The Pentagon Plan to ‘Divide and Rule’ the Muslim
Yemen is the latest casualty of a neoconservative strategy
commissioned by the US Army to ‘capitalise on Sunni-Shia conflict’
in the Middle East - the goal is nothing short of ‘Western
By Nafeez Ahmed
April 03, 2015 "ICH"
- Yemen is on the
brink of “total collapse” according to the UN high commissioner
for human rights. Saudi Arabia’s terror from the air,
backed by Washington, Britain, and an unprecedented coalition of
Gulf states has attempted to push back the takeover of Yemen’s
capital Sanaa by Shiite Houthi rebels.
As Iran-backed Houthi forces have pressed into
Aden, clashing with Yemeni troops loyal to exiled President Abdu
Rabu Mansour Hadi, the US has provided live video feeds from US
surveillance drones to aid with Saudi targeting. The Pentagon is set
military aid to the
open-ended operation, supplying more intelligence, bombs and
aerial refuelling missions.
Yet growing evidence suggests that the US itself,
through its Gulf allies, gave the northern Houthis a green light for
their offensive last September.
US advanced warning
As David Hearst
reported in October 2014, the Houthi offensive was “conducted
under the nose of a US military base in Djibouti” from where CIA
drones operate. “The Houthis are even protecting the US embassy in
Hearst revealed that the Houthis had been
emboldened by a quiet nod from Saudi Arabia, under the watchful eye
of US intelligence.
A year earlier, then Saudi intelligence chief
met with Houthi leader Saleh Habreh in London. The Saudis wanted
to mobilise the Houthis against the Islah Party, Yemen’s Muslim
Brotherhood branch that shared power with President Hadi, so that
they “cancel each other out” in conflict.
But Islah refused to confront the Houthis, and
Riyadh’s green light backfired, allowing the Iran-backed militia to
march unhindered to the capital.
The US was involved. Sources close to Hadi say
they were told by the Americans about a meeting in Rome between
Iranian officials and the son of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh,
to secure his assurances that government units loyal to Saleh would
not oppose the Houthi advance.
Three years ago, Ali Abdullah Saleh was replaced
by Hadi in US-Saudi backed negotiations that granted him immunity
Audio leaks and a UN Security Council report prove Saleh’s
extensive collusion with the Houthis to the extent of supervising
their military operations.
Yet President Hadi, who fled in the wake of the
Houthi offensive, “said he was informed of the meeting in Rome by
the Americans, but only after the Houthis had captured
Sanaa.” [emphasis added]
The US, in other words, despite being aware of the
impending Iran-backed operation, did not pass on intelligence about
this to its own asset in Yemen until after the Houthis’ success.
another source close to President Hadi, the UAE also played a
key role in the Houthi operation, providing $1 billion to the
Houthis through Saleh and his son Ahmad.
If true, this means in sum that US intelligence
had advanced warning of the Houthi offensive and Saleh’s role in it;
the UAE had reportedly provided funding to Saleh for the operation;
and the Saudis had personally given the Houthis the green light in
hope of triggering a fight to the death with Yemen’s Brotherhood.
According to Abdussalam al-Rubaidi, a lecturer at
Sanaa University and chief editor of the Yemen Polling Center’s
“Framing the Yemeni Revolution Project,”
local reports in Yemen refer to “an alliance…
between the Houthis, the United States, and Saleh’s Republican
Guard,” to counter Ansar al-Sharia, the local al-Qaeda branch. Some
Yemeni politicians also said that “the Americans gave a green light
to the Houthis to enter the capital and weaken Islah”.
Why would the US do nothing to warn its Yemeni
client-regime about the incoming Houthi offensive, while then
rushing to support Saudi Arabia’s military overreaction to fend off
the spectre of Iranian expansion?
Divide and rule
The escalation of the crisis in Yemen threatens to
spiral into a full-scale Sunni-Shia regional war-by-proxy.
Since 9/11, every country in the region touched by
major US interference has collapsed into civil war as their social
fabric has been irreversibly shattered: Yemen, Syria, Iraq and
The ensuing arc of sectarian warfare bears uncanny
resemblance to scenarios explored in a little-known study by an
influential Washington DC defence contractor.
The 2008 RAND Corporation
report was sponsored by the US Army Training and Doctrine
Command’s Army Capability Integration Centre. It set out US
government policy options for prosecuting what it described as “the
long war” against “adversaries” in “the Muslim world,” who are “bent
on forming a unified Islamic world to supplant Western dominance”.
Muslim world adversaries include “doctrinaire”
Salafi-jihadists; “religious nationalist organisations” like
“Hezbollah and Hamas that participate in the political process” but
are also “willing to use violence”; secular groups “such as
communists, Arab nationalists, or Baathists”; and “nonviolent
organisations” because their members might later join “more radical
The report suggests that the US Army sees all
Muslim political groups in the region that challenge the prevailing
geopolitical order as “adversaries” to be countered and weakened.
Among the strategies explored by the US
Army-sponsored report is “Divide and Rule,” which calls for
“exploiting fault lines between the various SJ [Salafi-jihadist]
groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on
internal conflicts,” for instance between “local SJ groups” focused
on “overthrowing their national government” and transnational
jihadists like al-Qaeda.
This appears to be the strategy in Libya and
Syria, where local insurgents, despite affiliations with al-Qaeda,
received covert US aid to overthrow Gaddafi and Assad.
The RAND report recommendeds that the US and its
local allies “could use the nationalist jihadists to launch proxy IO
[information operation] campaigns to discredit the transnational
jihadists… the United States and the host nation could even help the
nationalist jihadists execute a military campaign to stamp out
al-Qaeda elements that are present locally.”
US support for such “nationalist jihadists” would,
however, need to be packaged appropriately for public consumption.
“Because of the nature of the nationalist terrorist groups, any
assistance would be mainly covert and would imply advanced IO
This illustrates the confusion in US defence
circles about the complex relationship between transnational and
national jihadists. According to Dr. Akil Awan, an expert in
jihadist groups at Royal Holloway, University of London, before 9/11
the concerns of national jihadist groups were “often very local and
parochial”. This changed after 9/11, as al-Qaeda’s “brand value
became irresistible to many local groups, who then pledged
allegiance to bin Laden in savvy PR campaigns”.
“Funding national jihadist groups is not a
particularly bright idea,” said Dr. Awan. “Yes it might undermine
support for global jihadist groups like al-Qaeda, but whoever
proposed it has a very poor memory in terms of recent US foreign
policy by proxy warfare and the inevitable blowback effect - case in
point: Afghanistan. Supporting violent groups for your own foreign
policy objectives is also incredibly damaging to local democratic or
peaceful voices, and other civil society actors.”
The US Army-backed report did show awareness of
this risk of “blowback,” noting that the “divide and rule” strategy
“may inadvertently empower future adversaries in the pursuit of
Capitalising on sectarianism
According to Dr. Christopher Davidson of Durham
University, author of After the Sheikhs: the Coming Collapse of
the Gulf Monarchies, the current crisis in Yemen is being
“egged on” by the US, and could be part of a wider covert strategy
to “spur fragmentation in Iran allies and allow Israel to be
surrounded by weak states”.
He suggests that the Yemen war serves US interests
in three overlapping ways. It tests whether or not Iran will “ramp
up support for Houthis”. If not, then Iran’s potential role “as a
reliable, not expansionist regional policeman (much like the Shah)
will seem confirmed to the US.”
The war could also weaken Saudi Arabia. Pushing
the House of Saud into a “full-on hot war,” said Dr. Davidson, would
be “great for the arms industry, [and] gives the US much needed
leverage over increasingly problematic Riyadh… If the regime in
Saudi Arabia’s time is up, as many in the US seem to
privately believe, in the post $100 a barrel era, this seems a
useful way of running an ally into the ground quite quickly”.
The Yemen conflict also “diverts global attention
from IS [Islamic State] in Levant and the increasingly obvious
uselessness or unwillingness of the US-led coalition to act against
Davidson points out that there is precedent for
this: “There have been repeated references in the Reagan era to the
usefulness of sectarian conflict in the region to US interests.”
