On April 9, 2003, Baghdad fell to Coalition forces, lead by the U.S. Third Infantry Division and the U.S. First Marine Division. THe were welcomed by then-grateful inhabitants, a sentiment which has since changed. Observing the troops wearing bulky body armor, locals thought they could not possibly survive the brutal heat of a Baghdad summer. They were wrong.
Perhaps, for a brief time, America was the New Rome. This is fading fast, in a way markedly analogous to the ruination of Roman farmers by imports of Egyptian grain. Of relevance here is the remarkable performance of the American military since World War II. Orders of battle cannot convey the remarkably meticulous process of motivation, self-examination, correction, innovation, and the associated industrial complex. Since all of the equipment can be transferred to rich allies who can afford it, only motivation remains in question. Can it be transferred?
The U.S. makes available to allies every training facility, from battlefield tactical simulation and exercise, and the United States Army War College for education in strategy, tactics, and international The Naval Post Graduate School, and the Air Force Institute of Technology focus on mathematics and engineering. All of these have antecedents in the broad academics of the British colonial military.
To the extent that the above can be transferred, this is what the Saudis have to throw against the chanting mullahs of the Houthis. But let it be noted that during the first Gulf War of 1990-1991, American soldiers discovered that Saudi barracks in the desert were heavily air conditioned, with the inhabitants reluctant to emerge into the blazing heat. The Saudi argument was that it was just too uncomfortable to live without A/C. But the price was a lack of acclimation to the heat, a very real adaptation that involves higher mineralo-corticoid levels, with greater salt retention. In other words, the Saudis were not biologically equipped to fight.
As Iraq’s Shiite militia work their way into ISIS territory, they are accompanied by a mullah in a pickup truck with a loudspeaker who fortifies their spirit at frequent intervals. Rome’s religious system was morally ambivalent and highly practical, but Roman soldiers fought for a really good retirement deal. And, in a very modern touch, it appears they fought for each other; the essence of duty.
Saudi grunts, soldiers for a paycheck, cannot go up against chanting Houthis on equal terms. But the threat of an Iranian influence on the Arabian Peninsula is mortal. The Saudis have watched the Iranians worm their way into Iraq, and there is no way to get them out. The unlimited money of the House of Saud, and evident inability to use it to cause the Sunni tribes to coalesce, is itself a debacle.
But one should never go into battle on equal terms. An area of rolling desert, east of Sana’a, is good tank country, compatible with high tech weapons technology. As the camel was the “ship of the desert”, the tank is now, with the opportunity of a “naval presence”, not incompatible with the indirect approach of B.H. Liddell Hart.
The area is shaped like a broad dagger, about 115 miles wide at the latitude of Sana’a, encompassing the governorates of Al Jawf and Ma’rib. It narrows to a point, which, unfortunately, is 160 miles from Aden. Saudi. The intervening territory is mountainous, and under control of the Houthis. The concept is therefore denied a most appetizing strategic objective. If you are a Google Earth user, see 16°54’35.41″ N 46°59’25.34″ E .
Domination of this empty desert by technological supremacy is empty of itself. But if, through the hidden and devious workings of Sunni tribalism, the Saudis can crystallize a political structure, it would be worth the gamble.
The game is called force multiplication. We cannot know, but we can hypothesize.