Friday, January 8, 2010

What game is Washington playing in Yemen? Is it making clear distinctions between short-term enticements and long term security?

Grading Washington's Yemen Policy.

I recently posed the following question about Washington's reaction to the Yemeni situation:

Should one be impressed that a global empire can turn on a dime and alter global policy in response to a single “underpants bomber” or should one view such a reaction as ludicrously amateurish?

Failing - Missing Big Economic Picture.
Here is an economic argument about the just opened Dauletabad-Sarakhs-Khangiran pipeline making Iran and Turkmenistan partners in the global gas business that Washington is missing the big picture in its obsession with chasing terrorist gangs:

We are witnessing a new pattern of energy cooperation at the regional level that dispenses with Big Oil. Russia traditionally takes the lead. China and Iran follow the example. Russia, Iran and Turkmenistan hold respectively the world's largest, second-largest and fourth-largest gas reserves. And China will be consumer par excellence in this century. The matter is of profound consequence to the US global strategy.
Undoubtedly, Washington is trying to play both games simultaneously, always attacking Muslim "terrorists" in places that either have petroleum or sit on potential petroleum shipping routes. But is America's global domination being undermined by Washington's (take your choice) 1) obsession with Muslim extremist groups that oppose U.S. hegemony or 2) exploitation of the "war on terror" to facilitate its preference for using force to retain global leadership?

Passing - Seizing the Geo-Strategic Initiative.
In contrast, here is a geo-strategic argument viewing U.S. intervention in Yemen as a move to ensure continued U.S. domination over the Indian Ocean (with an eye on both Iran and China):

history has no instances of a declining world power meekly accepting its destiny and walking into the sunset. The US cannot give up on its global dominance without putting up a real fight. And the reality of all such momentous struggles is that they cannot be fought piece-meal. You cannot fight China without occupying Yemen.

Both arguments have merit. Washington's incessant war-making while Russia, China, Iran, and friends from Turkey to Turkmenistan quietly sign petroleum contracts looks more than a bit irrational and self-defeating. On the other hand, Yemen would certainly be a grand spot to occupy for a good old nineteenth century empire.

Saleh's past support for Saddam and current repression of dissent suggest he might be more than happy to allow Washington to transform him into a new Saddam to rule Yemen on American behalf. But recall that in the end Washington became disenchanted with Saddam and launched a war against him in 1991 that continues today, in the process doing much to stimulate bin Laden's career. Even assuming that Washington could create a Yemeni regime in the style of the cosy Saddam-Reagan relationship of, say, 1985, would this really offer Washington a solid foundation for designing a secure future?

The question is whether the U.S. should be trying to ensure its national security in the 21st century with a bet that in the end nothing has changed in the last 200 years. Might the better part of valor instead lie along the lines of asserting leadership of a new world based on recognition of Muslim demands for a new deal and the renunciation of a foreign policy grounded in the use of force just because force is what Washington possesses in excess?

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