Mattis: Yemen Humanitarian to Worsen with Death of Saleh

Reuters: Yemen humanitarian situation likely to worsen with Saleh death: Mattis. Quoting,

(But)one thing I think I can say with a lot of concern and probably likelihood is that the situation for the innocent people there, the humanitarian side, is most likely to (get) worse in the short term,” Mattis said. He did not explain his reasoning.

Mattis likely spared an explanation because there is no compact version suitable for a statement of record. But like many issues involving humans, many related explanations have the virtues of being partly true.  It is possible that, in the interest of efficiency and specialization, Mattis does not involve himself on the microscopic level of knowing who is pointing rifles at who on opposite sides of a rusty chain link fence. But he knows how things go.

It puzzles me a little that with all the resources journalists accumulate, Reuters did not anoint some experts, who could then be asked, in view of their presumed expertise, to provide an expert opinion as to what Mattis is thinking. Is it because:

  • Every reader knows the answer to what Mattis is thinking?
  • Nobody knows the answer?
  • Everybody disagrees about the explanation?
  • Some or everybody agree that the reasons are unknowable?
  • Everybody has their own ideas of why, but are unsure whether their ideas are identical or similar to Mattis’s reasoning?

Suddenly, the question seems very intimidating. Does one has to be an Einstein to know why the fact that Ali Abdullah Saleh got whacked will impede the delivery of aid to Yemen? Certainly not!

First, a warmup. The gang problem in the U.S. offers a strong analogy for closeup study. The chronicle begins with the excellent book, The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld , by Herbert Asbury, an accurate portrayal of how things worked up to about 1915. Then the Italian Mafia, through large scale organization and ethnic specialization, squeezed out the small neighborhood gangs.. In 1957, at the Apalachin meeting, the Italian mafia established a national organization, what Joe Valachi so famously called “a second government.”

It was during this time, up till the Feds broke their back with RICO, that the Mafia successfully and extensively co-existed with legal government. The “families” were like the tribes of Yemen. The Mafia is still around, but the bloody and unstable history of the Italian Mafia, before the law finally gained the upper hand, informs well about Yemen.

We don’t even have to get intellectual and read books, because movies will do. When the leader of a mob family got hit, there was a war, and revenues went down. Then somebody would impose a peace on the survivors. Revenues would go up, somebody would get greedy, and there would be more killing.

In the short term, the aid distribution system in Yemen has been disrupted. The following is one possible situation in Yemen now. Formerly, Saleh’s fighters would take trucks down to the port. Their trucks would be loaded with the understanding that in return, Saleh’s fighters would not shoot at Houthi trucks. Now the Houthis won’t allow what were Saleh’s trucks to be loaded, because (pick one or more):

  • The Houthis don’t know if they are loading the trucks of fighters who will retaliate for the hit on Saleh.
  • The Houthis know that Saleh’s men lack the gumption to shoot at them because they have no leader to order them to shoot.
  • The Houthis will now try to split the tribes formerly allied under Saleh by selective provision or denial.

Feel free to add to the list. The possibilities are endless. The most important aspect is not the precise ground knowledge, but the modes of conflict.

Secretary Mattis shows an awareness that, in conflicts prior to Iraq, was the domain of cultural specialists. Had the establishment been as aware during the attempted reconstruction of Iraq, the current situation in the Middle East would have a different shape. We’ve learned some things.

This is why I wonder at the lack of commentary in the Reuters article.  It leaves an uncolored void in the public record. It risks public forgetting of a lesson learned at great cost.

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