Need To Know

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Want To Know

OK, we hate talking about ourselves. So let’s talk about something else. How about Yemen? Yemen has been stumbling toward a civil war between two broad coalitions backed by the regional superpowers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, for months. And now some other key players are throwing their hats into the ring: most consequentially, the United States.

US foreign policy in the Middle East is as chaotic as the Middle East itself. The United States is now supporting Saudi Arabia in its fight to rout the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who have advanced clear across the country in the last few months. Meanwhile, the United States is helping the Iranian-backed Iraqi military rout the Islamic State in Tikrit. And all the while it is negotiating with Iran to remove economic sanctions in exchange for slowing its roll with its nuclear program. It’s enough confusion to ask: Whose side are you on, anyway?

This is the reality of a post-Arab Spring Middle East, where sudden power vacuums have given way to multiple small wars across the region, little conflicts for power that risk consuming a dozen or so countries in a giant struggle that is bookended by Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the United States scrambling somewhere in the middle.

The United States, actually, shares a mighty piece of the blame for the current state of affairs in Yemen. When peaceful protesters rose up in 2011 against then-President Ali Abdullah Saleh — an ally of the United States in the so-called “war on terror” — the United States helped negotiate terms for his removal. In exchange for stepping down, the long-serving and deeply corrupt president was given immunity for all his crimes, including ordering security forces to open fire on protesters. Then, his former vice president was allowed to take Saleh’s place in an uncontested election. That's not democracy. And it understandably made a lot of Yemenis really angry.

Now, the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have seized on the poor governance of Saleh’s former second-in-command and are marching their way across the country — this part is amazing —joined by Saleh himself. It might be time for a serious rethink of US foreign policy in the Middle East.

All the geopolitics aside, this is probably the most important story you’ll read on the subject: Yemeni civilians react to Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign.

Strange But True

It's starting to feel like a regular thing: another passenger jet carrying hundreds of people falls out of the sky (or just disappears entirely), killing everyone on board. But for all manner of strange reasons. There was the Malaysia Airlines jet that was shot down over Ukraine. Then there was the disappearance of that other Malaysia Airlines jet. Then the Air Asia crash in Indonesia. And now Germanwings Flight 9525, which was apparently crashed on purpose by its co-pilot, killing all 150 people on board.

So, is it getting more dangerous to fly? It feels that way. But the statistics say otherwise. Despite the high number of fatalities, 2014 was actually the safest year on record in the aviation industry. Seriously.