Lack of a Strategic Vision Suggests Saudis Learned Nothing From US Mistakes in Iraq

More than a decade ago, Saudi Arabia pressed the United States to think twice before invading Iraq; however, the desert kingdom is demonstrating an astounding failure to follow its own good advice when it comes to Yemen. If nothing else, such widespread myopia explains regional conflicts ranging from the ongoing civil war in Syria to the sectarian violence in Iraq and the kingdom's military operations in Yemen.

It's déjà vu all over again. Of interest in this discussion is the ongoing conflict in Yemen that is dragging the country, if not already, into a civil war. Yet in the final analysis, the only ones truly benefiting from this quagmire are defense contractors and arms merchants.

I'm not surprised. A similar scenario unfolded when the United States invaded Iraq. Hawks in Washington, D.C., wanted the conflict to drag on longer so that their sponsors, defense contractors, could benefit greatly. And so they did -- to the detriment of our once-vibrant economy, cherished social programs and ballooning national debt, not to mention the tragic human cost.

Like the United States in Iraq, Saudi Arabia has now proven that the rationale of military superiority determining the winning hand is a short-sighted strategy. Despite Saudi Arabia's heavy military apparatus, the kingdom's involvement in Yemen seems to fall short in pushing Houthi rebels back to the north. The thinking that Saudi Arabia could bulldoze its way into Yemen betrays the lack of sound judgment of those now advising King Salman.

At least one reason seems clear: Most of the king's advisers are of religious backgrounds.
Consequently, complicated geopolitical calculations -- including those involving former Yemen president and ally Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi -- are simply not part of their thinking. This shows why the kingdom is pursuing a failed strategy as the conflict in Yemen shows no sign of abating. If only the kingdom could have learned from the costly mistakes the United States made in Iraq.

Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia seems oblivious to the folly of its campaign in Yemen. I predict the tenuous international coalition assembled by the king will fracture if the conflict drags on.

Why is this so bewildering? For one thing, while Saudi leaders cautioned President George W. Bush about the Iraq invasion, they nonetheless supported the United States. They had a front-row seat that allowed them to see that overwhelming American power deployed in Iraq did not in the end realize a truly united Iraqi nation. Second, even the Saudis now seem oblivious to the need for preserving stability in the region -- a primary reason for their advice to the United States to refrain from attacking Iraq.

Since launching military operations in Yemen, one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia has failed to achieve its objectives. Similarly, war in Iraq unequivocally demonstrated that U.S. military superiority, while crushing Saddam Hussein and putting the tyrant on the run, did not turn Iraq into the shining Middle Eastern democracy that the White House envisioned back in 2003.

Why should Americans even care about the Saudi entanglement in Yemen? Answer: U.S.-issued weapons could once again wind up in the wrong hands. How can we forget images on CNN, al-Jazeera, Fox News and the BBC showing ISIS fighters scooping up most if not all U.S. weapons that the Iraqi army abandoned when ISIS overran it. Similar scenes are taking place in Yemen.

There have been reports indicating that some unexploded ordnance trace their origin back to the United States and Germany. The Human Rights Watch identified some ordnance as BLU-108 canisters from the CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon, manufactured by the Textron Systems Corporation and supplied to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by the United States in recent years.

Interestingly, Yemen has the second highest gun ownership in the world. More weapons in this war-torn country will only exacerbate the situation as both Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates find themselves committing 1,500 ground troops with the possibility of adding more in the upcoming weeks and months. Such bloody upheaval is obviously the last thing Saudi Arabia actually needs in its immediate vicinity, especially in the south.

The bad news for the desert kingdom is that despite its U.S.-style "shock-and-awe" military operations in Yemen, the defiant Houthis -- in spite of being outgunned and outmatched -- have made at least some territorial gains.

One other grave mistake the Saudis made similar to what the United States did in Iraq: overselling the outcome of the war while minimizing the cost in blood and treasure to succeed, assuming victory can even be achieved.

It will be interesting to see how the conflict in Yemen evolves now that Iran, major backer of the Houthi rebels, has reached an agreement with the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and others over its nuclear program. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is already making peaceful overtures, but is anyone in Riyadh listening?