Friday, January 08, 2010

Off to Yemen to drink the Yemenade

Yemen... let's put up a parking lot

David Seaton's News Links
The foiled attack on the Christmas flight to Detroit and the wildly successful attack on the CIA in Afghanistan, which has publicized the intimate relations between the CIA and Jordanian intelligence and simultaneously poisoned that relationship, have: revived the "Global War on Terror " (GWOT), are drawing the US deeper into military action in the Middle East, have brought Muslim black-Africa into the conversation, have embarrassed Obama and have put the closing of Guantanamo prison on a back burner... That was their purpose: mission accomplished... Cost = one operative dead, the other captured.

To me it is obvious that Al Qaeda waited patiently till Obama had made his commitment to Afghanistan before initiating these actions and I wouldn't be in the least surprised if Iraq began to heat up again, big time. I imagine al Qaeda have been waiting till the USA had begun to draw down troops there and move them to Afghanistan to return Iraq to the headlines just as the US moves to engage in Yemen.

The United States finds itself in the position of a fighting bull, running from one end of the ring to another charging every cape offered it to until it is exhausted, what the Mexicans call a "pachanga". That is what Al Qaeda has set out to do. Again: mission accomplished.

In the midst of all of this it might be good to pause, step back and take a look at the "big picture".

What is Al Qaeda really after? The destruction of the USA? In my opinion, no, not really. In fact I think that they could care less about the USA itself. The role the United States plays in supporting corrupt police states that repress Islamic parties in the Middle East is what Al Qaeda are attacking. Even Israel is secondary to them: it motivates their "troops", but it is not the main ring in their circus.

All this was especially evident in the suicide attack in Afghanistan, which brought to the attention of the very anti-American people of Jordan, whose population is 60 percent Palestinian, that their king was in the pocket of the CIA. The anger produced by Gaza was used to defeat the CIA in Afghanistan and degrade the Jordanian monarchy in the process: a brilliant carom shot and an effective morale builder and recruiting poster.

What al Qaeda want to do is to overthrow what they perceive as the client or puppet regimes of the United States in the Middle East and they are using  US power jujitsu fashion to do that. By drawing the USA into ever more aggressive actions in the world of Islam they stimulate aversion to the "moderate" regimes that cooperate with America, in doing so, thus hastening their demise.

What is Al Qaeda's purpose in bringing down these regimes?

To restore the "Caliphate".


Now this caliphate business may sound like something right out of the "1001 Arabian Nights", redolent of Sindbad the Sailor and Aladdin and his magic lamp, or a world empire,  but here it might be useful to recall that the last Islamic caliphate ended as recently March 3, 1924, when Kemal Ataturk closed it down, threw out the Sultan (Caliph) and officially ended the Ottoman empire and westernized Turkey.  Basically then, what al Qaeda are trying to achieve is the Islamic restoration of what was the Arab part of the Ottoman empire, but run by Arabs not by Turks...That's what Lawrence of Arabia (Peter O' Toole)  was promising the Arabs (Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn)... remember?

Is this really that weird?

If you stop and think for a bit and you know your world history since WWI, you will recall that every attempt to mobilize the Arabs in order for them break from the grip of the colonial powers and the USA: pan-Arab nationalism, local nationalism, Arab varieties of socialism, military dictators or a mixture of all of these, has proved ineffectual in advancing the agenda of unity and full sovereignty. Naturally Britain, France and, of course, the USA were pleased by this failure and have always done everything in their power, from bribes to coups, to assassinations, to make that outcome inevitable. Oil or Israel, its all the same from the pan-Arab nationalist point of view, keeping the Arabs down was always the bottom line.

By a process of elimination pan-Arab nationalism has hit on the most reductive version of Islam as the only movement, ideology and source of political energy that is so decocted and fibrous and emotionally satisfying to it adherents that it cannot be co-opted, re-engineered, de-contented and manipulated by the USA.

I have thought of a rather outlier example of how this works, drawn straight from American culture: jazz.

At the end of the 1930s jazz had developed to point where white musicians were able to play it very well. Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden  and Gene Krupa, would be notable examples. Many young African-American musicians, notably Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie, felt that their music was being stolen out from under them by white people and set out to create a way of playing that was so original and complex that the white musicians simply couldn't play it. Thus was "Be-bop" born.

What many Muslims, violent and non-violent alike seem to have hit on is that their ancestral religion is indigestible by globalization. It is a music that globalization, in its American version, simply cannot play: a sort of divine be-bop.

