War On Terror or War On Disaffected Yemenis?

As if the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were not enough to satiate the Empire’s bloodlust, the calls are increasing for an all-out war on the nation of Yemen. The reason given for this intervention is that the man who apparently wanted to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day 2009 spent some time there and may have received his instructions while he was visiting. Like the increasingly bloody occupation of Afghanistan, Washington wants the world to believe that attacking a nation that hosts organizations intent on resisting US domination will somehow end those organizations existence and make everyone safer. Left unsaid in this rather simplistic equation are the obvious facts. Over eight years of war and occupation of Afghanistan has neither stopped the desire of politically nor religiously motivated individuals to blow up airliners and other structures in their war against US cultural and economic imperialism. Nor has it broken the back of the groups in Afghanistan that also oppose the US intervention in their country. In fact, if we are to believe intelligence reports from various US agencies, these groups are not only still in existence, they have mutated politically and are at least as strong as they were before the US invasion in 2001.

In recent months, parts of Yemen have come under attack by Saudi Arabian forces backing the government there. In recent weeks, the Saudis have been supported by the US military. It seems quite likely that there is more to the growing likelihood of deeper US military involvement in Yemen than the visit of the wannabe bomber Mr. Abdulmutallab. Saudi Arabia and North Yemen fought a war in 1934 when a prince formerly aligned with Ibn Saud switched allegiance to the Yemeni Prince King Yahya, Although Riyadh supported the Zaydi monarchist predecessors (Zaydi Imams) to the Houthi rebels in the 1962 republican revolution in North Yemen, it now supports the successors to those it opposed in 1962 (the Saleh regime). This support is religious and geopolitically based, with the Saleh government being primarily Sunni (with Wahabbist leanings) and the opposition being Shia. The fact that the conflict is primarily occurring in a province on Saudi Arabia’s borders explains Riyadh’s concerns with regard to geography. he victory of the north Yemeni forces began a period that saw increasing repression of forces opposed to Saleh, with human rights groups documenting torture, displacement and extrajudicial killings. Since the defeat of the Zaydi Imams in 1962 by the forerunners of the current Yemeni government, the northwestern province of Sa’adah has been ignored by the Yemeni regime, leaving it to founder economically. Over the years this has naturally caused resentment. By 2004, a full-blown insurgency in Sa’adah shifted the Yemeni military’s interest to this historically ignored region. This rebellion is known as the Houthi insurgency because of its leadership by dissident cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi (rumored to have been killed in US and Saudi airstrikes in November 2009).

South Yemen was a colony of Britain until it achieved independence in 1967 after a struggle led by socialist revolutionaries. After North and South Yemen reunited in 1990, Saleh refused to grant the former members of the Democratic Republic of South Yemen power commensurate with their support. This fact and a desire by the Marxist former leaders of South Yemen for more progressive social policies led to civil war in 1994. Saleh’s government was backed militarily by Saudi Arabia. In 2009, renewed resistance against the Yemeni regime began in southern Yemen led by leftist-leaning forces. Yemeni military forces have met this popular uprising with overt and often violent repression.

On to all this, one must add the group that calls itself Al Qaida of Yemen (AQY). While it seems unlikely that this group (if it is truly a terrorist group and not some kind of black op) is carrying out specific orders of Bin Laden or one of the dozens of supposed Al Qaida leaders, it is reasonable to say that its members are inspired by the philosophy and actions of groups nominally known as Al Qaida. However, as far as the Yemeni regime is concerned, its existence in Yemen in the minds of Washington and the rest of the west is quite useful. After all, if the Pentagon is willing to escalate its low-scale conflict to a full fledged war in the name of fighting terrorism, than Saleh and his military can gain an advantage against the two insurgencies currently being waged against his regime. By claiming that the terrorists are either aligned with one or both of the insurgencies or are at least located in territories controlled by them, Saleh’s regime can direct US airstrikes at those areas of the country. This will most likely disrupt not only the supposed terror cells, but will also interrupt the insurgencies. If it is the Yemeni air force that conducts the raids, it will be with US weaponry that will soon be on its way. In addition, the likelihood of attacks against the insurgencies increases should the Yemen government convince the US to let them run the show (with US supervision). Naturally, military action on this scale will also kill and wound civilians, thereby increasing the likelihood of alliances between the insurgents and AQY, neatly sewing the three elements together and continuing Saleh’s continued rule. I am simultaneously reminded of Israel’s use of US weaponry and funds to subdue the Palestinians and Washington’s deal with Pakistan’s Musharraf after 9-11.

