Dancing on the Heads of Snakes: An Assassination in Yemen

By Spencer Kellogg | USA

Ali Abdullah Saleh is dead. Brutally murdered by Houthi rebels fighting in the capital city of Sanaa, the death of the former president of Yemen emphasizes the particular chaos and uncertainty that has spread throughout the post Arab-spring middle east. In Africa, Asia and as far away as the United States, competing nations line up to influence and control the constantly shifting power structures, land barriers and physical resources of the Arabian Peninsula. This imbalance of power and the United States shadowy influence on the region are eerily reminiscent of similar conditions witnessed during the 1980’s in Afghanistan when their fields of poppy and mountains of wheat were reduced to rubble by proxy wars between the embittered USSR and the “anti-communist” Americans. Just as in Afghanistan, an entire generation of Yemeni men, women, and children will die on their streets and in their homes for a 2 pronged war of local and global importance that extends long beyond their borders.

While the civil war between the alleged Iranian backed Houthi Shias of the North and the Saudi led & Saleh supported the coalition of the South have waged for well over 2 years a larger war, one that has been waged for the better part of the last century, continues to play an ugly part in the Yemeni battle for independence. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and The United States all play intricate parts in the furnishing and strategizing of this war, with the country of Yemen (and other Arabian nations) being used as a backdrop for aggressive neocolonialist acquisitions and power plays. The vacuum of industry, education, and culture that is created in the wake of these decades-long power struggles is evident in the radicalization of secularist nations, the terrorization of Europe and the displacement of refugees throughout the western world.

Saleh shared many characteristics of other quasi-dictators of the region. Though not as ruthless as Sadaam Hussein or Bashar-Al Assad, Saleh was known for his use of force to quiet dissidents. He was a sharp and resourced powerbroker with a charismatic style and a lavish taste for the finer points of life. A former colonel in the military, his rise to power in the late 70’s saw a string of assassinations including both former presidents al-Ghashmi and al-Hamdi. By 1978 Saleh was firmly in power and after the USSR collapsed, Saleh united the country in 1990. His reign is a difficult one to surmise in that his allegiances were constantly shifting. After fighting 6 wars over the course of 20 years against the Houthi rebels, he realigned himself with the insurgents in 2015 while also doing backroom deals with Al-Qaeda for extra muscle. His last days in power were characterized by their chaos and paranoia. Saleh moved to do a deal with the Saudi coalition and as he was attempting to flee the capital of Sanna, was gunned down by rebels and the image of his lifeless body splayed across TV’s worldwide.

The late Christopher Hitchens was a surprising proponent of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. He stood against a tide of politically correct (and surprisingly non-interventionist) leftist media that suggested the war a spoof and a miscalculation. Strikingly anti-war himself, the contrarian essayist argued that the genocide of Hussein’s regime was so evil that war was not only a necessity but a moral cause. Hitchens passed after a battle with cancer but I would like to know his thoughts today as we watch more nations fall into war and poverty. The belief that The United States can have a positive influence on this region or any region for that matter, seems a distant dream at this point and the true nature of our intervention has been one that seeks to fatten the economies of the West without much concern for the liberty or dignity of the everyday man.

Today, no one has clear control of the country. Backed by the Saudi coalition, The United Arab Emirates possess a great deal of control in the South while the Houthi rebels of the north increase their strength and territory every day. Recently, there have been suggestions of peace talks between North and South Yemen to stop the killing and attempt to restore some semblance of order between the warring states. A buffer zone has been proposed and although it may bring a temporary peace it is difficult to believe there will not be ongoing chaos and instability in Yemen moving forward. Sales was once asked about ruling Yemen. The leader thought for a moment and then lurched forward in his chair and replied: “It’s like dancing on the heads of snakes.” On December 4th, 2017, the snake pit got its master.


2 thoughts on “Dancing on the Heads of Snakes: An Assassination in Yemen”

  1. Where else can you go to get this sort of pithy and detailed analysis of a region neglected by outlets which should feature it daily. Great work.

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