Today in countries like Egypt even moderate Muslims, people that don't plan on putting a bomb in anybody's jockey shorts, are wearing beards and hijabs and chorusing, "Islam is the answer": They see it as a vaccine against being digested and assimilated and then excreted by the dynamics of globalization.

Are Muslims just being insanely paranoiac when they accuse the United States of trying to "destroy" Islam?

In my opinion, yes and no. "Yes", from the American point of view, where we think it jolly nice if some people go to church on Sunday, others go to temple on Saturday and, what the heck, others can go to mosque on Friday if they want to... but for the rest of what is left of the week, it is business as usual or else.

"No", from the point of view of many Muslims, if by "to destroy" means "to trivialize" their religion, which, in their view, is a seven day, 24 hour a day project, which is the arbiter of all human affairs. This is contrary to the rules of our economic system: within globalization the "market" has taken on the role that Islam assigns to God. Therefore Islam being indigestible in its present form must be reshaped or "Disneyfied" if you will. Except it can't be and still be Islam.

More than confronting the American people themselves, it seems to me that Muslim fundamentalists are confronting history's most powerful exponent of a system that was once described as turning "all that is solid into air", leaving commerce as the fundamental activity of all human beings. If we consider in what shape our economic system has left the teachings of Jesus Christ, perhaps the Muslims aren't as far off target as they appear at first glance.

If you stop and think about it, every traditional relationship between human beings that ever existed anywhere, clan, tribe, nationality, religion, family authority, has been either dissolved or degraded by our economic system: this is what we have lost in exchange for our standard of living. We happen to be cool with that, but not everybody else is.

Be that as it may, the principal objective of Muslim fundamentalists, in my opinion, is to eject an alien civilization (us), and all those who empower it (ME regimes), from the spiritual-emotional center of Islam. At heart this is just an continuation of the dismantling of the Euro-American (white) domination of the world that began at the end of WWII, a domination which globalization has given a new breath of life.

So basically this is yet another "national liberation struggle". If we look at the cost-effectiveness of everything Al Qaeda have done since the attack on the USS Cole and the African embassies and compare it with the sacrifices made by the Vietnamese people to finally gain their independence, I imagine that sooner or later the Muslim fundamentalists are going to succeed in driving us out of the Middle East.

What happens then?

Obviously if there is a general Islamist revolution in the Middle East followed by the Magreb, with America's client regimes falling like dominoes, it would have the immediate effect of pushing the price of oil through the roof and that alone would bring on a major economic crisis. It would be every man for himself as Europe, Japan and China scrambled to assure their energy supplies. This might bring protectionism roaring in, if it didn't start a series of wars. Israel, of course, might always do something crazy, but I think that in such a situation, observers might be amazed at how "prudent" the Israelis could be, if Egypt, Jordan and Syria, for example, fell to the Muslim Brotherhood in short succession.

Whatever finally happened, the period of transformation would be a harrowing, violent roller coaster ride, however, when the transformation had been completed, we would find the resulting situation:
  • The new rulers would immediately have to find some way of feeding their populations
  • The only thing they would have to sell to feed them would be oil
  • The thirst of the developed and developing nations for oil would be as great as ever.
In those three points we have the makings of a workable peace.

What would that peace look like?

The best model I can think of would be some Muslim/post-Christian version of the Treaty of Westphalia, a miracle of diplomacy whereby Protestants and Catholics managed to end the "Thirty Years War", religious conflict in Europe, and perhaps most importantly enshrined the idea of state's non-meddling in the internal affairs of other states. This idea of inviolable sovereignty had managed to limp along for hundreds of years until Bush and Blair under aegis of the neocons trashed it... with the results we are living with today.

In some perfect neo-Westphalian world, the Muslim minority of Europe would be allowed to practice their religion in peace and the Christian and Jewish minorities in the Middle East practice theirs. Too good to be true? Well, the part about Christians and Jews being able to practice their religions in peace in the Middle East is a workmanlike description of how the Ottoman empire worked, otherwise how do you think that 19th century Zionist settlers under the patronage of the Rothschilds were allowed to settle in Palestine in the first place?

The bit about the Ottoman empire being a place where the three religions "of the book" lived in peace is why, contrary to many commentators, I view very favorably Turkey's moves to cool their relations with Israel and reclaim a prominent place in the world of Islam. Turkey's role in the post-American-hegemony, multipolar world of compartmentalized and case by case globalization is a key one.