One post-Reagan reiteration of this vision was
published by the Jerusalem-based Institute for Strategic and
Political Advanced Studies for Benjamin Netanyahu. The 1996
paper, A Clean Break, by Douglas Feith, David Wurmser and
Richard Perle – all of whom went on to join the Bush administration
– advocated regime-change in Iraq as a precursor to forging an
Israel-Jordan-Turkey axis that would “roll back” Syria, Lebanon and
Iran. The scenario is surprisingly
similar to US policy today under Obama.
Twelve years later, the US Army commissioned a
further RAND report suggesting that the US “could choose to
capitalise on the Shia-Sunni conflict by taking the side of the
conservative Sunni regimes in a decisive fashion and working with
them against all Shiite empowerment movements in the Muslim world…
to split the jihadist movement between Shiites and Sunnis.” The US
would need to contain “Iranian power and influence” in the Gulf by
“shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt,
and Pakistan”. Simultaneously, the US must maintain “a strong
strategic relationship with the Iraqi Shiite government” despite its
Around the same time as this RAND report was
released, the US was covertly coordinating Saudi-led Gulf state
Sunni jihadist groups, many affiliated to al-Qaeda, from Iraq to
Syria to Lebanon. That secret strategy accelerated under Obama in
the context of the anti-Assad drive.
The widening Sunni-Shia sectarian conflict would
“reduce the al-Qaeda threat to US interests in the short term,” the
report concluded, by diverting Salafi-jihadist resources toward
“targeting Iranian interests throughout the Middle East,” especially
in Iraq and Lebanon, hence “cutting back… anti-Western operations”.
By backing the Iraqi Shiite regime and seeking an
accommodation with Iran; while propping up al-Qaeda sponsoring Gulf
states and empowering local anti-Shia Islamists across the region -
this covert US strategy would calibrate levels of violence to
debilitate both sides, and sustain “Western dominance”.
The Pentagon’s neocon fifth column
The concept of “the long war” was first formulated
years earlier by a little-known Pentagon think-tank known as the
Highlands Forum. The Forum regularly
brings together senior Pentagon officials with leaders across
the political, corporate, business and media sectors in secret
Formally founded under the authority of Bill
Clinton’s then defence secretary William J. Perry, the Pentagon
Highlands Forum was established to coordinate interagency policy on
information operations. Originally run through the Office of the
Secretary of Defence, the Forum now reports to the Office of the
Undersecretary of Defence for Intelligence, the Defence Advanced
Research and Projects Agency (DARPA), the Office of Net Assessment (ONA),
and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), among other agencies.
The Highlands Forum also works closely with the
Pentagon federal advisory committee, the Defence Policy Board, of
which arch-neocon Richard Perle (co-author of the “Clean Break”
strategy) was a member from 1987 to 2004.
Under the Obama administration, Defence Policy
Board members have included leading neocon statesman, such as
William Perry and Henry Kissinger.
RAND Corp. in particular is a longstanding Forum
Despite its bipartisan pretensions, the Pentagon
Highlands Forum is an overwhelmingly neoconservative network. Its
acolytes, Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, Deputy Defence Secretary
Robert Work, and DoD intelligence chief Mike Vickers, hold the
reigns of Obama’s military strategies.
Today, they are busily executing the US Army’s
“divide and rule” strategy to forcibly reconfigure the Middle East
by proxy sectarian violence. How much of the chaos is “blowback,”
and how much of it is intended, is difficult to determine.
In any case, the latest casualty of this doomed
strategy is Yemen.
Nafeez Ahmed, PhD, is an investigative
journalist, international security scholar and best-selling author
who tracks what he calls the 'crisis of civilization'. He is a
winner of the Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative
Journalism for his Guardian reporting on the intersection of global
ecological, energy and economic crises with regional geopolitics and
conflicts. He has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning
Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Quartz,
Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, New
Internationalist. His work on the root causes and covert operations
linked to international terrorism officially contributed to the 9/11
Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest.