In the last weeks, fighting has broken out between two factions based in the North and South of Yemen. This conflict threatens to become a civil war as U.S. military forces have been mobilized to support Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries in a military intervention. This conflict has to do with the twisted manipulation of people by the U.S. and other world powers. The violence and bloodshed in Yemen is no domestic product – it has been exported to Yemen by imperialist powers, willing to wage bloody wars in the name of profit.
Yemen has always been a battleground for imperialism. In 1839 the British seized the port city of Aden and used it to ensure control over trade in the Persian Gulf, allowing British enterprises in India to profit greatly at the expense of thousands of Arab and Indian lives.
Yemen became an even greater prize once oil became the main source of energy. The Bab el-Mandeb waterway between Saudi Arabia and Yemen is the fourth largest international shipping lane, essential for shipping oil from the gulf to Europe and the U.S. Nearly 22 percent of all oil continues to pass by Yemeni ports. It is no surprise that Yemen has remained an important prize.
In 1967, Yemen was split in two, with the North and South pitted against each other by the major world powers. The South broke with the West, looking instead to the Soviet Union for support. North Yemen remained in the hands of traditional rulers, who allied with Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
In the 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. became the only major world power, and began to wage wars and extend its influence around the world. This is especially clear in the Middle East, where the year after the Soviet Union fell, the U.S., under George H.W. Bush, launched a war against Iraq, beginning decades of bombings and sanctions, and the eventual occupation in 2003.
Yemen was not untouched by U.S. imperial strategy after the fall of the Soviet Union. In 1990, with U.S. support, Yemen was unified under the rule of the Northern Yemen elite led by president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Land and water resources that had belonged to the state in the South were handed over to Northern tribal leaders, making a few Yemeni politicians very rich. In 1994 former government officials and military officers from the South attempted to retake control but were put down in a violent suppression.
Everything began to change after 2011 when the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt inspired revolt throughout the region. After massive protests in Yemen, President Saleh was forced to resign, handing power to the current president Abdu Rabbu Hadi. Since then, power in Yemen has been hotly contested. It’s no accident that Yemen has been the focus of U.S. drone strikes killing over a thousand people in targeted assassinations.
But the U.S. is not the only force to exert its influence in the region. Iran has cultivated links with a political movement of the Shi’a religious minority in Yemen, known as the Houthis. Backed by Iran, the Houthis represent a challenge to the U.S. goals of maintaining dominance. Iran hopes to use this movement to secure its own interests alongside China and Russia, in competition with the U.S. Over the past six months the Houthi movement has seized control. And Saudi Arabia – supplied and supported by the U.S. – has responded by a massive bombardment of Yemen and is prepared to send 150,000 troops into Yemen.
This is a story like so many others – like Iraq and Afghanistan and Vietnam and Nicaragua and countless other countries that U.S. imperialism has manipulated indirectly or through direct wars. The crisis in Yemen today is not a simple domestic crisis, but the result of this system of capitalism, where corporations and their governments twist every conflict to their advantage, pitting people against each other with unspeakable violence. This system is in the interest of no one apart from the tiny handful of wealthy people who have their hands on the levers of power. We should say no to their system and their wars that serve to maintain it.