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Strategy

The Inescapable Continuum: US Force and Diplomacy into the Biden Era

The election of President Joseph Biden brought an audible sigh of relief from the foreign policy community, but those hoping for fundamental change in U.S. Middle East policy will be disappointed.  Fortunately, the U.S. and its allies escaped four more years of a policy based on uninformed whim coupled with willfully diminishing the ‘American Role’ globally, but for Middle East policy, the change from Trump to Biden must be understood in terms of U.S. Middle East and North Africa (MENA) policies past, present, or future. Rather than abrupt departures, change is far more gradual – a continuum, if you will, that ebbs and flows. In this age of global 24-hour news, hyped events often take on an importance that far outweigh their real significance on the historical continuum. Those expecting a revolutionary break from Trump will instead witness a significant change in style with more modest changes in substance. With regard to the Middle East, William Faulkner’s comment on the American South comes to mind, “The past isn’t dead; it’s not even past.”[1]  This is the perspective from which Trump and now the new Biden administration must be understood. 

This article takes a slice of the continuum and frames it within a deeper historical context – past as present, present as future. To do this, Biden must be seen, at a bare minimum, within the context of the last two decades of U.S. involvement in the region.[2]  First and perhaps foremost, remember that Biden was elected to the U.S Senate in 1972 – almost a year before the Yom Kippur War; the recent historical context has informed his views. He remembers the shock of 9/11 on U.S. society and the Bush administration.[3] From his globally applauded destruction of the Taliban regime and targeting of Al Qaeda, Bush stumbled from a marginally successful military operation to unseat Saddam Hussein to his self-described “crusade” which morphed into the disastrous occupation and disintegration of the Iraqi state.[4] It became the catalyst for the destabilization of western Syria, the brief euphoria of Arab Spring smothered in Thermidorian reaction, and the collapse of Alawite Syria, Saleh’s Yemen, and Qadhafi’s Libya.[5] The region had descended into chaos, but was it unprecedented?

In reality, any 18th century Ottoman administrator would recognize the ‘new’ map – the fracturing, the wars, the socio-cultural frictions, the economic imbalances, and the geopolitical ambitions. Bush destroyed the artificial colonial construct of Sykes-Picot, albeit at a horrendous cost to the U.S. and the region, allowing the underlying realities of the regional context to reemerge, the fractured mosaic of Ottomanization without the Ottomans.[6] Not surprisingly, the traditional authoritarian states from Morocco to Oman proved the most resilient while the ‘republics’ that had suppressed this Middle East mosaic disintegrated.[7]

For Biden, Special Operations Forces (SOF) with air support became the most viable form of military intervention because of limited exposure and goals.


Unfortunately, the United States found itself in uncharted territory – deeply involved in a costly and endless cycle of Middle East wars. Barack Obama’s 2008 election was as much about the ‘endless wars’ as any other single issue – the reality of intervention undermined any attempt to rationalize the adventures. With Obama came Vice President Joseph Biden, who had seen not only the MENA wars, but who had also had a ringside seat on the bitter end of America nation-building in Vietnam. As a senator Biden voted for the Iraq War, but by 2005, he admitted that it had been a mistake.[
8] Obama hammered his Republican opponent for continued support for the war in Iraq and the failure to fight the ‘good war’ in Afghanistan. Obama wanted out of Iraq and, with Iranian prodding, the fractious Iraqi parliament accommodated him in 2010 by refusing the U.S. version of the status of forces agreement originally signed by Bush in 2008. With regard to Afghanistan, Obama felt compelled to follow through on his campaign promise and authorized the ‘surge.’ Vice President Biden opposed the effort for having no endgame.[9] Biden also opposed an unilateral raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound fearing collateral damage with Pakistan.[10] Biden opposed the intervention in Libya because he feared unforeseen consequences. For Biden, Special Operations Forces (SOF) with air support became the most viable form of military intervention because of limited exposure and goals. In 2014, Biden supported the special operations-driven intervention in eastern Syria and western Iraq against ISIS in what turned out to be the best economical use of U.S. power since the fateful decision to invade Iraq in 2003. 

In 2016, Donald Trump’s election shocked the U.S. foreign policy establishment, but the realization that the inexperienced, fundamentally ignorant president intended to direct his own foreign policy without expert advice stunned. The freewheeling, uninformed approach, including the pursuit of Kim Jong-un, his infatuation with Vladimir Putin, the Twitter and trade wars with China, and other departures from informed policies that followed will be a case study for generations. That said, his MENA policies departed more in style than in substance. Stripped of its rhetoric and ill-advised approaches, Trump sought to end the ‘forever wars’, to unequivocally support Israel, to confront Iran and prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapons, and to use U.S. special forces not only against terrorist threats, but also to enhance the conventional military and SOF capabilities of allies in the region as a means to reduce the need for direct U.S. military involvement. True, he embraced dictators, but Bush and Obama had hardly shunned or confronted them.[11] Unfortunately, dictators can be useful to foreign policy depending on the alternative. The goals were generally in line with those of his predecessor even if the ‘how’ of accomplishing those goals was starkly different.[12]

Although the Biden Administration would undoubtedly prefer to see an end to Netanyahu in Israeli politics, it is unlikely to reverse Trump policies given the domestic political implications.


Trump had multiple reasons for shifting the U.S. policy stance related to Israel.  The recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and the annexation of the Golan Heights were popular with his right-wing Christian supporters as well as with strategically important Zionist-American mega-donors and, of course, Jared Kushner.[
13]  These changes also brought U.S. policy into line with the realities on the ground.  Trump and his advisors saw no lost leverage with Israel because it was never going to give up the Golan nor compromise on Jerusalem anyway, and Trump believed that it would secure domestic support, assuring his reelection. For Israel, the gains were more symbolic than substantive with the exception perhaps of an absolute green-light for operations against Iran and its allies. Although the Biden Administration would undoubtedly prefer to see an end to Netanyahu in Israeli politics, it is unlikely to reverse Trump policies given the domestic political implications. It will seek other less visible ways to influence Israeli policy.

With respect to the Gulf, the Trump administration recognized that while Israel and the Gulf have differences, they were almost of one accord with regard to Iran. Why almost?  Israel wants a military operation in the Gulf that would destroy Iran’s nuclear capability. In fact, Israel would like to see the U.S. undertake such a task. The Arab Gulf states want Iranian influence in the region broken, but without another war. Israel, the Gulf Arabs, and the Trump administration all believed that Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran was flawed. This consensus became the starting point for the “Abraham Accords” in which Kushner brokered the recognition of Israel by the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and a “private” meeting between Netanyahu and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Undoubtedly, the Arab states were as surprised as Trump at the outcome of the U.S. election. Might Biden’s election place the “inducements” in question? That could well depend on how they take advice on Yemen, including humanitarian relief, and receive the coming pressure on human rights in Riyadh, Manama, and likely Abu Dhabi and Dubai as well. 

As for the inducements, the U.S. recognized Moroccan control over the Western Sahara, no doubt with a promise of U.S. support when, not if, the Polisario insurgency begins anew. The UAE gained a commitment for large weapons sales including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a move quietly opposed by some in the U.S. military and questioned by some Israeli military officials as well.[14] Bahrain and the ruling al-Khalifa, no doubt, received assurances of support vis-à-vis their majority Shi’a population. Sudan was removed from the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list making it eligible for U.S. assistance.  But, they are now dealing with Biden so what will become of these inducements? The Biden administration undoubtedly will review each on a case-by-case basis. Morocco and the Sahara, and Bahrain and the Shi’a have a greater chance of modification depending on events in the region than say the UAE and the F-35 deal, which gives the U.S. considerable leverage with Abu Dhabi on any number of issues. In addition, Arab agreements with Israel are more readily prone to change based on circumstances – there are real domestic risks involved for the Arabs, hence the ‘secret’ meeting with Mohammad bin Salman.[15] These “Accords” are considerably more fragile than Tel Aviv may understand, but for now Israeli tourists in Dubai can bask in the illusion that their neighbors actually accept them. The shock will come later driven by domestic Arab politics, but why spoil the surprise here?