Like Afghanistan, Yemen is a very poor country. It is also somewhat unstable politically, as the above paragraphs describe. Its proximity to Saudi Arabia raises some concerns for Washington primarily because of its fear that the ideas informing the insurgencies might inspire Saudi Arabia’s disenfranchised masses and upset the oil teat America depends on. Also, like Afghanistan, it can be argued that its best promise for stability and a decent life for its citizens was when it had a socialist oriented government–a regime subverted with considerable help from the United States.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

17 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. lynnk1764 said on December 31st, 2009 at 1:58pm #

    Did I misunderstand Mr. Jacobs? Does he really believe the socialists were the answer for Afghanistan when socialist ideas have not succeeded in the establishment of any other viable state? Does he contend that the well-being of the Afghan citizens was the primary motivation for the generation of a socialist government? And are we certain that the United States is only interested in Yemen because of our dependence on Saudi Arabia? While I do not believe that military attacks are the most effective solution for dismantling so-called terrorist cells, I also do not believe that launching verbal assaults whose veracity if questionable is any more successful in the struggle for justice in the world.

  2. Ron Jacobs said on December 31st, 2009 at 2:19pm #

    Yes, you did understand me in regards to my perception of the benefits the socialist government held for Afghan women and others. However, nowhere do I say that the US is only interested in Yemen because of our dependence on SA. I do suggest that that is part of the reason–to pretend otherwise would be failing to acknowledge the obvious. My primary take in this piece is that the war on terror (as regards yemen) will very likely be used to help the Saleh regime defeat the popular resistance to its policies and rule.

  3. Hue Longer said on December 31st, 2009 at 3:54pm #

    lynnk1764 said on December 31st, 2009 at 1:58pm #

    “Did I misunderstand Mr. Jacobs? Does he really believe the socialists were the answer for Afghanistan when socialist ideas have not succeeded in the establishment of any other viable state”?

    Hello Lynnk,

    Could you clarify “establishment” or are you saying that socialist ideals have never nor work now in any viable state?

  4. lynnk1764 said on December 31st, 2009 at 5:41pm #

    Thanks for your response. I am not aware of any nation where socialism has been successfully employed for the benefit of the population. I would agree that socialist ideals are great, but I think human nature interferes with the implementation of such ideals. I am not, however, an expert on the history of political systems, and if indeed socialist ideals have been used to create a productive system within any nation, I welcome the information. I am not aware that any state has been able to create a productive society on a large scale while adhering to socialist principles.

    Regarding Afghanistan, Mr. Jacobs, I guess I was just thinking about how much damage the Russians inflicted on that country rather than any “grass roots” socialist movement which might have emerged there. I disagree that socialism offers the greatest hope for Afghanistan, but I do agree that it offers more hope than the present system.

  5. Hue Longer said on December 31st, 2009 at 6:09pm #

    Hello Lynnk,

    Thanks for your response as well…

    Without getting into failed social states who were brought down due in large part from others, I’d point you to Sweden. Though it could be argued that they are not truly socialist because of their private industry, there is no way to deny their socialist ideas are successful and in effect (though capitalism does it’s best to thwart).

    That’s the easiest example when agreeing upon definitions and success (I’ll back away from Cuba and others to make this point)but other socialist ideas successfully exist almost everywhere including the United States

    Most of the socialist ideas we take for granted (35-40 hour work weeks; healthcare in Australia, Canada, France, England, elderly in US; ect) were fought for by people and as many would argue, begrudgingly given to appease the angry masses


  6. lynnk1764 said on January 1st, 2010 at 9:31am #

    You certainly have made several great points. I certainly did not mean to imply that socialism is not a useful tool within human societies. I was not referring to individual successes within a larger system but rather to socialism as the predominant form of government. Certainly the citizens of any country need to be involved in a public demand for human rights, and such involvement is necessary for any effective political system.

    I would also like to say to Mr. Jacobs that your discussion regarding the Saleh regime is certainly insightful and well-informed. You made that point quite well and I did understand that that was the purpose of your article, which is very helpful since I don’t know that much about the history of Yemen.

    Happy New Year to all.

  7. beverly said on January 2nd, 2010 at 7:58am #

    Excellent points, Hue Longer. Given the current mess made by capitalist states, there’s no need to denigrate socialism. Thank you for pointing out that socialist ideas exist here in the US. I’m tired of pundits and politicians using socialism as a four-letter word when they themselves and everyone else benefit from the socialist policies you mentioned and then some. Further tiring is the sheeple who fall for socialism as boogeyman propaganda – totally ignorant that they are benefitting from some form of socialism. The power structure wants to keep socialism a four-letter word to prevent the mass movements that brought about labor and civil rights from returning again to agitate for more life improvements for the people. However, given the 24/7 media disinformation machine and the co-opting and capitulation of the Left, the power structure has little to fear from people rising up to fight for anything anymore.

