When the nation of Yemen was put on a gurney and trundled down the hall from the global intensive-care unit to hospice, it was in pretty bad shape. The United States runs the ICU, of course, and has only two treatments to offer, whatever the symptoms presented: massive injections of cash, or invasion surgery. The outcomes are universally terrible, and have been since about 1950, but no one seems able to think of another approach. That may have something to do with the quality of diagnosis: a patient who is starving and dehydrated is unlikely to respond well to either a high-pressure currency infusion or a brain transplant.
There is a global glut of glib explanations for the plight of Yemen and the nations with which it shares the hopeless ward: Venezuela, Libya, Bangladesh, Iraq, and the like. (Then there’s the waiting list: Brazil, Egypt, Afghanistan, Greece.) The pundits punt about sectarian strife between Shia and Sunni Muslims, or the struggle between the Yemeni government and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or the struggle for power among the Houthi Shia rebels and the Sunni government and the Sunni Al Qaeda (except, wait, the Houthi aren’t just Shia, they follow the Zaidi sect of Islam — never mind, Shia is close enough). Then there’s the “yearning for democracy” myth, which goes hand in hand with the “they hate us because of our freedoms” fallacy.
What has actually been happening in Yemen, and in just about every other disintegrating country in the world, is happening because their people are increasingly without food, water, energy and hope. And these conditions are the result primarily of two things: peak oil and climate change. We need to know this, because we, too, are about to be subjected to the ministrations of these evil twins, and understanding what they are doing to Yemen might give us an inkling of our own future.
Instead, we are on a diet of Yemenade. The US has “supported” Yemen, we are told endlessly, with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to a succession of brutal dictators who used the cash to pay and equip police forces and military units that ruthlessly maintained “stability” by repressing their own people. Abdullah Saleh was a faithful ally of our “war on terror,” but when popular rage unseated him in 2011, the US promptly branded him an incompetent stabilizer, and began firehosing cash to his equally brutal successor, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. Who is now trying to govern from the southern seaport of Aden, having been run out of the capital city by the Houthis.
The United States has spent hundreds of millions — probably billions — of dollars supporting the government and striking at Al Qaeda in Yemen, whose accomplishments outside of Yemen, where we live, are two in number: the attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo and the failed operation of the pathetic underwear bomber. They are credited with “inspiring” the inept Boston Marathon pressure-cooker bombers, and a deranged soldier who shot 13 people in Fort Hood, Texas. In the same sense, one supposes, you could explain Jeffrey Dahmer’s cannibalistic crimes by saying he was inspired by Julia Childs.
Time for a reality check. [Thanks to the one person — Nafeez Ahmed — writing in the Middle East Eye — on whom we can rely for consistently straight talk.]
- The reason we are interested in Yemen is the same reason we are interested in the downtrodden and the underprivileged everywhere: they live where our oil is.
- Yemen started to come apart in 2001 because that’s the year it experienced peak oil. It pumped 450,000 barrels a day back then, last year 100,000 barrels a day and in about two years — 0 barrels a day. Since oil was and is the country’s only significant source of income, this is a big problem. (So why are we still interested in them? Because their disintegration is endangering Saudi Arabia, who still has lots of our oil, that’s why.)
- Things have gone from bad to worse as a result of climate change. Never a rainforest country — it’s Arabia, after all — Yemen used to be able to count on having about 37,000 gallons of clean water per person per year. As the aridity of the whole country has inexorably increased, the average amount of water per capita has dropped to 22,000 gallons a year. (That would keep a typical American household going for 73 days.)
- As life in Yemen has become harder, it has become much more expensive. Oil income used to subsidize the cost of fuel and electricity to ordinary people. No more. As a result, the price of everything whose production requires energy or water — food, for example — has skyrocketed. So has the unemployment rate, now at about 40% for all adults, 60% for young people.
Leaders who try to deal with problems such as these with tanks, tear gas and automatic weapons will soon find themselves experiencing the business ends of pitchforks. Countries that try to help them with cash, waterboards and drone strikes will soon find themselves up to their eyeballs in a quagmire. People who describe the agony of countries such as Yemen as having an Arab Spring, or indulging in a passion for freedom, will be given a special, long-term assignment in the Orwellian Language Department of Hell.
So, please. Don’t drink the Yemenade.