Skip to content

Obama’s Other War – Yemen – Deeper and Deeper Into The Big Muddy

November 3, 2010


Early blog entries/articles on Yemen

Yemen Powerpoint – R. Prince powerpoint on Yemen



Yemeni auto worker in Detroit from the 1970s


Another terrorist bomb defused; but it’s still good publicity for Al Qaeda of the Arab Peninsula

Another bomb threat from Yemen, this one coming in the form of explosives hidden computer printer cartridges, mailed through UPS to destinations in Chicago – a synagogue (un-named) and Jewish community center in the windy city. Intercepted in Dubai, presumably after a tip to the U.S. from Saudi intelligence, neither bomb (it appears there were two) reached their intended target. And a few days prior to a major national election here in the United States, Homeland Security was able to claim some credit for neutralizing what might have been a nasty explosion, either mid-air or in Chicago.

If meant to influence the outcome of yesterday’s election, the plot failed, and miserably, as the electorate nationwide was fixated on the economy and the failure of the Obama Administration  to pull the US out of the current deep recession. It is unlikely that Democrats gained much on election day from stopping the bombing

But although the explosions were avoided it is still very likely that the perpetrators, presumably (although it has not yet been verified) Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) gained politically from even a botched attempt in the Arab and Muslim world. Indeed, while those behind the plot would have been pleased had the bomb exploded – and done damage to both people and property – in some ways they were still quite satisfied with the international publicity that the incident provoked.

Mini 9-11s: Drawing in the U.S. Deeper and Deeper

Perhaps in some ways a botched terrorist attempt is even better than one that finds its target. And it is curious that movements that can manufacture rather sophisticated plastics explosive devices have proven to be almost inept when it comes to delivering the bombs to their target. The attempts of both  the `shoe-bomber’ and more recently, the `crotch bomber’, appeared sloppy, unprofessional, , their attempts to deliver `min-9-11’s’, the work of amateurs.

But then it all depends on the goal.

The goal of maiming and killing certainly failed. But perhaps the more salient goal was to garner publicity; if that is the case than one could say that this most recent attempt was something of a public relations success whose main intent was to draw the Obama Administration deeper into the Yemen morass. ASAP is counting on a strong U.S. military response from which it expects to benefit in more ways than one.

If it was looked upon as something desperate and crazy here in the United States, in the Middle East, the impact is quite different. There, such incidents are often well received and the perpetrators, in some circles, actually hailed. Getting international publicity might even be more important than killing Americans, destroying property and disrupting `business as usual’.

More than likely, through their actions AQAP won a modest public relations victory, the aim of which was all along to attract recruits to their movement.

Through their actions AQAP won a modest public relations victory, the aim of which was all along to attract recruits to their movement

However modestly and ineptly, they had `stood up to’ the United States militarily. The fact that the targeted address is Jewish institutions in Chicago brings in the Israeli-US connection as well. This counts for something in


Map of Yemen


the Middle East. Not only that, but while AQAP is engaging in symbolic asymmetrical warfare with the United States and Israel, the Saudi and Yemeni governments are being more drawn into the U.S. orbit.  Besides coinciding with U.S. elections, the bombing comes shortly after the announcement that Saudi Arabia has just finalized the largest arms deal in US history, worth an estimated $60 billion and at the same time that over the past year, Yemen has greatly increased its military cooperation with the United States. Finally,  as with the much more damaging 9-11 attack, AQAP counts on a U.S. over-reaction. They both expect and perhaps welcome an enhanced U.S. military response which the Obama Administration, under pressure from many quarters, is almost certain to prepare. Such an attack will only complicate U.S. relations with Yemen, driving more and more Yemenis to a more anti-American position (if that is possible). So the U.S. (and Israel) are `targeted’ and two Arab regimes with close ties to the United States are `exposed’ or at the very least, embarrassed.

So maybe in their own way, media-wise, the bombs did go off.

Not-So-Low Intensity Warfare

Earlier this summer, retired marine officer Andrew Bacevich was in Denver plugging his book American Rules: America’s Path To Permanent War. Speaking at the Tattered Cover Bookstore downtown, he painted a grim picture of American foreign policy and its penchant for `permanent war’ long into the future. Those who listen to Bacevich carefully understand that he is no liberal, no pacifist. He repeated emphasized – to my dismay – the need for the United States to defend its strategic interests with the use of force, if need be. But like the few others are sounding the alarm these days, Tom Engelhardt, Chalmers Johnson, John Pfeffer at the Institute For Policy Studies, Noam Chomsky, Bacevich warns that the US military is over extended worldwide in a desperate effort to dominate the world unilaterally.

