When a still-bewildered General Earl Charles Cornwallis surrendered his entire army to George Washington and to the Comte de Rochambeau at Yorktown in 1781, according to legend, a British military band heightened the humiliation by playing a ballad called, “The World Turned Upside Down.” The composer Lin Manuel Miranda later reimagined the song as a hit number in his acclaimed modern musical “Hamilton.”
In a time without speed of light communications, telegraph wires, radio or Internet, the fall of the British Empire in America still rocked the entire world. It was celebrated and welcomed from the Emir of Kuwait to the Tsarina Catherine in St. Petersburg.
Yet when the Houthi rebel movement that controls much of Yemen wiped out three Saudi Brigades and inflicted at least 2,500 casualties at the end of September, the Western media ignored it.
The outstanding analysis of Frederico Pierracini on this web site still stands virtually alone in offering unparalleled assessment of that event.
It is out of fashion among Western commentators to admit that any “decisive battles” can happen anywhere unless they are safely in the past and the United States has won them. But when the Nazi Wehrmacht overthrew the legendary French Army in six weeks of operations in 1940 and when the Red Army wiped out the elite combat forces of the Nazis at Stalingrad in the fall of 1942, those battles were indeed decisive and the clock could never be turned back from them.
The humiliating defeat that the Houthis have just inflicted on the Saudis is of comparable epochal significance. It does far, far more than confirm the victory of the Houthis in the long, needlessly prolonged civil war in Yemen that has killed at least 100,000 civilian dead over the past four years. The Houthis are now poised to bring the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia itself crashing down.
There is dark poetic justice to this development. The House of Saud will fall as it rose, by a clash of arms in which a young, harsh but dedicated revolutionary movement challenged a worthless old reactionary regime supported by the great imperial power of the day and then destroyed it.
Saudi Arabia’s founding father King Abdulaziz ibn Saud was a dashing, charismatic young tribal leader whose conquest of Arabia from the previously dominant but lethargic, petty, and corrupt Hashemite Dynasty eerily foreshadows the rise of the Houthis today.
The Hashemites enjoyed the religious leadership of the Holy Cities of Islam, Mecca and Medina. They had previously served the Ottoman Turkish Empire but during World War I, they eagerly embraced the British Empire whom the family correctly judged to be on the rise and certain to supplant the Turks as the dominant empire of the Middle East.
This Hashemite reading of global strategy was correct. But there was one insurmountable problem. Sherif Hussein of Mecca was such a uniformly despised, unjust and unsympathetic loser that he was capable of leading no one, and most of his family was no better.
The British led by Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill embraced the Hashemites in the 1920s and put one of Sherif Hussein’s sons, King Feisal I on the throne of Iraq. Even with British military support, the family was hated there too. In 1958, the entire Hashemite Royal Family of Iraq was machine gunned to death in Baghdad in a massacre that shocked the world.
Back in the mid-1920s, Sherif Hussein himself had already been driven out of Arabia by Abdelaziz and the House of Saud. Not all the might of the British Empire and not all the efforts of Winston Churchill could save him.
So when the time came to explore the oil resources of Arabia, Abdelaziz spurned the British and gave the vital concessions to American oil companies instead. In May 1933, the Saudi Arabian government granted a concession to SoCal – the Standard Oil Company of California – in preference to a rival bid from the British-controlled Iraq Petroleum Company. It was the forerunner of today’s giant Saudi Aramco oil corporation.
However, all the fabled Saudi oil wealth of the past 80 years was based on their previous conquest of the Arabian Peninsula. The core military lesson was clear: Brave, passionate troops with dynamic, energetic leaders will always beat wealthier, larger and better equipped forces led by tired, corrupt and worthless rulers.
Now history is repeating itself, except this time the Saudis are going to be its losers not its winners.
The Houthi victory serves notice that the Saudis have met their nemesis. Arrogant, reckless young Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman has had ample time over the past few years ago to call off his ferocious, cruel and bloody air campaign against the people of Yemen. He did not do so and it is too late now.
Payback is coming. And it will not stop at the borders of Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
The world is about to turn upside down again.