By Arab News
As if the mind-numbing mess created by the United States in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan wasn’t enough, it had to turn its attention to Yemen.
Yemen is in the midst of an unprecedented popular revolt against the government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, have died in the crackdown on protests. President Saleh, in power for 32 years, is recuperating in Saudi Arabia after an attack on the presidential palace seriously injured him. His deputy is desperately trying to restore the government writ in a complex country that has never been the easiest to govern. Yemen is cracking.
And along comes Uncle Sam to join the fun. While Yemen goes up in flames, America is getting ready for an endless barbecue session there. The Associated Press, quoting unidentified US officials, claims “preparing for a worst-case scenario in Yemen,” Washington is building a secret air base in the Gulf “to target Al-Qaeda terrorists.”
The US has already dramatically increased the presence of its army of CIA operatives and Special Forces in Yemen. The American officials suggest this is being done in anticipation of the possibility of Saleh’s departure and “anti-American factions winning” and shutting the US forces out of Yemen. They suggest that the air base being built on war footing is part of the “long-term US strategy” to fight Al-Qaeda in the region. It seems the CIA model of using unmanned aircraft to take out “hostile targets,” a la Pakistan, is already being extensively used in Yemen.
So what does it mean for Yemen and the whole of Arabian Peninsula? Again, the Pakistan example could be instructive. While the US drone strikes may have been successful in taking out some high-profile targets in the US war in Pakistan, they have also ended up killing thousands of innocent people including women and children. Which in turn has only fueled anti-US sentiment in Pakistan and Afghanistan, destabilizing the whole region and providing ready recruits to Al-Qaeda and its allies. Pakistan is daily ravaged by revenge attacks invariably killing more and more innocent civilians. Caught in the middle in this hell are a people who have nothing to do with the evil ideology of Al-Qaeda or America’s disastrous, directionless war.
Now Uncle Sam wants to visit the same chaos on Yemen and a region on the boil. In fact, the New York Times reported last week that America has already stepped up its covert war in Yemen taking advantage of the power vacuum. It’s using fighter jets and drones like Reapers and Predators to hit the “usual suspects.”
Clearly, the Obama administration has drawn no lessons from the blunders of its predecessor. Every time the US intervenes in a Muslim country, it ends up helping the extremists expand their base and constituency. While there’s no denying the presence of Al-Qaeda in Yemen, the US will only boost the extremists’ cause by sending in its fighter jets and men.
The world community should instead help Yemen to negotiate itself out of the current impasse. A strong and more representative government in Sanaa could take on all the problems, including extremism. Fighting militancy is the job of Yemeni government, not of the outsiders. Instead of fighting phantoms in the Middle East, Washington needs a reality check to see what and who is responsible for turning this ancient land into a battlefield.