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Before We Launch a Proxy War in Yemen….

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Before We Launch a Proxy War in Yemen…."

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Brent Baier asked Charles Krauthammer about the idea of military action in Yemen on Fox yesterday. His response?

It is not a place we want to go and invade. It is like Afghanistan. It is a wild place. It’s like the northwest territories of Pakistan. It’s never had a strong central government. It’s got secessionist in the south, Houthis in the north who are Arabian clients. It is so complicated it’s almost incomprehensible.

All we can do is have our weaponry in place, like the predators, gather intelligence, give intelligence, and work with the unreliable central government. It is not a place where you want to start a war.

But remember, the Saudis and Jordanians are in that area and they are on our side. I would rather have the locals involved in a war than a direct involvement of the United States.

Several points here. First, at least we’re all agreed on the undesirability of invading Yemen.

Second, we get to the real point here. Yemen, as best I can tell, is indeed a complicated place. But it’s actually been my experience that pretty much all countries are complicated. If you want to understand them you need to try to understand them not just note the complexity and then dismiss the place as “almost incomprehensible.” What kind of efforts do we think Krauthammer has put into understanding Yemen? Has he read books on Yemen? A book on Yemen? Brian Katulis’ 15 page May 2003 brief on Yemen? Talked to Yemenis? I’m guessing none of that.

Third, I’m not going to stand here and pretend to be a Yemen expert anymore than Krauthammer is. But I’m guessing that not only is Yemen complicated, but Saudi and Jordanian intervention in Yemen is complicated. Yes, you may want to “work with the unreliable central government.” And yes, the Saudis are “on our side.” But obviously the central government has its own interests and incentives. And the Saudis have their interests and incentives. As do the Jordanians. And there are limits to Saudi and Jordanian wisdom. Jordanian intelligence is popular among the Washington establishment but their effort to recruit a double-agent to infiltrate al-Qaeda ended up as a suicide bomber who killed seven CIA agents.

The US, meanwhile, has been engaged in Yemen for years. And what we ought to do, I think, is . . . think carefully and not make any uninformed decisions in a hasty manner. The normal go-to people for all-purpose political punditry just don’t know anything about Yemen. I’m guessing the top officials in the American government know a bit more, but this clearly hasn’t been their main focus either. Everyone needs to calm down and try to make informed decisions that keep the whole thing in perspective.

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