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.

Just a Reminder – Looking for a Gig (The Challenge of Yemen)

As with Skinner’s Operant Conditioning of Russia, the web counter implies some interest in the challenge of Yemen. I thought of that idea while contemplating rats being tickled — and laughing. I then began to imagine –  strictly in my imagination –  Sergey Lavrov  laughing.

If you enjoy the writing, the broad assemblage of information, and perhaps  even the humor, I’m looking for a gig.

I am within commuting range of NYC.  Email: contact at this domain name.

Yemen, Saleh (Now Dead), and Civil War, Part 2

We continue from Yemen, Saleh, and Civil War, Part 1.

Edit: When I wrote this last night, Saleh was still alive.  Now watch for the tertiary conflict.

(BBC) Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former leader, killed in Sanaa fighting. I first addressed his endurance as a survivor in (Jul 2014) It’s a People Game.

The peculiar relationships anticipated in Part 1:

  • Saleh, a Shia, (is)was now in conflict with a Shia based “renewal” movement, with little noted about what the Sunni tribes are thinking or doing.
  • In the north, the Sunnis remain underrepresented. Yet such is the tribal sociology that Hadi, a Sunni southerner, could not find the support to repel the Houthi surge.
  • The de facto border closely follows the border prior to unification.
  • The previous reasons for the unification of the north and the south, economic opportunity and pan-Arabism,  are no longer operative or influential.


  • Aden has an indigenous civic and military movement. It does not  want to be part of a unified Yemen. Although this became manifest with the Battle of Aden, the feeling of cultural irritation preceded Saleh’s departure by many years.
  • Taiz, also sophisticated and multicultural, containing disparate elements could be a bloodbath, — or not.
  • Saleh’s record was that of a traditional tribal chieftain: extreme, divisive, intolerant, and  by Western if not tribal standards, corrupt.

So now that Pan-Arabism has so distantly dissipated, Yemen looks less like a nation, and more like the last misbegotten child of the British Empire. Had the British drawn the line of their Aden Protectorate a  little further inland, to include Taiz, the political culture of South Yemen might have survived the 1986 civil war.


  • Ali Abdullah Saleh (is)was not the guy to run this country, if in fact there is a single country to run. He is useful in the short term. He (has) had the personality of a minor satrap, as whom he could continue to exercise his talent for staying alive.
  • Yemen is better off as two countries. In the modern context, this means two regions with separate governments that compete for recognition.
  • Without the benefit of the Saudi microscopic knowledge of Mansour Hadi, and his involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood, he fits the template of a leader of a reconstituted South Yemen.

There are actually three conflicts:

  • Primary. Houthi versus non-Houthi.
  • Secondary. north versus south.
  • Tertiary, potential.  Zaydi versus Sunni in the north. 

Saleh’s political talents may have impeded the natural-for-the-region tertiary conflict. It may occur if his talent for survival wears out. Well, it has. A legacy of my participation in the IARPA Forecasting World Events program is a NY Times photo of Saleh, taped to my basement wall. I guess it’s time to take it down.

With lower population density, absence of the tertiary conflict potential, and the civic, if not national feeling of Aden, the  south has potential for natural stability. This is best actualized by splitting it off.

But how do we keep out the Iranians?  The geography of South Yemen, and common culture, facilitate economic integration with Saudi Arabia. As a model, consider the Red Sea bridge to link the Sinai with Egypt.

A strategy for North Yemen is more difficult and indirect. The tertiary conflict potential is like unexploded ordinance. But effective control of South Yemen, and the waterways adjoining the ports of North Yemen, convert the problem to almost one of internal control. Isolated from Iran, North Yemen may become amenable to variations on the manipulations used so successfully to build the British Empire.

Britain did not conquer the Mughal Empire by primarily military means.  India was won by a combination of economic development, suborning of local rulers, and attractive additions of Western culture to  the indigenous. The one obstacle that did not then exist is cultural militancy on the national scale. That did not occur until the dual creations of Mahatma Gandhi, and JInnah’s Muslim League. 

It remains to be seen whether Saudi Arabia can rescue itself. It it succeeds, then it can surely (?) rescue Yemen.

Saleh, who was significantly responsible for the collapse of Hadi’s government and the preceding years of discord in Yemen, was about to become  a useful, if expendable proxy. Now the Saudi task becomes harder. Watch for the tertiary conflict.