Within this context he argues for an immediate U.S./NATO military exit from Afghanistan. At the same time he warned about getting bogged down in what he referred to as `peripheral wars’ and with no little measure of contempt in his voice, highlighted the U.S. rush to war in Yemen. As he was speaking though, that build up was escalating dramatically. It includes greatly increased military aid, Cruise missile attacks (presumably because attack drones weren’t readily available) on alleged Al Qaeda Arab Peninsula sites in the south, especially Shabwa Province, and a major escalation of Joint Special Operations Command activities in the country. It’s all supposed to be `secret’, `unverified’, but any half decent google search would unearth a wealth of material indicating an `Afghanistan-like’ growing military commitment.

Take the following commentary by noted columnist Nat Hentoff from as early as February 3:

[It] was revealed by Washington Post reporter Dana Priest in her January 27 front-page story on joint operations: “U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret (please!) joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people, among them six of 15 top leaders of a regional al-Qaeda affiliate, according to senior administration officials.

These and other such operations, she continued, are “approved by President Obama.” Working with Yemeni troops to plan the missions and provide weapons are “several dozen” members of our “Joint Special Operations Command” (JSOC) (Army Rangers, Navy Seals, Green Berets, Delta Force) “whose main mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists.”

The JSOC is the unit that until recently was headed up by General Stanley McChrystal before he took over NATO operations in Afghanistan (from which he was sacked for publicly criticizing President Obama). These Yemen operations only escalated in the months that followed, in the spring and summer of this year and included several botched operations, one of which supposedly killed a regional governor holding negotiations with Al Qaeda in his province. As elsewhere – and it appears `elsewhere’ includes a growing list of countries – JSOC operations in Yemen are done in our name without any judicial supervision.

Obama Wars/Shadow Wars

According to Jeremy Scahill, who is emerging as a genuine progressive `expert’ on JSOC antics, in a piece written in The Nation in late August of this year, JSOC operations in Yemen are nothing new. They have been “operating in Yemen for years” where they have carried out a variety of operations including “unilateral direct actions”… in other words `bumping off people.’ In violation of international (and U.S.) law the JSOC maintains a hit listthat includes Anwar Al Awlaki, U.S. citizen and Al Qaeda Arab Peninsula leader now in Yemen.

Currently, the JSOC, which operates in secrecy, beyond Congressional scrutiny (during the Bush years it answered to Vice President Cheney and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeldt directly) with task forces in Aghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Horn of Africa and “elsewhere” around the world. These are a part of global operations JSOC is managing in 75 countries. Among the countries where JSOC has been documented to be operating: Iran, Georgia, Ukraine, Bolivia, Paraguay, Ecuador, Peru, Yemen, Pakistan and the Philippines. JSOC operations are not limited to Third World hot spots. Its forces have also been deployed at different times in Turkey, Belgium, France and Spain.

But Yemen and Somalia have a special place in JSOC activities and are considered `the front line’ for paramilitary activity. In both places , there are `ongoing unilateral actions.’ Such operations harken back to the uncontrolled operations of the C.I.A. in its early days under the leadership of Allen Dulles who had a passion for unauthorized, unsupervised covert operations most of which were, by any standards blunders of the first magnitude.

The Obama Administration is especially fond of JSOC operations whose use has expanded significantly in the past two years. According to the same Washington Post piece cited above, Obama has `given the green light’ for things that the previous administration did not. They are talking publicly less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly.

Referred to as `shadow wars’, because they are secret and `off the books’ militarily and financially, JSOC operations give the Administration the possibility to escalate military operations while denying involvement.  `Plausible denial’ as it is called, is viewed as a viable alternative to large scale Iraq or Afghanistan -like U.S. military commitment which draws considerable political opposition at home. In reality, all this is virtually identical to the failed counter-insurgency techniques used by the Eisenhower and Kennedy in the early days of the US Vietnam debacle, the only difference being that JSOC operations appear to be even less regulated and practiced more widely throughout the world than the special forces operations of the Vietnam days.

Back to the recent letter bombs…

In the aftermath of the terrorist bombing attempt, the Obama Administration is giving the public the notion that some kind of punitive and retaliatory action is in the making. It is at moments like this that the polices of targeted assassination, including of American citizens and drone attacks are justified before the public and the world. A more accurate assessment is that stepped up

to be continued in a few days

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 21, 2010 10:16 pm

    hi I was fortunate to find your topic in digg
    your topic is terrific
    I learn a lot in your website really thanks very much
    btw the theme of you blog is really excellent
    where can find it

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: