Is It Time for a Complete Withdrawal in the Middle East?

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Penelope examines the humanitarian, political and military consequences of Western countries’ continued intervention in the Middle East.

After the US’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, and the punishment of Iran for ‘violating’ a set of rules no longer in place, President Trump has been ever-increasing economic sanctions in a show of strongman-ship. The escalation of tensions between the two nations have been dubbed the 2019 Persian Gulf Crisis.

The latest incident attributed to the Persian Gulf Crisis would be the Abqaiq–Khurais attack; on 14 September 2019, drones attacked the state-owned Saudi Aramco oil processing facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais in Saudi Arabia. Even though countries like Saudi Arabia, the US, France, The United Kingdom and Germany had blamed Iran for the attack to some degree, with the former two asserting they were fully funding and directing the operation, Saudi Arabia is letting the US do the talking, although the Houthis of Yemen took full responsibility and Iran vehemently denied the claims. 

The strikes caused fires that were put out, but both facilities had to be shut down for repairs and won’t be back to full working functionality till the end of the month, as the Saudi Arabian energy ministry reported. This cut the country’s oil production by half, about 5% of global production, which destabilised the international financial markets. 

Saudi Arabia would have reason to blame Iran, even when they weren’t the ones taking responsibility. The Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict has been going on since the late 70s, and this cold war is exacerbated religious differences – Iran is mostly Shia Muslim, and Saudi Arabia sees itself as the big Sunni Muslim power, and its leading spotlight was challenged during the Islamic revolution in Iran. 

Hassan Rouhani, Prime minister of Iran, said foreign forces had always brought “pain and misery” and should not be used in an “arms race”. Trump responded to the attack on his new friends by sending 200 new troops, a surface-to-air missile system and extra radar equipment, in addition to the 500 new troops already there. This was the supposed ‘de-escalation’ from his initial tweet, saying he was “locked and loaded”, which had many worried the US was on a path to direct war.  

The US’s inception was on imperialist genocide, and its existence since that hasn’t changed too much. It still stands on stolen land and it strives to pillage more – wars in the middle east in which they still haven’t pulled troops out of, as Trump claimed he would have, and Afghanistan’s conflict is as old as some of the first years reading this paper. CIA involvement in Iran was found as early as the 1950s in declassified documents, as they overthrew prime minister Mosaddegh to replace his government with a ‘pro-western’ Zahedi in a coup. 

It’s important to remember exactly what’s happening to Yemen right now. The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen, or the Arab coalition, is an invasion and coalition of nine countries from the Middle East and Africa launched forthrightly by Saudi Arabia in 2015. It came into being after the previous Yemeni president, a known friend to the Kingdom, was ousted by the Houthi rebels for his corruption and fled to Saudi Arabia for help. The coalition includes Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, the US and Britain, and even the mercenary group Blackwater (now known as Academi) and Al-Qaeda have all been involved one way or another.

Children in downtown Craiter in Aden, Yemen [Image: OCHA/Giles Clark]

Though there are other ‘domestic’ forces at work and vying for power, they can’t do as much damage as a dozen international countries and their salaried stooges all chipping in, or air-strikes paid by the American or British taxpayer. It has led to the worst famine in modern history, with more than 50,000 children dead in only 2017. It’s almost guaranteed that this scale of chaos would never even ensued if the coalition hadn’t stepped in; the Houthis might have had an easy path to power, as new data from the ACLED shows that ‘Saudi-led coalition and its allies remain responsible for the highest number of reported civilian fatalities from direct targeting, with over 8,000 since 2015’, and that ‘67% of all reported civilian fatalities’ over the Civil War have been from their ‘coalition airstrikes’. The Houthis, along with their allies, are ‘responsible for over 1,900 reported civilian fatalities from direct targeting’.

War and civilian death are both terrible things, and multiple rich super-powers with endless supplies of weapons to kill and split the spoils of a country in ruins is undeniably upping the net ‘pain and misery’, as President Rouhani referenced. 

The Houthis have real grievances with the Saudis and decided to try to hit them where it hurt. Iran still denies any involvement; the allegations were first started by the slighted Yemeni president who likened the Houthi anti-America/anti-Israel slogan to ones of Iran in a New York Times interview. Japan’s defence minister does take Iran’s side on that, happy with the statement of Houthi responsibility instead of acting as an international guard dog to appease the Kingdom, as the US is. In fact, back in April 2015, the United States National Security Council spokesperson Meehan said that it continued to be their “assessment” that Iran did not “exert command and control over the Houthis in Yemen” so it wouldn’t make sense for it to be any different now. 

The US’s further involvement in the Middle East is just another unneeded factor in a destabilised and war-torn area. Instead of withdrawing from supporting the Yemen Civil War, which is a move Trump veto-d against, he works to favour the profitable military industrial complex over human lives and peace. Iran may very well have a part in supporting the Houthis, as there is debate about the missile’s make and funding, but that still remains to away from the US’s oversight – they’re not the world’s overseers and conflicts that may arise all over the world can see their course without them. It’s safe to say at least fewer lives will be on the line that way.