North Korea’s Hwasong-15 Missile

This  does not look like an indigenous “Juche” development. A missile is a fusion of diverse technologies into one goal. Even more than the recent 9/3/2011  “thermonuclear” device test, it demonstrates simultaneous deployment of too many new technologies at once, with a launch record that has in the same interval switched from pathetically bad to amazingly good.

Engineering in the advanced industrialized states doesn’t work that way. Improvements in the many systems that comprise a missile are phased in, one or  a few at a time. The Hwasong-15 demonstrates:

  • Gimbal based thrust vectoring, which requires a new control system. In control characteristics, it is entirely dissimilar from vernier rockets.
  • A new rocket motor on those gimbals.
  • An improved guidance system, which interacts with the gimbal control system.
  • A new rocket structure, with different, unknown vibrational modes.

Vibration is a problem with all rockets. Stressed to the limit, they tend to vibrate and shake to the point of destruction. See pogo oscillation, just one of the many kinds. All that vibration, combined with unstudied  “poles”, i.e., singularities of the complete control system, can make a rocket turn around and come right back at you.

So  how does one control the vibrational modes, which cannot be known with authority before flight, when a new guidance system is interacting with a new control system? This kind of challenge would normally be broken into digestible pieces.

If the 9/3 nuclear test is a bought design, the possible sellers are quite limited. One naturally suspects elderly Russian scientists, with other possibilities in the countries that combine nuclear weapons with mercenary opportunity.

The possible sellers of  the missile design are more numerous. Since criminal intent can be found in developed countries, Japan cannot be excluded.

Who makes a rocket with two motors, two gimbaled engines, and a diameter close to 2.4 meters?

Yemen, Saleh, and Civil War, Part 1

In  (9/11/2017) Withdrawal from Iran Nuclear; Mattis Plan; More Aggressive U.S. Strategy,  it’s noted,

With the detention of Mansour Hadi, the above now seems questionable. But a plural approach is still more likely to succeed. The de facto division of Yemen closely follows  the borders of the two Yemens before voluntary unification in 1990. In 1994, the south had buyer’s remorse and revolted, but lost.

Respecting the north,

  • The Houthi movement, which threatens the West as a proxy for Iran, is  not exclusively Shiite, although it originated from an offshoot of Shi’ism,  Zaydism (Fiver Islam).
  • The Zaydis (Fiver Shi’ism), always a minority, dominated Yemen as a kind of warrior caste for a thousand years. The last dynasty, the Mutawakkilite, was Zaydi. The heads of state that followed were Zaydi, until the advent of Mansour Hadi, a Sunni.
  • In recent history, pressure from the Zaydis has caused a migration of Sunnis towards the south.
  • The current alliance in Yemen against the Saudi led coalition contained, since it just fell apart,  (Reuters: Saudi-led air strikes support Yemen’s Saleh as he shifts against Houthis), somewhat incompatible Sunni and Shia elements,  susceptible to proxy manipulation in advance of tribal interests.
  • The north  is economically more viable, if the term can be used for such a pathetic situation. It contains the highlands with the greatest rainfall, and the depleting oil reserves, still the main source of revenue.

Respecting the south,

  • The area has been the recipient of Sunni migration south due to Zaydi pressure.
  • The south contains Aden, formerly a great port of the British Empire. Unlike the rest of Yemen, it was exposed for centuries to cosmopolitan influences. Retaining a whiff of the multicultural,  it gave birth in 1967 to the one and  only communist Arab state.
  • Excepting the southwest corner, the rest of of the south (and east) is too empty to support any political culture at all, except for terror statelets.
  • Cosmopolitan influence extends as far inland as beleaguered Taiz, which now as then lies just beyond the former border of north and south. The designers of Britain’s  Aden Protectorate, concerned with safeguarding shipping lanes of the Empire, saw no need to include it. Military  weakness of the coalition currently prevents it.
  • Up to the actual reunification of the two Yemens,  the popular answer to the question “why unite” likely reflected the tail-end of Pan Arabism. But the  more important reason, from the southern  p.o.v. was that before 1990, the south looked to the north for economic opportunity. Yemen was poor, but not quite as desperately poor as it is now. And there was thought to be oil on the borderlands, an unjustified hope.
  • The merger of the north and south, first mooted in 1978, was in a state of indefinite delay.  It was seemingly hastened by the South Yemen civil war, internal to South Yemen, which resulted decimation of the senior leadership. By some accounts, this catalyzed the merger.

By now, you have the experience of staring at an optical trick intended  to induce double vision. You ask the optometrist to insert another lens, but it doesn’t help.

Keep these lists handy. Pairing them reveals some peculiar relationships. To be continued shortly.