Citizens of any country who hear a high-ranking US official discuss plans to help their country “meet the aspirations of its citizens” and “counter violent extremism that threatens our shared security” should be frightened. Look at Iraq. Two scholars for Al Jazeera English write, “Saddam Hussein’s removal from power by the United States and others resulted in a protracted conflict that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths, massive migration, and widespread sectarian violence. Even now, Iraq is hardly a model of stability.”
President Barack Obama said during a press conference with Iraq Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki in December 2011, as battalions of US troops prepared to pull out, “This is an equal partnership, a broad relationship that advances the security and aspirations of both our peoples.” Then-President George W. Bush said in May 2004:
I believe that the Iraqi people want to be free. By far the vast majority of Iraqi citizens want to have a life that is peaceful, so they can raise their children, see that their children are educated, have a chance for their children to succeed. The business people of Iraq just want a stable environment for them to be able to run their businesses and make a living. People want jobs. I mean, there are normal aspirations in Iraq that give me great confidence in the future of Iraq.
The US pledge to advance or respect the “aspirations” of Iraq has created a country plagued by sectarian violence. Nonetheless, today, Obama counterterrorism chief John Brennan spoke of how the US would help Yemen “meet the aspirations of its citizens at a Council on Foreign Relations event. (Video of the event is here.)
…When the subject of Yemen comes up, it’s often through the prism of the terrorist threat emanating from within its borders. And for good reason. Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, is al-Qa’ida’s most active affiliate. It has assassinated Yemeni leaders, murdered Yemeni citizens, kidnapped and killed aid workers, targeted American interests, encouraged attacks in the United States, and attempted repeated attacks against U.S. aviation. Likewise, discussion of Yemeni and American counterterrorism efforts tend to focus almost exclusively on the use of one counterterrorism tool in particular—targeted strikes.
At the White House, we’ve always taken a broader view—both of Yemen’s challenges and U.S. policy. Two months ago, however, a number of experts on Yemen wrote an open letter to President Obama arguing that there is the perception that the United States “is singularly focused on AQAP” to the exclusion of Yemen’s broader political, economic, and social ills. Among their recommendations—that U.S. officials publicly convey that the United States is making a sustained commitment to Yemen’s political transition, economic development, and stability. It’s in that spirit that I join you today—both in my official capacity and as someone who has come to know and admire Yemen and its people over the past three decades…
Faked altruism aside, the US would not be in Yemen helping it with any of its “challenges” if there was not some part of the military industrial-complex or national security state that felt the need to escalate the “war on terrorism” in the country. Brennan and others in the Obama administration do not question the weekly executions of alleged “militants” from or with ties to al Qaeda. They choose to ignore how the covert drone war might be fueling AQAP and how drones might be on the path to destabilizing the country in the way that Pakistan has been destabilized.
As Nation journalist Jeremy Scahill has said:
I believe the escalation of this bombing will ultimately make the U.S. and Yemen less safe and will create more enemies than it eliminates. I think a huge part of the problem with the U.S. in Yemen is that we are ignorant of Yemeni cultures. We see enemies everywhere and we rely on powerful forces with their own agendas — the Saudis and the Yemeni regime — for intelligence. If the U.S. invested more in studying Yemen and developing non military ties with Yemeni groups and tribes, I believe that there are many creative paths to take to confront the relatively minor, non-existential threat of terrorism emanating from Yemen. I’m not saying there is no risk of a plane being brought down by AQAP, but that I believe that old-fashioned intelligence is far better than “signature strikes” and letting the Saudis and Yemeni regime make the U.S.’s target lists so the military or CIA can zap people—who maybe are AQAP and maybe just a farmer with a long beard and a lot of friends—from the sky. [emphasis added]
Now, for the sake of critique, let’s presume the US has very, very good intentions in Yemen and it genuinely wants to help Yemen recover from being a failed economy. Exactly, how would it do this? If it is anything like what was done in Iraq, the State Department or whatever US agency is directly involved is destined to be inconsequential and possibly make the country worse for its people.
Peter Van Buren worked on the Iraq reconstruction effort for the State Department. He wrote a book, We Meant Well, on how it was an utter failure. On “Democracy Now!”, he detailed:
In our clumsy attempts to buy love, to make friends, to win over the Iraqis, we sponsored pastry-making classes for Iraqi widows. We handed out gifts—sheep, bees—in hopes that Iraqis would pick these things up and make a living from them. We spent $2.5 million on a chicken processing plant that never processed any chicken. We gave driving lessons to women. We painted murals on the sides of gymnasiums. We handed out bicycles to children that they were supposed to ride on streets that were so pockmarked with shell craters that you couldn’t take a car down them. We did a number of foolish things that were feel-good projects, perhaps, short-term goals at best. They produced some lovely photographs, occasionally some good propaganda.
But none of them were designed as part of any organized campaign that could have seriously led to something called reconstruction in Iraq that would have satisfied our political goals of creating enough stability in the economy that young men and young women would choose to participate in the economy rather than becoming insurgents or terrorists. The system was flawed from its beginning. It lacked adult supervision. And we basically were cut loose in the countryside to spend money in hopes that something good would come of it, the same way that, the joke goes, you could have 10,000 monkeys typing randomly, and occasionally they might produce a line of Shakespeare.
If the same kinds of government officials and federal contractors are going to be in Yemen providing this “assistance,” what sort of hope is there that this is not a colossal clusterfuck after everyone hits the ground running?
Also, Brennan would have the people of Yemen believe that President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Al-Hadi’s election represents some transition from dictatorship to democracy. Afrah Nasser, a Yemeni writer who followed the uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh, had a sharp reaction to Hadi’s election, when he ran unopposed and won with 99% of the vote:
I wonder what kind of democracy the GCC deal and the US fostered in Yemen. First, Saleh is free out there; flying around like he didn’t committed crimes against humanity not only during the revolution but also throughout his rule time. Second, Yemen had an early presidential election with no referendum to ask the people of what they truly want. Third, one political party, one candidate, one man was running; ignoring the several political spectrum in Yemen. Fourth, Hadi won with 99% votes; which is a sign of how corrupt his system will be. Fifth, Hadi has been a vice for over 17 years, meaning he is a mini-dictator compared to Saleh… sixth, … seventh.. the list would go on!! What kind of democracy is that! would you “democratic countries” accept such games!
This destined-to-fail project the Obama administration is content to carry out—which is only slightly more democratic than a full-blown despotic regime—is only made worse by the rhetoric being used to present and sell America’s plan to US citizens and the world. Brennan said the US shares “the vision that guides so many Yemenis; a Yemen where all of its citizens – Shi’a and Sunni, northerner and southerner, man and woman, rural villager and city dweller, old and young – have a government that is democratic, responsive, and just.”
The US government is neither so there should be nothing but fear amongst Yemenis as they learn more about what the empire has in store for another Middle Eastern country.