Saudi Arabia and the US: More military misfires

The Saudi way of handling the crisis in Yemen shows they are following in the US’ footsteps far too closely.

The only ones who benefit from Saudi Arabia's current strategy are defence contractors and arms merchants, write Richter and Humphrey [Getty]

No concept has proven to be as strategically short-sighted as the assumption of military superiority.

It leads powerful nations to give in to the temptation to bomb their way out of a problem – as if anyone could.

While in Washington this lesson is still sinking in, Saudi Arabia, the United States’ major ally in the Gulf region, seems to have learned nothing from the ill-fated US strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is very surprising for a number of reasons: The Saudis not only had a front-row seat to observe the US’ presumably “overwhelming” force, but they also have much more at stake, given their keen interest in preserving stability in the region.

READ MORE: Anti-Houthi fighters ‘seize Zinjibar city in Yemen’

The Saudi way of handling the slow-burning crisis in Yemen shows that they are following in the US’ footsteps far too closely.

The case of Iraq showed conclusively that none of the US’ superiority in terms of military material translated into any sustainable advantage on the ground.

Bad neighbourhood

Ultimately, all that weaponry merely ensured that the US managed to break the “china” faster – and as a result, they got to own the consequential debris.

With regards to Yemen, Saudi Arabia has ample reason to be nervous about the quality of governance and economic performance of its very poor southern neighbour.

One Minute Yemen

Terrorist bases, narcotics networks, and mass joblessness represent a serious risk on the ground in Yemen that could easily undermine Saudi Arabia’s desire for regional and domestic stability.

Given the nature of those challenges, what could possibly be the point of buying – and deploying – ever increasing numbers of defence goods?

That certainly is not the right strategy to deal with what is essentially a human problem – and a socioeconomic development issue of wide-reaching proportions.

The only ones who benefit from Saudi Arabia’s current strategy are defence contractors and arms merchants.

Pleasing them and their mercenary interests will come to haunt Saudi Arabia’s government.

Weapons in wrong hands

Does anyone seriously need a reminder of the possible consequences of delivering more significant arms and military vehicles to a failed state?

We have only just watched the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) scoop up US-supplied armaments abandoned by Iraq’s army.

Such a scenario in Yemen is obviously the last thing that Saudi Arabia needs to foster in its immediate vicinity.

Let’s not forget the fact that Yemen already has the second-highest gun ownership  in the world. 

Their [Saudi Arabia’s] US-style ‘shock-and-awe’ tactics have yielded nothing of lasting benefit. In fact, Houthi forces, even though they are theoretically outgunned and outmatched, have made some territorial gains.


Now, the Saudis and Emiratis find themselves committing 1,500 ground troops . But to what end?

The official rationale is to make sure that the equipment they delivered to local fighters – who are not trained in using them – can be brought to bear.

This “rationale” puts the country on a slippery slope towards full-scale involvement in what was believed to be, and sold at home as, an “easy” air war.

Misleading the population

Taking this next step is the inevitable consequence of the Saudis re-enacting another US mistake – made during its preparation for the invasion of Iraq – overselling the outcomes, while underselling what it really takes in terms of blood and economic costs to succeed (if, and that is a very big if, “victory” can even be had).

The belief in the curative powers of “air superiority”, shared by the US and Saudi Arabia, is not at all helpful to their ultimate cause.

It only results in a serious misleading of one’s own domestic population.

Far from the false “sugar high” of being able to begin bombing at a moment’s notice, what is really needed is to lay down a strategy that serves the region’s medium and long-term interests.

In this context, the Saudis have plenty of reasons to be nervous, but they need to be strategically smart.

Yemen’s population – at about 27 million – is close to the size of Saudi Arabia (32 million), even though the former’s territory is only one-quarter the size of its much richer neighbour to the north.

The real challenge, though, is contained in this set of numbers: Yemen’s per capita income – at $1,370 – is only one-twentieth of Saudi Arabia’s ($26,340).

If the Saudi goal is to establish a friendly and stable government in Yemen, the war has gone terribly wrong.


The Saudis’ US-style “shock-and-awe” tactics have yielded nothing of lasting benefit. In fact, Houthi forces, even though they are theoretically outgunned and outmatched, have made some territorial gains.

Aden has only been retaken with tremendous effort and ground forces. Is that a success of any kind? 

Not when 20 million people are now without adequate drinking water . And hundreds (if not thousands) of civilians have been killed  in strikes that have been frequently off-target.


Make no mistake about it – if anything, the Saudis’ course of action so far has created disillusionment among Yemen’s population regarding Saudi Arabia’s true intentions and capabilities.

Stunningly, that is true even among those Yemenis who had initially hoped for Saudi Arabia to become a stabilising factor.

The presumed wealth of advantage of the US and Saudi Arabia over Iraq and Yemen does not serve either country well.

This “abundance” tempted them to go for broke – all out attack mode – and continues to delude them into believing they have “won” the battle, while they ignore that the war is being lost.

The US at least had the excuse of being an outsider to the region, the Saudis, who live on the Arabian Peninsula with their Yemeni neighbours, can’t tap into that (weak) excuse.

Stephan Richter is publisher and editor-in-chief of and is president of the Globalist Research Center.

Bill Humphrey is a senior editor at and hosts the Arsenal For Democracy, a political talk radio show.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.