Yemen Poker and Oil; Love for Sale

Reports from multiple sources, including Al Jazeera, are that the Houthis and  President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi have made a power sharing deal.

Here we resort to psychoanalysis.  In the West, the strong tinge of personality characteristic of politicians is sublimated by institutional practice.  While  France had the challenge of a “not French”  Sarkozy, and Italy the clownish Berlusconi, in both cases, the  systems reacted against their personal traits in favor of a “national character.”

In the Middle East, the opposite is true. In the long tenures of charismatic and/or reactionary regimes, government becomes imprinted with personal character. Metaphorically, King Abdullah of the House of Saud swings every executioner’s sword, Syria’s Assad tortures every  Mukhabarat prisoner,  and Turkey’s Erdoğan is the authoritarian father-figure. Egypt’s El-Sisi, with an unusually delicate touch for the region,  muffles the screams of the opposition to obtain the level of decorum he requires.

The above players seek stasis, which, in the region, is the opposite of chaos. Both they and their opponents have, for their respective goals, the equivalents of energy budgets. Each side has the goal of spending as little of their budget to achieve the immediate goal, but the conservative regimes spend less, because their time horizons stretch to infinity.

So in the Middle East casino, there are two types of players. The conservative regimes underplay their hands.  But the revolutionaries, whose only world is a rapid state of flux, chronically  overplay. They may not be consciously aware that, if they stand still, they die, but the distinction between the conscious mind, and the unconscious, is a purely Western one.

This offers a conclusion that cannot be obtained by reading the fine wording, if it even exists, of the agreement between Hadi and the Houthis: that it is merely tactical. It is trite but appropriate to call them pawns. Hadi was not originally a pawn, but has been devalued by events. Although some doubt the significance of the Houthis because they are not Twelvers, they are of great value to Iran as a wedge on the Arabian peninsula. The Iranians are superb at both strategy and tactics, with a time horizon entirely comparable to their conservative Sunni adversaries, and not terribly picky about the religious purity of their proxies. Their advice to their Houthi clients can be assumed to be excellent, and may moderate the tribal instinct to overplay.

This is a struggle the House of Saud must win at all costs. The oil-price-crash is partly attributable to the essential need to starve the Iranian economy of dollars, until the Saudis securely buy Yemen. Love  is for sale.