So How Much of The Yemen War Is Jim Mattis’ Fault?

The legendary Marine turned Pentagon chief was secretly working for the UAE as far back as 2015, the dawn of the devastating Yemen war. Wish I’d known that when I wrote my Rolling Stone profile!

So How Much of The Yemen War Is Jim Mattis’ Fault?
Then-Defense Secretary Mattis meets UAE Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed, in Abu Dhabi, 2018. Via DVIDS

Edited by Sam Thielman

LAST YEAR, I PROFILED JIM MATTIS, the iconic War on Terror Marine-general-turned-defense-secretary whose enthusiasm for fraudulent, grandiose expressions of American power led him to the board of the fraudulent, grandiose Silicon Valley bloodwork firm Theranos. Mattis, I offered in Rolling Stone, was a prism through which to view our era of corruption. Once the rot is rooted, even valorized, it will infect the heroes of its age. 

Did I not know the half of it! 

Craig Whitlock, one of the realest defense reporters out there, has a huge story—the sort of thing that should be a scandal but because Mattis is so cherished that it won't be—revealing through the Freedom of Information Act that Mattis was an adviser to United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed for the Yemen war. In 2015, the retired general signed on to aid a foreign power—and received rote approval from the U.S. military, Whitlock shows–before returning to government service in 2017 as Pentagon chief. Doing so as someone so recently retired from the military required special congressional dispensation. And, apparently abetted by the leadership of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mattis concealed his ties to this foreign power to the public and, apparently, even members of the crucial committee. 

Was Mattis paid by the unfathomably wealthy UAE? Whitlock has Mattis' own handwriting on declassified documents saying "I will be compensated." But when Whitlock asked about the Mattis-UAE connection, Mattis' mouthpiece told him that, actually, the unfathomably wealthy petro-giant never paid the foreign dignitary who gave it advice on how to wage its war (a war currently under a ceasefire that's rendered precarious by U.S. bombing). Sure, pal. 

I have a million questions. Did Donald Trump know that his choice for defense secretary was an adviser to the UAE on a war to which the United States was materially contributing, let alone in an apparently paid capacity? Recall that Mattis, in 2018, "implored" Congress (in the New York Times' phrase) not to bar the U.S. military from providing intelligence, logistics and advisory support to the Saudi/Emirati war effort in Yemen. Whose interests was Mattis representing, the United States' or the United Arab Emirates'? 

But above all is this: Whitlock reports that Mattis' nebulous advisory deal with the UAE began in 2015, the very dawn of the Yemen war. Nine devastating years later, the Houthis are still in control of Sanaa and northern Yemen, and appear to be as strong as they've ever been, thanks in significant part to their relationship with Iran. While the Saudis bombed, the Emirates conducted a ground invasion and installed a proxy force, the Southern Transitional Council, that is the de facto government along the southern coast. Just last week, FOREVER WARS reported on its style of governance: hiring U.S. mercenaries to form death squads that would murder dissenters. Also there was torture. Along the way, millions of Yemenis endured unfathomable hardships, including starvation and cholera. None of this, again, did anything to stop the Houthis. 

What exactly was Mattis' advice here? How much of the Yemen war, easily one of the most horrific in the Middle East this century—which is saying a lot—deserves to be laid at his feet?

Speaking of the Southern Transitional Council, one of its leaders wants to scrap the tenuous ceasefire that resulted from the Saudis looking for the exits from their Yemeni debacle. With the Houthis now a U.S. target, that leader, Amr al-Bidh, wants to "think seriously about doing something on land," meaning returning to the fight against the Houthis. The Times, reporting on this, paraphrases Biden's special envoy, Tim Lenderking, to state, "The United States is not considering arming or financing any of the anti-Houthi Yemeni factions." Um. His "we're not gonna sponsor overthrowing the Houthis" statement is posing a lot of questions already answered by the statement. 

Finally, remember that in 2022, U.S. intelligence judged that all the money handed out by the Emiratis to figures in both U.S. political parties as well in the Security State constitutes an influence operation to influence American politics. Judging by the results of their Yemen war, the UAE overpaid for Mattis. On the other hand, can you really put a price on secret influence over the world's regnant superpower? 

TOBY KEITH, RIP. There goes the guy who wrote "Courtesy of The Red, White and Blue," the fuck-around anthem of the War on Terror before the long dirge that soundtracked the find-out phase. Toby also wrote the similarly tasteless but admittedly funny "Taliban Song," which now provides the Taliban with an opportunity to point out that only one of them is still here. 

I'm out of my element when it comes to judging Toby Keith's place in country music, but Kris Kristofferson isn't

“You know what Waylon Jennings said about guys like [Toby Keith]?” he whispered.
I shook my head.
“They’re doin’ to country music what pantyhose did to finger-fuckin’.”

YOUNG REPORTING PHENOM Ken Klippenstein is asking some pertinent questions about the lethal drone strike on Tower 22 in Jordan. 

MY BABY, WALLER VS. WILDSTORM, is all grown up and collected into a hardcover edition that you can purchase. Yesterday was her Bat Mitzvah. She started life as a comic book and today she is a graphic novel. If you want a four-issue set of her baby pictures, autographed by me and certified authentic, they're going fast at Bulletproof Comics! No one is prouder of her than her older sibling, REIGN OF TERROR: HOW THE 9/11 ERA DESTABILIZED AMERICA AND PRODUCED TRUMP, available now in hardcover, softcover, audiobook and Kindle edition. And on the way is new addition to the family: THE TORTURE AND DELIVERANCE OF MAJID KHAN