  8. Don Hawkins said on January 2nd, 2010 at 8:23am #

    A kind of global effort the planet has never seen and soon or one human’s have seen sort of as this time billions not millions.

  9. Don Hawkins said on January 2nd, 2010 at 8:31am #

    (Possibly) The Twenty (or so) Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other:

    RankDeath TollCauseCenturies
    155 millionSecond World War20C
    240 millionMao Zedong (mostly famine)20C
    340 millionMongol Conquests13C
    436 millionAn Lushan Revolt8C
    525 millionFall of the Ming Dynasty17C
    620 millionTaiping Rebellion19C
    720 millionAnnihilation of the American Indians15C-19C
    820 millionIosif Stalin20C
    919 millionMideast Slave Trade7C-19C
    1018 millionAtlantic Slave Trade15C-19C
    1117 millionTimur Lenk14C-15C
    1217 millionBritish India (mostly famine)19C
    1315 millionFirst World War20C
    149 millionRussian Civil War20C
    158 millionFall of Rome3C-5C
    168 millionCongo Free State19C-20C
    177 millionThirty Years War17C
    185 millionRussia’s Time of Troubles16C-17C
    194 millionNapoleonic Wars19C
    203 millionChinese Civil War20C
    213 millionFrench Wars of Religion16C

  10. lynnk1764 said on January 2nd, 2010 at 8:37am #

    I think socialism is a great idea and certainly not a “four-letter word”. It’s a great star to hitch one’s wagon to, so to speak. Obviously the problem is that human beings tend to seek power for themselves and too many leaders of political movements do this at the expense of the populus. Can any governmental system eliminate selfishness and greed? Those characteristics tend to be the downfall of any civilization.

  11. Don Hawkins said on January 2nd, 2010 at 8:56am #

    Year Population
    1 200 million
    1000 275 million
    1500 450 million
    1650 500 million
    1750 700 million
    1804 1 billion
    1850 1.2 billion
    1900 1.6 billion
    1927 2 billion
    1950 2.55 billion
    1955 2.8 billion
    1960 3 billion
    1965 3.3 billion
    1970 3.7 billion
    1975 4 billion
    1980 4.5 billion
    1985 4.85 billion
    1990 5.3 billion
    1995 5.7 billion
    1999 6 billion
    2006 6.5 billion
    2009 6.8 billion
    2011 7 billion
    2025 8 billion
    2050 9.4 billion

    So 9.4 billion is the projection for 2050. Boring this well not be. Just think we will only need say four more Earth’s conservatively speaking. Gas from coal and heck let’s cut down say half the rain forests are there still fish in the ocean, some.

  12. beverly said on January 2nd, 2010 at 8:58am #

    The Nigerian wannabe terrorist incident looks like a hoax manufactured by the govt to justify ramping up the action in Yemen, and, to rachet up the fear meter to up support for continued chaos in the Middle East (next stop: Iran).

    The guy’s father claims he warned US intel of his son’s possible illicit activities. The guy is on the almighty terrorist watch list. He pays cash for a plane ticket – a supposed red flag to prompt further investigation of traveler. The fire starting implements carried by the would-be terrorist could have been easily discovered via the searches done of carry-on bags (I believe it was reported the Nigerian onlycarried a knapsack- another supposed red flag for security). Wasn’t this guy an engineering student? If so, shouldn’t he have been more skilled at fashioning an explosive device?

    Kurt Haskell, the attorney on the flight who witnessed the incident, has said the Nigerian was escorted by a well-dressed man who told airline personnel the Nigerian didn’t have a passport (another red flag) but needed to get on the plane. Haskell also recalled someone videotaping the Nigerian and his escort. Haskell also said other passengers witnessed these happenings. Haskell recounted this info on an indy media sight (see You Tube videos), however, he said mainstream outlets were uninterested in hearing about these pieces of info. Wonder why?

    The administration and its media stooges now cite intel failures and the need for more inconvenient and time-consuming security measures. It strains the imagination to believe intel agencies and airport security were both so derelict in their duties. The mystery escort (a CIA operative perhaps?) info that’s being ignored by the mainstream press and the obvious ignored red flags before the guy boarded the plane, along with the convenient timing of the incident – on Xmas day to add a nice dose of fear to the holiday festivities, doesn’t pass the smell test that this was the act of another evildoing terrorist. As for adding even more security measures, this won’t make anyone safer but it will empty airplanes of even more passengers as people say fuck it with all the hassle and get in the car and drive – or get on a cruise ship for overseas travel. If the authorities (including intel agencies) would simply follow the security guidelines already in place, this incident would not have occurred.

  13. Max Shields said on January 2nd, 2010 at 9:04am #

    There is a very big difference between socialism and the 40 hour work week….that is obvious, no?

    There is no purely socialist state that we can concede exists. There are many variations on the economics referred to by the word “socialism”. If, as some say, anything that supports labor is socialism…I think they are misguided, and little read on the topic.

    If one only looks at socialism as a counterforce to capitalism it misses the point even further. Let’s call socialism all that is good and capitalism all that is bad. Then we can go off to our favorite church and pray for your God to save you over the Devil who tempts you….OR we can grow up and think about what it is to be human and how we can arrange our world in such a way that it building community, and provides our children and future generations with the wonders of existence and what’s needed to sustain it.

  14. Don Hawkins said on January 2nd, 2010 at 9:06am #

    With what we now know well some of us Capitalism is quite literarily crazy. So what’s the big plan? Well let’s watch the United States Senate the next few months and it should become more clear.

  15. Hue Longer said on January 2nd, 2010 at 3:26pm #

    Hello Max,

    The question wasn’t posed as states that exist but “ideals” and in my response to that I thought I put in a healthy lot of cynicism concerning how much of everything good is concession to maintain power.

    Definitions are a bitch but I think it’s understandable to call things social without losing site of what you’re saying

  16. Max Shields said on January 2nd, 2010 at 9:00pm #

    Understand your point. My point is that like those who have a real problem with the socialism, I think there is also an argument to be made that socialism has become some mis-used – as has free market – that it resembles so little of what may flought in your mind or mine.

    I totally agree that there is a socialization which is when the public (not necessarily through government) reclaims the commons. The commons is simply free access by all to a place, resource whether physical or non-physical. This accessibility is a socialization of those properties, contrary to privatization. But there is nothin, in my opinion wrong with the private domain, it is essential, but like so much when taken to extreme it becomes parasitical and pathological in nature. The commons preserves access and it provides fair distribution.

    It is the simplistic notion that in the 21st Century we are talking about socialism as if it is all about labor. Labor and capital are essential incredients to any economy; there simply is no economy without both. The issue is not capital vs labor. It is ownership, who owns the wealth derived from capital and labor. But ownership has absolutely nothing to do with free markets. A truly free market lives comfortably with workers’ cooperatives, community owned businesses, in a word basic main street economics. Free market is not corporate capitalism. Corporate capitalism is monopolistic calling the shots on trade agreements eliminating free markets and the rules that make them work.

  17. sam b said on January 3rd, 2010 at 4:57am #

    I think arguments on whether or not “Socialism” has worked in history are misguided. First, there are any number of active socialist experiments, some working better than others. Second, it took centuries for democracy to become a stable and viable system. Even today, most democracies struggle for some time. Up until just before the end of the Cold War, democratic Capitalism really didn’t have a better track record than the various alternatives.

    Max-the closer you move any system towards its “ideal”, the faster it breaks down. Look at how fast Lehman Brothers fell when the US government decided to uphold fundamentalist free market values. State intervention was necessitated for the survival of the system. Likewise, now Cuba is finding that Soviet-style paternalism is counterproductive.

    Too often the debate between Socialism and Capitalism in the US gets reduced to petty side issues, and the arguments often contradict in the grand scheme of things.

    On the initial article, I want to know what the author thinks should be done in Afghanistan. Socialism won’t bring stability. Having “collective ownership” over a few dry wells and a herd of camels doesn’t help to build a long-term, sustainable social model. This is a place that has been at war for 30 years. The Taliban won’t either, as they are more than happy to slaughter religious minorities and women who don’t follow their strict codes. They senselessly butchered 100 people in Pakistan-Muslims no less-just the other day. The Taliban are the antithesis of a legitimate liberation movement. And clearly democracy is no magic salve either. It seems there are no easy answers, but a lot of America’s critics (and I am a critic of the US 99% of the time) seem to ignore the very real concerns the US has in Afghanistan.

    I do agree100% on Yemen, I only hope Obama doesn’t make a big mistake just to prove he has “balls” to the likes of Cheney.

    On the survival of these groups since 2001 despite the “War on Terror”, I agree 100%. However, you’re correlating the wrong phenomena. It wasn’t the war in Afghanistan itself that angered so many Muslims, it was the senseless disregard for innocent life that was the essential feature of US foreign policy. According to the McCrystal strategy, the US is making a serious effort to improve how it fights a COIN war in regards to engaging and using the strengths of the local population, instead of just dropping bombs on villages.

    I feel the US military, for ONCE in its history, has actually responded positively to its critics at least to a point, and I’d like to hear a more nuanced critique of how the new COIN plan isn’t just more of the same