Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Do you hear the calls for a no-fly zone over Yemen?

I am straining my hearing capacity, trying to listen to calls, any calls, for a no-fly zone over Yemen. Listen to London, Washington, Paris, Ottawa - can you hear any? If you cannot, then there is a perfectly good reason: there are no calls for a no-fly zone over Yemen.

The combined Western attack on Libya has gathered enormous media attention over, and we have all heard the calls for a no-fly zone in Libya. The stated reason is 'humanitarian' - the demonstrators in Libya need protection against the forces of the erratic tyrant Gaddafi.

There has been plenty of commentary on the geostrategic interests motivating the major capitalist powers in calling for a no-fly zone. There are commentaries on the destructive impact of such an attack on Libya, and the horrifying political and economic conditions for the Libyan people which will result from such an invasion. For instance, see here for a statement from the Socialist Alliance.

I wanted to draw attention however to another tyrant that is mercilessly killing demonstrators, locking people up to be tortured, and who has stayed in power for approximately 30 years - President Ali Abdallah Saleh of Yemen.

Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, has been rocked by protests for the past seven weeks. President Saleh has stayed in power for the last 32 years. It is one the oldest areas of civilisation in the Near East, and its recent history has been marred by poverty, tribal rivalries and a ruthless central government since reunification in 1990. No effort was made by Saleh to improve living conditions, reduce unemployment, fight against tribalism, or move towards democratic structures. Such a regime has been strongly backed by the United States, with Yemen receiving millions of dollars in official US 'aid'. Where that money has gone is anybody's guess. Saleh quickly aligned Yemen with the foreign policy objectives of the US, joining in the so-called 'war on terror', and playing up American anxieties about al-Qa'ida in the Arabian peninsula.

The deteriorating social conditions in Yemen lead to an eruption of protests against Saleh and his American-supported regime at the beginning of this year. The Yemeni security forces launched a violent crackdown, using live bullets, teargas grenades and police-backed thugs to attack demonstrators. Basically Saleh instituted a war against his own people; similar conduct by the Gaddafi regime was cited as a reason for the Western attack on Libya. Yemen does not have any oil or natural gas, but it is strategically located at the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, which connects the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden. Millions of barrels of oil are transported through the Red sea every month. Yemen shares a long border with the oil-rich and US-backed Saudi Arabia.

Obama escalated the 'targeted killing' programme in August last year, with secretive unmanned drone attacks and US Special Forces operations in Yemen, rather than go for an all-out ground invasion which is guaranteed to generate domestic and international criticism.

Inflicting this kind of state terrorism - because that is what Obama's covert war is - will only increase misery and deprivation in Yemen. Most of the population lives on less than two dollars a day, and the population suffers from chronic hunger and shortages of electricity.

Well, given this situation of hopelessness and immiseration, is it any wonder that extremist groups find ready recruits to their particular brand of violent religious fundamentalism? It is no wonder that Yemen has a recent history of violent extremism, beginning with the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole, and in October 2010 the suggested 'toner-cartridge bomb' detected on cargo planes originating in Yemen. Though on that story I remain sceptical, and urge the reader to consider the article by Professor Gary Leupp, who has analysed the 'toner-cartridge bomb' story here; the Yemeni Toner Cartridge Bomb story.

Patrick Cockburn wrote an excellent article for The Independent about recent developments in Yemen entitled A crucial US ally against Middle East terrorism or a safe haven for al-Qa'ida? Cockburn asks whether Yemen is a firm US ally, or a breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalist extremism? Well, I will answer - it is both. Repressive governments in the Arab world, like Yemen's, are US allies and provide fertile soil for religious fundamentalism.

The Independent reports that a dozen of Yemen's top military commanders have deserted President Saleh, yet the latter refuses to step down, warning of an impending civil war.

As I understand it, the resignations of senior military figures was prompted by the killing of 52 unarmed protestors by government snipers. The massacre of the protestors last week did not succeed in derailing the protest movement.

The US White House issued lukewarm calls for the Yemeni president to respect the right of protestors to engage in peaceful assembly. The stench of hypocrisy is unmistakable given that the US is currently participating in a barbaric onslaught against Libya, as well as the ongoing criminal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Returning to The Independent, read the excellent article here, about how President Saleh exploited American anxieties to remain in power.

This lead article argues that Saleh has stayed in power by playing up fears of an al-Qa'ida style terrorist attack emanating from Yemen.

But that is in contrast to what Saleh himself claimed late last year, when he dismissed American assessments of the scope and scale of the terrorist threat, stating that Washington has deliberately exaggerated the threat from al-Qa'ida and the danger it poses to the security of Yemen. The Yemeni government insisted that fighting terrorism was the responsibility of the Yemeni authorities.

I think that rather than exploiting Washington's fears, the Yemeni regime has utilised the ever-expanding 'war on terror' to justify its savage crackdown on internal political opposition. Obama is contributing to the misery of the Yemenis by escalating the drone attacks and enabling hundreds of special forces operatives to kill with impunity.

So where are the calls for a no-fly zone to protect demonstrators in Yemen? If you cannot hear them, it is because they do not exist.

1 comment:

  1. Rupen, you make some really good points here - some very similar to what I make at my blog, Left Focus. At this point there's not civil war in Yemen as there as in Libya; but it could escalate to that point, yes. As you recognise the Bab of Mandeb is crucial strategically; so I wonder if Al Qaeda or that 'choke point' is what's really driving the US in its relations and intervention there.

    The recent violent crackdown - with perhaps over 50 dead as you say - puts Western double standards in the spotlight. Western intervention in Libya also begs the question why the world looks the other way to human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

    That said, I hope it never comes to full-blown war in the Middle East again. A war spanning much of the region would be even worse - indeed much worse - than what we saw with Iraq.

    The increased regional power and reach of Iran which the West fears has arisen as a consequence of the Iraq invasion and the collapse of any 'balance of power'. It seems that kind of intervention only ever makes things worse.

    But I hope that diplomacy and grassroots movements will not only ultimately see liberalisation in countries like Iran, but also recognition of the human rights and dignity of the Palestinians also.

    Perhaps guarantees for the territorial integrity in Iran and Western non-intervention (eg: no black ops for destabilisation purposes) could form part of an agreement on nuclear non-proliferation as well, including disemmination of alternative technologies? Such moves would help defuse escalating tension.

    For those who are interested I've written an analysis of the situation in Libya at my blog 'Left Focus'. See: http://leftfocus.blogspot.com/2011/03/bigger-picture-in-middle-east-and-war.html

    There's heaps of stuff in the archives too -going back a couple of years or so - and debate is welcome.