THE SPINE JANUARY 3, 2010
Yes, I suppose we are in no position to abandon Yemen, although, frankly, I hardly knew we were really there. Well, we are, as I pointed out in my Abdulmutallab posting on New Year's Day. But imagine how Senators Levin and Leahy would have reacted if poor George Bush had stumbled into the sands of "the empty quarter" without so much as advice, let alone consent. Maybe they were informed. But who knows whether, like the memory of Madame Speaker, theirs are also a bit confused.
(By the way, among the first to describe one of the world's largest sand deserts was H. St. John Philby, ornithologist. diplomat, traveler, frustrated intermediary between the Zionist movement and Saudi monarch Ibn Saud. More to the point, he was the father of Kim Philby, “the third man” in the Soviet spy ring of four and also a frequent contributor to The New Republic, thanks to one of its editor-owners, Michael Straight, who aspired to be the fifth man. If you want to read a truly gripping evocation of The Empty Quarter, get the one by Wilfred Thesiger. And now back to the main event.)
Obama announced our intercession blandly enough:
... as President, I've made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government--training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence, and working with them to strike Al Qaeda terrorists.
Not so easy, said the doctrinal left. One Jason Ditz wrote in anti-war.com:
Of course, the Awlaki assassination bid and the US attacks on Yemen have been going on since before a Nigerian set his lap on fire, and we're only now starting to get the full extent of the war in Yemen the Obama administration is already covertly fighting. The failed bombing is just a nice Christmas present for the president, giving him easy cover for the assorted wars he is already fighting and further wars he might plan to start in the future.
More or less ditto from Patrick Cockburn in The Independent: "Threats to Yemen prove America hasn't learned the lesson of history."
We are the Awaleq
Born of bitterness
We are the nails that go into the rock
We are the sparks of hell
He who defies us will be burned
This is the tribal chant of the powerful Awaleq tribe of Yemen, in which they bid defiance to the world. Its angry tone conveys the flavour of Yemeni life and it should give pause to those in the US who blithely suggest greater American involvement in Yemen in the wake of the attempt to destroy a US plane by a Nigerian student who says he received training there.
These give you the tone of what the tiers mondiste ideologues (ex-pro-communist ideologues actually, generational factors allowing) will say about any American venture in Yemen. Of course, they want the Islamic jihadists to conquer. After all, the jihad is the last armed doctrine against the West.
Still, I am very much puzzled by the stealthy entrance of the United States in to the empty quarter. A democracy deserves a different way of intervention. Two articles in today's Times only intensify my bafflement at how Obama can announce the country's deep embroilment in Yemen so casually.
The first dispatch is a masterful journalistic round-up of what we know about Yemen. And, candidly, what we know is dismaying. The piece is by Steven Erlanger, senior Times foreign affairs correspondent. Yemen may actually be three countries--lawless, tribally defined, overloaded with weaponry, contiguous with other states with similar burdens. Look especially for the illuminating quotations from Abdullah al-Faqih, a political scientist at Sana University, to grasp just how serpentine the political situation is.
The second article, in the Times "Week in Review," is by Ali H. Soufan, presumably an Arab-American FBI agent dealing with Islamic aggression against other Muslims, Arab aggression against other Arabs. There is the tone of wisdom to his writing. God-willing, it is so.
I repeat one of my tropes. Yemen sits in the United Nations. Its capital is in Sana. But Sana has little authority beyond the city and none in the northwest or south. The authority the central government does exercise is based on corruption and its AK's. The north is under siege by a sect, schismatic Shi'a, who practice many Sunni obligations. It is armed by Iran. Aden is the vital heart of the south. It has been a sea port probably since time began. It is--how shall I say it?--more evolved. (It is the place which the British deserted that I have memorialized with Philip Larkin's poem.) Port cities are always more civilized than population clusters deep inside a country. Aden even had a vibrant Jewish community until the day before yesterday. All of these virtues notwithstanding, Aden has now been infected by Al Qaeda. So are the center and the north. Al Qaeda has its own war, and it assists almost everyone else in theirs.
P.S. The Times reports that the United States and Great Britain have shut down their embassies in Sana. It is probably worse than we think and later than we think.