Mideast chaos is not incomprehensible: look to see who is benefiting.
War in the Mideast works: it enriches war profiteers and empowers extremists. It does not, in contrast, offer a very effective route to stable empire, democracy, peace, or security. So why would any friend of Saudi Arabia want to encourage its rich, delicately balanced regime governing a small population to cast aside its highly effective tradition of financial manipulation (e.g., buying a new Egyptian military dictatorship) in favor of a strategy that has in recent years generated failed wars in Afghanistan, Somalia, Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and Libya?
The logical conclusion is that those who offer Riyadh advanced offensive weapons–e.g., such obviously immoral, anti-civilian terror weapons as cluster bombs–are not friends of Riyadh but opportunists looking for a quick buck or enemies hoping to provoke the overreach and collapse of the Saudi regime. Riyadh has the financial capacity to persuade a great number of politicians and civilians in the Mideast to become its friends and allies. Alternatively, Riyadh can fight wars but only of two types: first, it can hire mercenaries; second, it can run high-tech air campaigns. Brilliantly, in Yemen, Riyadh is doing both, with the predictable consequences of destroying a neighboring society and empowering extremism that will surely blow back against the oil autocrats. Let’s face it: does anyone really believe that either paying rightwing Colombian mercenaries to fight in the Mideast or dropping cluster bombs on Mideastern civilians will win Riyadh any friends?
War is both cause and effect of extremism, forming a reinforcing feedback loop. While proponents carefully deny this, the connection is logically simple: war is extremism by the state; “extremism” is war by private groups.
Now that Riyadh is so neatly caught in the Yemeni trap, those who either wish to profit from Saudi Arabia’s short-sightedness or wish to cause the collapse of the Saudi state are excitedly making very public plans to spring upon Riyadh a similar Syrian trap. The people of Yemen and Syria, of course, are but the cheese in the trap for the Saudi mouse.
Before one asks why Riyadh is so naive* as to step voluntarily into the trap of military aggression in the region, consider the long list of others who made the same mistake, and I am not referring to Alexander the Great. Give a kid a hammer, and he will pound stuff.
So, with a chastened Washington half-heartedly dropping a few bombs on the Islamic State and Moscow finally having its go at good the old-fashioned 19th century imperialism it never got to do when it was all the rage, Riyadh is flying its F-15 hammers into fellow-Sunni Turkey to remake the Mideast. This will not help Syrians any more than it helped Yemenis, nor will it brighten the future of Saudi Arabia, but it will earn the war profiteers a great deal of money and further empower extremists – Salafi extremists, Iranian extremists, Israeli extremists, Russian extremists, and all sorts of Western extremists.
* The truth is more complex, of course, than simply the trapping of innocent Saudi princes. Riyadh has a long tradition of imperialism against its poorer Yemeni neighbor, one that predates any concern with Iran and suggests broad interest within Saudi ruling circles in grabbing any available excuse to interfere in Yemeni affairs…reminiscent of Washington’s historical attitude toward Mexico or Moscow’s toward Poland or Beijing’s toward Vietnam.