Yemen as Vietnam or Afghanistan

From the Archive: With U.S. weapons, Saudi Arabia is waging a brutal air war on impoverished Yemen, turning a long-simmering civil war into a proxy fight with regional rival Iran, a scenario that reminded retired U.S. emissary William R. Polk of his work for President Kennedy on an earlier Yemeni war.

By William R. Polk (Originally published on April 1, 2015)

As the events unfold with the Saudi and Egyptian engagement in Yemen, I was reminded of my discussion with Egypt’s President Gamal Abdel Nasser on “his” Yemen war, sometimes called the North Yemen Civil War that began in 1962, became a stalemate and finally ended in 1970. As Mark Twain may have said, “history doesn’t repeat but sometimes it rhymes.” The rhymes, at least, seem unmistakable.

In the course of our first lengthy talk on Yemen, Nasser (rather angrily) replied to one of my comments, “you don’t think I will win the war, do you?”

map-yemen

“No, Mr. President,” I replied, “I don’t.”

“Well, you would be surprised to know that I have acquired your [America’s] secret analyses of guerrilla warfare.”

“Oh, Mr. President,” I shook my head, “I know the people who wrote those reports. They are rubbish. I would throw them away if I were you.”

He just looked at me, even more angrily, thinking I suppose, that having pulled off an intelligence coup, I was trying to trick him by claiming that it was really not a coup but a mistake. Then he said, “I know how to use helicopters, too.”  (Their use was then being touted by our military as our great weapon against the Viet Minh fighters in Vietnam.)

“And you lost one yesterday, didn’t you?”  I jibed.

“How did you find out about that?”

“Well, Mr. President, we spend a lot of money on the CIA finding out about such things and one way or another they usually do. That is what the CIA is supposed to do. They don’t always succeed but sometimes they do.”

“Well,” Nasser retorted, “you American’s think you know all about everything, and you don’t even have any of your people in Sanaa and none up in the north where the fighting is going on. You don’t know anything about Yemen.” Then, without thinking of the…

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