Yemen: Another Failed US Military Intervention

by , April 21, 2015

In addition to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, yet another U.S. military intervention is in shambles:  the US drone war against al Qaeda’s most potent regional affiliate – al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  Heretofore, despite the rise of the perhaps even more brutal Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), mainly a threat to the Middle East region, the US government has continued to regard AQAP in Yemen as the most severe terrorist threat to the United States.  Although the group hasn’t been very active recently, it was involved in the Paris attacks a while back and in foiled bomb plots against U.S.-bound aircraft, including the underwear bombing, even further back. 

After the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush expanded his “War on Terror” from the Afghanistan/Pakistan region and started attacking Islamist militants in Yemen from the air.  In 2006, AQAP was born after 23 militants escaped from prison in Yemen.  Journalists, both locally in Yemen and from the West, have documented that the U.S. drone war under Bush and now Obama has actually increased the numbers of AQAP fighters.   

Now, because the Shi’ite Houthi group, financed by Shi’ite Iran, has taken over large parts of Yemen in a civil war, Sunni Saudi Arabia, with critical U.S. military aid, has begun a bombing campaign to attempt to halt the Houthi offensive on the ground and to destroy U.S. weapons earlier given to the now defunct Yemeni government, which are now in the hands of the Houthis.  (Can any pattern be seen with U.S. military support of the Shah’s Iran when the current Shi’ite Islamist government overthrew that monarchy in the late 1970s, getting all the U.S. weapons, or U.S. military support for the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s that morphed into al Qaeda, or the more recent debacle in Iraq in which U.S. trained and equipped Iraqi forces cut and ran in the face of an ISIS offensive that captured much advanced U.S. armament?)  In addition, Yemeni counterterrorism forces trained by the United States are in disarray because of the ongoing civil war.  Yet the ill-advised, U.S.-assisted Saudi bombing campaign has not only not halted the Houthi offensive on the ground, but has increased chaos and suffering in the country, thus allowing, many experts say, a space for the Sunni AQAP to strengthen itself.

Initially, we can hope that AQAP is preoccupied with fighting the Shi’ite Houthis, but a strengthened AQAP, in its competition with ISIS, might eventually want to score publicity by another attempted attack on the United States or the West.  As CNN’s foreign policy analyst Fareed Zakaria noted, the United States has a habit of fighting local or regional militant Islamist groups by supporting autocratic governments, thus turning the groups’ focus to attacking the United States.

The average U.S. voter or taxpayer doesn’t realize this important point and thinks that the U.S. government is merely swatting away bad guys who are attacking us because we love freedom.  Politicians, such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama, purposefully obscure the decades of U.S. meddling in the Middle East and Islamic countries prior to any terrorist attack on the United States, including that of 9/11.  And after that fateful day, the U.S. doubled down on what most inflames militant Islamist radicals – non-Muslim attacks on or occupation of Muslim soil – by attacking or invading at least seven Muslim countries.  Bush and Obama have told the world that the United States is not at war with Islam, but Muslims may think differently from the other side of the gun barrel. 

If it seems like Islamist terrorism has recently gotten worse (with the proliferation of groups – AQAP and other regional al Qaeda affiliates, ISIS, al Nusra, Boko Haram, al Shabab, the Pakistani Taliban, etc. – you really need a scorecard), the U.S. military intervention-retaliatory terrorism cycle is the cause of much of it.  This link has been deliberately disguised or diffused by American politicians.

So the average American citizen should ask himself or herself, why do we need to intervene militarily and covertly so much in the Middle East if it is generating all of this terrible blowback?  The reasons, also unstated, are the twin pillars of U.S. policy there – Israel and oil.  Israel is now a wealthy country to which the United States still, embarrassingly, gives more than $3 billion per year in military aid.  In contrast to the public perception that Israel is a small democracy surrounded by hungry Arab wolves, the country has always been militarily stronger than its neighbors, is the only country in the region with nuclear weapons, and has major enemies that have been weakened by either civil war (Syria) or a peace treaty (Egypt).  Weaker enemies, such as the groups Hezbollah and Hamas, are not existential threats to Israel and are motivated by Israel’s refusal to give back territory it won and occupied in its attack on Arab countries in 1967.

As for oil, in my book No War for Oil:  U.S. Dependency and the Middle East, I use economic principles to debunk the need to send U.S. military forces to the Middle East in a neo-imperial attempt to keep a U.S. thumb on the world’s oil supplies.  Economically, it is still cheaper to pay the market price for oil, even if goes higher, than it is for the taxpayer to fund a constant and unneeded U.S. military presence in the region to “defend” oil.  Yemen has little oil, but neighboring Saudi Arabia is swimming in it, and thus the United States tries to coddle that country.  My book goes into detail about why that is also unnecessary.

Unfortunately, polls indicate that a couple of American heads lopped off by ISIS have suddenly made the American public more hawkish – how quickly they have forgotten the military quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq and may not even be aware of the chaos and civil war that the U.S. intervention in Libya has caused – when the actual U.S. policy should go the other way.  Terrorism and instability in the Middle East will always exist, but if the United States lessens its martial activities there, terrorist groups will not focus their efforts on attacking the United States.  We could be safer and save a whole lot of taxpayer dollars at the same time.

Read more by Ivan Eland