Biden’s administration understands the differences between Zaydi and Khomeinist Qom-based Shi’a Islam and can move forward on a more pragmatic basis. It will almost certainly push for regional autonomy within the artificial boundaries of the current so-called Yemeni state without the delusions of Obama’s “reconciliation” effort.


In Yemen, both Trump and Obama supported Saudi Arabia and the UAE efforts to undermine the Ansar Allah Zaydi, the so-called Houthis movement. They provided U.S. special forces assistance, expanded intelligence and logical support, and refueled aircraft for the air campaign. A bi-partisan Congressional effort to rein in Saudi Arabia over civilian bombings ended in a Trump veto and more weapons purchases. Trump uncritically sided with the Saudi and UAE support for interim president Aburabbuh Mansur Hadi and their argument that Ansar Allah represented an Iranian incursion into the Arabian Peninsula.[
16] Trump encouraged adventurism that made Saudi Arabia the unintended victim. With 50,000 security and military personnel stuck along the Yemeni border, the Kingdom needs a face-saving exit from the quagmire that it has no chance of winning.[17]  Riyadh is frustrated that the UAE wisely reduced its presence in southern Yemen, recognizing the limits of its military commitment.[18]  Because of the Shi’a issue, Trump’s Yemen policy has been simplistic, if not simple-minded. At least, Biden’s administration understands the differences between Zaydi and Khomeinist Qom-based Shi’a Islam and can move forward on a more pragmatic basis. It will almost certainly push for regional autonomy within the artificial boundaries of the current so-called Yemeni state without the delusions of Obama’s “reconciliation” effort.[19]  The real, hidden goal is the extraction of Saudi Arabia from its misadventure in ‘Arabia Felix.’ The incentive for Ansar Allah could be Saudi humanitarian aid to alleviate Yemen’s humanitarian disaster. 

Counterterrorism in Yemen is a different issue entirely. Under Trump, Washington continued to employ drones and SOF operations against “high value” targets. In October 2017, a U.S. SOF mission based largely on UAE information failed. There was serious domestic criticism, and the administration, while continuing SOF efforts, pulled back if operations had a potentially serious political downside.20 Biden will continue operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other radical Islamist threats in areas that are roughly east of a line from Marib to Ibb to Aden. The drone and special operations war will continue with more or less the same terms as under the Trump administration. Biden will eschew high risk, high visibility operations for a journeyman like game of ‘whack-a-mole.’ There will be very few differences with the Trump policies. 

In the Greater Levant – Beirut to Basra, the Trump administration did its best to recreate the 2010 and 2015 mistakes of the Obama administration. Given the disastrous occupation of Iraq 2003–2010 followed by the attempts to wash its hands of Iraq, Obama was surprised by the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the necessity of reengaging in Iraq and eastern Syria – Sunnistan. The effectiveness of special operations coupled with local Arab and Kurdish allies backed by artillery and air support was something of an epiphany for the Obama administration – presence, power, and influence at an acceptable price. Trump, unable to understand this and predisposed to knee-jerk anti-Obama initiatives, was obsessed with withdrawing American forces benefiting the remnants of ISIS and Iran, and secondarily Russia and Turkey, and constituting yet another betrayal of the Kurds and Sunni Arab allies.[21] The Biden administration will almost certainly ask the military for recommendations, knowing that they opposed the troop reductions in the first place, and then he will use those recommendations to recalibrate the U.S. position, no doubt bearing in mind the events of 2015 and the surprise of ISIS.[22]

Having won the American war in Iraq, Iran spread its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.


A discussion involving Iraq naturally leads to Iran. Having won the American war in Iraq, Iran spread its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. The driving force behind Iranian expansion has been the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) with its special forces, the Quds Force, supplemented by diplomacy and financial inducements. It is a textbook SOF operation using indigenous allies – Shi’a ‘volunteers’ from Afghanistan and central Asia, the Shi’a militias in Iraq, the remnants of the Alawite Assad regime in Syria, and of course, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria as force multipliers to enable Tehran’s strategic vision. In contrast, the Trump administration’s one-dimensional thinking could not seem to grasp that leveraging the Iranian nuclear agreement, the special forces’ presence in Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Syria-Iraq, and other cooperative efforts with allies were all necessary elements of a strategy to contain Iran. Trump’s fixation on Obama and the nuclear agreement freed Iran from its nuclear obligations and put its enrichment programs on an accelerated footing. U.S. lack of the support for Kurdish aspirations and militias allowed Iran to expand its influence with Iraq and opened the door to Turkish suppression of the Kurds in Syria. Unable to understand geopolitical realities, the Trump administration has downsized its military presence while at same time pursuing overt actions like the assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani, bringing Iranian retaliation and heightened tensions in the region. For four years, there has been no coordinated strategic framework.  

The Biden administration comes to Washington with one clear advantage – competent, experienced experts in critical positions. Antony Blinken at State, General Lloyd Austin at Defense, Avril Haines at DNI, and William Burns at CIA outclass any group of foreign policy experts that ever existed in the Trump administration. There will be a strategic vision with flexible strategies to back it, but there will also be a time lag given the Trump chaos. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s pick as National Security Advisor, is the lynchpin. Sullivan’s long-term relationship with the President will undoubtedly place him in a position to speak for the President among this foreign policy group. 

Assuming Iran is the critical issue, the simplistic views of the Trump administration will be supplanted by more nuanced views of Iran and a more sophisticated Iranian policy.  More sophistication will not change Iran and its Persian Achaemenid, Sasanian, Safavid or, for that matter, Pahlavi imperial ambitions, or the intractable problem that Iranian interests often run counter to Western and Arab interests. Sophistication does not preclude military intervention, the elimination of regional threats to individual or otherwise, wars by proxy, or having concurrent agreements on nuclear development, trade, human rights, or other areas of mutual interest. “Maximum pressure” Trump-style devastated Iran economically but offered no means to capitalize on the havoc. The question for the Biden administration is whether it can move forward with Iran and effectively wield the stick along with carrots. There are also ‘what ifs.’ If Ali Khamenei dies, the next Supreme Leader could well be the IRGC’s candidate.[23] In addition, Biden’s more sophisticated experts believe that Shi’ism is not a monolith and that some Shi’a do not ascribe to the Khomeinism Qom-based version. For example, Ali Sistani, the ailing Najafi Iraqi Shi’a leader, strongly disagrees with the Qom version, and it is important to see someone of similar views replace him. Trump’s attempts to weaken Iran have no doubt left many in Tehran more determined than ever to acquire nuclear weapons and dominate the region. Biden has categorically stated that Iran must not be allowed to possess nuclear weapons. If he means it, then all options are on the table, but where the Trump administration delighted in undermining U.S. relationships with allies flaunting his impulsive behavior, Biden is a traditionalist who knows the U.S. will need its friends. Bearing in mind that there are really no ‘Solutions’ with a capital ‘S’, the new foreign policy team has the experience, talent, and potential to come up with a workable strategy. The degree of success still depends on intangibles – good coordination, solid execution, flexibility, influence with regional allies, the willingness of Biden to take informed risks, and luck. One thing is certain – experienced professionals with actual knowledge have a better chance than inexperienced hacks led by an uninformed president.

  1. William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun, Faulkner’s comment about a different place and time provides a remarkable parallel to the ongoing conflicts and rivalries in the Gulf. The embargo of Qatar was almost identical with the Qatari War of 1868, one only need substitute the U.S. for the British and tweak the alliances, otherwise all the players were the same and the outcome was the same – Qatar comes out ahead.  Never underestimate the Al Thani. 
  2. Roby Barrett, The Gulf and the Struggle for Hegemony: Arabs, Iranians, and West in Conflict, Washington, D.C.: The Middle East Institute, 2016 is a 720-page effort to provide a contextual view of security and relationships in the Gulf; therefore, to attempt this in a short article is challenging and will undoubtedly leave gaps. This effort constitutes an informed impressionist landscape as opposed to a high-definition representation of the region.
  3. The term Bush-Cheney Administration is more accurate.  George W. Bush was arguably relegated to a role ‘fronting’ the decisions that were in fact being made and the actions being formulated by Dick Cheney. Conors Friedersdorf, “Remembering Why Americans Loathe Dick Cheney,” The Atlantic 30, August 2011: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/08/remembering-why-americans-loathe-dickcheney /244306/.“President Bush bears ultimate responsibility for the War in Iraq, as do the members of Congress who voted for it. But Dick Cheney’s role in the run-up to war was uniquely irresponsible and mendacious. And after the invasion he contributed to the early dysfunction on the ground. Even Iraq War supporters should rue his involvement.”
  4. Peter Waldman and Hugh Pope, “’Crusade Reference Reinforces War on Terrorism Is Against Muslims.” The Wall Street Journal, 21 September 2001: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB100 1020294332922160. There was a significant degree of consternation at SOCOMM when key officers were suddenly pulled off of multi-national Afghanistan operations teams and put on a secret project that they could not talk about – Iraq. U.S. and foreign military officers involved were walking around saying, “Iraq? What does that have to do with Afghanistan and Bin Laden?” The answer was even at the time for those who understood the relationships in the region – ‘Nothing.’
  5. In Syria, without Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah, the Alawite dictatorship would disappear; therefore, what is left of Syria is a hollowed remnant and not a state or certainly nation-state at all.  See, Roby C. Barrett, The Collapse of Iraq and Syria: The End of the Colonial Construct in the Greater Levant MacDill AFB, FL, Joint Special Operations Press, 2016 for a more in-depth explanation of why neither Syria or Iraq were nation states. The current situation in Syria is merely an extension of that post-Ottoman reality.  The only colonially created republic in the MENA that survived the post-Arab Spring turmoil is Algeria, which continues to careen toward an FLN reckoning that it may or may not survive intact. Some might suggest that Tunisia, an Arab republic, also survived, but the key words are “colonially created.” The Tunisian core in the coastal regions is and has been an historically cohesive political entity for centuries. The problematic areas to the south and west are relatively recent additions and represent spill over security problems from Algeria. See Roby Barrett, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco: Change, Instability, and Continuity in the Maghreb, MacDill AFB, FL: Joint Special Operations Press, 2017: https://jsou.libguides.com/ld.php? content_id=34134939
  6. An 18th or 19th century administrative map of the “Greater Levant” – Beirut to Basra  – readily reveals the administrative reality of Ottoman rule. In the Ottoman system, the geographic political and administrative delineations – sanjuks, vilayets, and other administrative subdivisions – attempted to separate groups to simplify administration or suppression. The system was hardly perfect, but it reflected an awareness of the human geography.  Sykes-Picot, the other hand, arbitrarily overlayed the underlying reality with “lines in the sand.” Fuad I. Khuri, Imams and Emirs: State, Religion, and Sects in Islam (London: Saqi Books, 1990), Khuri argues that the concept of state in the Arab world tends to refer to governments or regimes that resembled the concepts found in Ibn Khaldun’s medieval works on society and government. These states lack the attributes of nation-states. The states of the Greater Levant—Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq—reflect this. See also Ibn Khaldun, The Muqaddimah: An Introduction to History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1967). In the cases of the Syrian and Iraqi dictatorships, asabiyya as presented by Khaldun is provocative and certainly brought the Alawites and Tikritis to power, but when it counted, the regimes failed because asabiyya was too narrow. It allowed Saddam Hussein to survive catastrophe after catastrophe, and it has allowed the Syrian regime to survive. Bassam Tibi, Arab Nationalism: A Critical Enquiry (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990). In the ‘Greater Levant,’ without Ottomans and dictatorships to keep the peace, state structure disintegrated into its component parts based on political, sectarian, and clan loyalties hence, Ottomanism without the Ottomans. 
  7. The “new men” is a description of the leaders of the Arab nationalist movements, like Jamal Abd-al-Nasser, coined by William R. Polk, a “prominent policy-oriented scholar” of the 1960s.  “The traditional systems that Hourani thought were destined for extinction in the 1960s appear to have survived better than the regimes created by the ‘new men revolutions.’ … From the perspective of the politics after the Arab Spring in 2011–2012, it seems clear that the transformed ‘tribal’ systems have been able to transform themselves from within more effectively than the ‘modernizing’ authoritarian dictatorships created by the ‘new men revolutions.” John Voll, “Foreword” in Roby C. Barrett, The Gulf and the Struggle for Hegemony: Arabs, Iranians, and the West in Conflict, Washington, D.C.: Middle East Institute, 2016, xxv.
  8. Christina Zhao, “Biden Admits Voting for Iraq War ‘Was a Mistake,’ Says He Did It Because He Wanted to Prevent a War.” Newsweek, 9 March 2020: https://www.newsweek.com/biden-admits-voting-iraq-war-was-mistake-says-he-did-it-because-he-wanted-prevent-war-1491369
  9. Diaa Hadid, “What Joe Biden’s Presidency May Mean for Afghanistan,” NPR, 18 November 2020: https://www. npr.org/2020/11/18/935351710/what-a-joe-biden-presidency-may-mean-for-afghanistan
  10. Glenn Kessler “Joe Biden and the Claim that He Opposed Taking Out Bin Laden,” Washington Post, 23 September 2020: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/09/23/joe-biden-claim-he-opposed-taking-out-osama-bin-laden/. Timothy Russert, “Meet the Press,” NBC News 27 November 2005: https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna 10154103.  This exchange is the first time that Biden states that the war in Iraq is a lost cause and that we must stabilize the situation and get out – turning it over to the Iraqis. The transcript is fascinating.  Also, conversation on Iraq War between Richard Armey, former Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives, and Roby C. Barrett, September 2007.” Armey stated unequivocally, “The Iraq war vote was the worst vote that I ever cast.” There was bipartisan recognition that Iraq was a mistake.
  11. Michael Crowley, “’We Caved’ What happened when Barack Obama’s idealistic rhetoric collided with the cold realities of war and dictatorship in the Middle East and beyond.” Politico Magazine, January/February 2016: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/01/we-caved-obama-foreign-policy-legacy-213495
  12. Anchal Vohra, “Trump Promised to End America’s Wars. Biden Might Actually Do It,” Foreign Policy 6 November 2020: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/11/06/trump-promised-to-end-americas-wars-biden-might-actually-do-it/
  13. Jonathan Allen, “In the Trump era, evangelicals take center stage on Israel policy,” NBC News, 16 April 2019: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/trump-era-evangelicals-take-center-stage-israel-po-licy-n994326
  14. Judah Ari Gross, “IAF chief expresses lingering concerns, hopes over US sale of F-35 to Emirates,” The Times of Israel, 31 December 2020: https://www.timesofisrael.com/iaf-chief-expresses-lingering-concerns-hopes-over-us-sale-of-f-35-to-emirates/.  Jacqueline Feldscher and Connor O’Brien, “U.S. plans to sell 50 F-35 fighter jets to the UAE after accord with Israel,” Politico 29 October 2020: https://www. Politico.com /news/2020/10/29/f-35-fighter-jets-united-arab-emirates-israel-433612
  15. Dan Ephron, “How Arab Ties with Israel Became the New Normal,” Foreign Policy 21 December 2020: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/12/21/arab-ties-israel-diplomacy-normalization-middle-east/
  16. The Kingdom and UAE supported Hadi in part because of his weak power base.  Hadi, an Abyani, was driven from South Yemen in the 1986 Civil War which was in large part caused by a rivalry within the PDRY government between Abyani elements and other political centers of power.  Saleh made him Vice President of the united Yemen Arab Republic because he assisted in the conquest of the south in the 1994 Civil War, which garnered him strong opposition in Aden; at the same time, he had a limited powerbase in southern Yemen and no powerbase at all in northern Yemen, which is why Saleh, after being wounded in an assassination attempt in 2011, agreed to elevate Hadi as acting president. Hadi then once again became acting president in 2012 and emerged as the primary alternative to Saleh. The bottom line was that his only real support was from the U.S., Saudis, and UAE.  In the case of the U.S., he told the Obama administration what it wanted to hear, and in the cases of Saudi and the UAE, they believed that they could control him. He has no real powerbase outside of Abyan and that is the fundamental problem. There are those who make legalistic arguments about ‘legitimacy’ and ‘run of law’, but in Yemen both are functions of power and alliances on the ground. In real terms, Hadi has neither. See Mohammed Alshuwaiter, “President Hadi and the Future of Legitimacy in Yemen,” Middle East Institute, 14 May 2020: https://www.mei.edu/publications/ president-hadi-and-future-legitimacy-yemen. Alshuwaiter makes a series of arguments about legitimacy that have nothing to do with the reality of establishing one’s self as a leader in Yemen. The fact that Hadi has hidden behind U.S., Saudi, and UAE guns to even be able to stay in Yemen undermines any case for legitimacy. 
  17. It is almost as if no one in Riyadh has read a history of Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the Yemen Civil War of 1962–1969, in which the Saudis, Jordanians, British, and others supported the Zaydis against the Egyptian-backed government in Sana’a.  One wonders if anyone in Riyadh seriously considered that the last time a campaign succeeded in Yemen against the Zaydis. It was Abd-al-Aziz al-Saud (Ibn Saud), who had Feisal capture Hodeidah and cut off the interior while Saud became entangled in the mountains. The capture of Hodeidah as key and something that neither the UAE in the south nor the Saudis in the north managed to accomplish. 
  18. Michael Knights, “Lessons From the UAE War in Yemen,” Lawfare 18 August 2019: https://www.lawfare-blog.com/lessons-uae-war-yemen   See also, Thomas Juneau, The UAE in Yemen: From Surge to Recali-bration,” Lawfare 11 October 2020: https://www.lawfareblog.com/uae-yemen-surge-recalibration
  19. Yemen is an artificial construct – a geographical term viewed as a political state. “In quite a state: Defining what makes a country,” Economist 10 April 2010: 62–63. See also, Benedict Anderson, Imagined Com-munities, London: Verso Books, 2006: 160. Tahseen Bashir, a droll Egyptian diplomat, once commented, “Egypt is the only nation-state in the Arab world; the rest are just tribes with flags.” His view certainly applies to Yemen. He so annoyed Hosni Mubarak that at one point Mubarak took his passport. Bashir sued the Egyptian president and got it back. At another point, when asked about why Mubarak named certain older officials to his cabinet, Bashir replied, “Their tombs were not ready.” Neil MacFarquhar, Tahseen Bashir, Voice of Tolerance in Egypt, Dies at 77,” New York Times, 14 June 2002: https://www.nytimes.com /2002/06/13/obituaries/tahseen-bashir-voice-of-tolerance-in-egypt-dies-at-77.html?auth=login-email&login=email. See also, Barrett, Gulf, 453–454.
  20. Cynthia McFadden, William A. Arkin, Tim Uehlinger, “How the Trump Team’s First Military Raid in Yemen Went Wrong,” NBC News, 2 October 2017: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/how-trump-team-s-first-military-raid-went-wrong-n806246
  21. Neil Vigdor, “Kurds in Syria Were Sold Out by President Trump, 2020 Democrats Say,” The New York Times, 15 October 2019: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/15/us/politics/turkey-syria-democraticdebate. html
  22. Kimberly Dozier, “Biden Wants to Keep Special Ops in the Mideast. That Doesn’t Mean More ‘Forever Wars,’ His Adviser Says,” Time, 23 September 2020: https://time.com/5890577/biden-middle-east-special-operations-forces/.  
  23. Rana Rahimpour, “Iran’s Supreme Leader: Who might succeed Ali Khamenei?” BBC News, December 11, 2020: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-55257059

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