I’m coming for you», and they had time to prepare.

Moreover, on the night of January 16, the most capable units of the Iranian Armed Forces, which are part of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), hit the U.S. military base at the airport in the city of Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, the unfinished building of the U.S. Consulate there, and the headquarters of the Kurdish security forces. The raids eliminated Iraqi businessman, billionaire Peshraw Dizayee, who had ties to MOSSAD and… Hillary Clinton.

But here is a remarkable thing: there is no information about major casualties among the American military. Instead, a version has emerged that the Persians warned in advance about the strikes they were preparing (using Fateh-110 missiles) the representatives of those whom they have been calling «Big Satan» since the time of Imam Khomeini, i.e. for more than 40 years.

A repetition of the «Phoney War»? Déjà vu? Not out of the question. And good reasons can be found for it.

Biden has two choices, and both bad ones

The U.S., along with a limited number of volunteer aides, threatened the Houthis in a Jan. 3 statement that in response to their «illegal, unacceptable, and profoundly destabilizing» actions, they would «bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and the free flow of commerce in the region’s critical waterways».

It was a kind of ultimatum, backed by the credibility of a country that has provoked or intervened in nearly two dozen armed conflicts around the world in the past 20 years.

«Yet the threat to wield the world’s most powerful military was not enough to convince the Houthis to abandon their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea. Why not?,» — asks Dianne Pfundstein Chamberlain, an independent scholar who specializes in U.S. foreign policy and international security.

According to Dianne Pfundstein Chamberlain, «cheap talk» cannot convince the receiver that the sender is highly resolved. This conclusion for the Houthis is supported by the facts that the Biden administration is striking from a distance, without endangering its soldiers, and is not planning to send ground troops to Yemen, as well as to launch military operations — without the approval of the U.S. Congress. In addition, NSC Director for Strategic Communications John Kirby asserted, «We’re not interested in a war with Yemen».

In fact, both in Sanaa and Tehran are clearly aware of the almost insoluble dilemma that the United States is facing after choosing the forceful option of solving the problem with the Houthis’ selective filtering of merchant ships heading to the Red Sea in the interests of Israel and the United States.

The first option to resolve the Yemen crisis. Engage in a war with the Houthis by sending a limited contingent of ground troops. This is a highly risky action, especially in a presidential election year when bad news automatically accumulates on the White House doorstep. Sending G.I. to Yemen would turn into a third conflict, the third since the NATO eastward offensive against Russia and the fourth month of mutual slaughter in the Promised Land.

The average voter, already tired of shutdowns during the covid pandemic, business bankruptcies, the influx of migrants from the south, the culture wars, the rewriting of history, etc., may not be able to take it. Let’s not forget that the U.S. holds the number one spot in the world for suicide and imprisoned citizens, and is among the countries with frightening statistics on overdose deaths from fentanyl, a potent synthetic opioid.

A second option for resolving a conflict, unfolding thousands of miles off America’s shores. Loudly announce that the goals of the retaliatory strikes have been achieved and quietly retreat. It is not without reason that U.S. President Joe Biden admitted on January 13 that he sent a «personal message» to Tehran explaining the goals of the strikes against the recalcitrant Houthis. Most likely, the U.S. administration is working out an «exit strategy» to curtail its activity in the third theater of operations but avoid losing face.

The final choice may not have been made yet, and this is not surprising, because both options are equally expensive and damaging. To invade Yemen is to get stuck not far from the place not accidentally labeled «the grave of the white man». To retreat, promoting a PR campaign about the alleged success of supposedly exemplary punishment of the Houthis, is to become a laughingstock, because the Middle East respects strength and is capable of correctly assessing what is happening, recognizing the difference between victory and defeat.

Thus, the Obama-Clinton-Biden administration is in a situation of zugzwang, when any further move, as in chess, leads only to the worsening of the initial position.