Of course the joker in the deck is Israel. There is always a possibility that Israel might, finding itself "eyeless in Gaza", Samson-like pull the whole thing down around their ears, but I don't think so. I imagine rather that there will be a series of tipping points, where American public opinion visibly sours on Israel's involving the US in an endless, fruitless series of wars that deteriorate America's power and endanger American lives, combined with the aforesaid rise of Islamic republics in the Middle East and the Magreb... not to mention Iran's future possession of the atomic bomb, followed closely by Egypt and Saudi Arabia (then probably called the Islamic Republic of  Mecca and Medina). These tipping points will send many Israelis with double nationality heading for the doors and make it obvious to those who stay that a more accommodating manner of behavior, shall we say, is now required.

"Yihye tov" as the Israelis say, which more or less means, "things will get better," but more accurately, "it will be alright on the night," meaning: "with optimism plus improvisation things will probably turn out OK".

Summing up, this decade will surely be horrible and dangerous, like the  period of the above mentioned Thirty Years War, but the peace that may follow it, like the peace that followed that endless religious war, could be very stable and last for quite a long time. DS


bobbo said...

This is a very excellent summation of what lies ahead, David. If it is obvious to you, I wonder why it is not obvious to the leaders in the West.

Are we so short-sighted as to not see the end game here? The most pressing long-term security initiative the United States must forge is energy independence.

I think that the Bush/Cheyney administration (being traditional Texas oilmen) saw the beginning of this century as their last chance to appropriate the control of the global oil supply. They miscalculated badly, depending too much on the fragile nature of the petro-dollar corruption that keeps all of the "moderate" regimes in power. In the meanwhile, our reactionary approach to the Islamic world as a whole has made that fragility even more evident.

We in the U.S. have wasted valuable time by putting all of our eggs in the petroleum basket. Putting sustainable green energy initiatives aside as too expensive in the short term, prudent leadership would have expanded the investment in newer technology nuclear power to reduce the economic shock we will inevitably face when we no longer have friends in high places in the oil producing countries.

An energy-independent West no longer has to take sides in what is clearly internal Arab/Muslim politics. We could then leave the Chinese to sort it all out.

Anonymous said...

Very good assessment -- perhaps a bit optimistic, but we need some sunlight from time to time. Only problem: you mean SAMSON, not SOLOMON in your pillars of the temple reference, right? -- Pirate Laddie

Anonymous said...

Bookmarked this. Thank you after sharing. Definitely benefit my time.

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Thank you Pirate Laddie for catching my horrible error... If I had written "Victor Mature-like" it would have been OK, but "Solomon" was unforgivable.

Arun said...

I didn't see a resolution of the globalization-versus-Islam conflict in your denouement.

Nor does it take into account what, e.g., the Christian Science Monitor article, cited on my blog notes.

" “There are basically two meccas,” argues Egyptian-born Mamoun Fandy of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “There’s a Mecca that Muslims should visit, and the mecca of jihad that is London.” — quoted in the Christian Science Monitor

PS: from the same article

“I’ve felt for a long time that if radical Sharia law comes to the rest of the world it will start on the streets of London,” says a Pakistani expert on militant Islam who asked not to be identified....The Pakistani analyst, who has close ties to London mosques, argues that nearly every Pakistani radical he knows in London has gone through a “night club” phase. They try out a “clubbing life” that is ultimately unsatisfying. “They try to experience something like a dream of life in the west. About a year later they show up in the mosque, grow beards and are ‘good Muslims,’” he says."

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

I didn't see a resolution of the globalization-versus-Islam conflict in your denouement.

In a sense the "resolution" will mean the end of "globalization", if by that we mean a seamless world without effective frontiers, obstacles to trade or nogo areas

Mike Doyle said...

A bit OT perhaps but interesting background on some earlier exploits by British troops in Yemen (aka Aden) - troops behaving badly.
"Yemen: taking another beating from the West"
Link here
And we wonder why we're not so popular in the Middle East!

Forensic economist said...

More analogies with Afghanistan - I'm reading up on Yemen since that appears to be our next war. It turns out the Russians tried to make Yemen socialist in the mid '60s using Egyptian soldiers. 70,000 Egyptian soldiers could not subdue the tribal areas of Yemen.

I get the impression that in Yemen, like Afghanistan, the central governement has never controlled the whole country, there is a large Shia minority, it has a culture that is clan/tribal based, they don't like outsiders much, and most of the country has never been ruled by foreigners. When the Saudi family conquered the parts of the peninsula the British had no interest in, they stopped at Yemen.

There are apparently already American military "advisors" in Yemen, and the drone attacks have been going on for some time.

This suggests that Obama is following the footsteps of LBJ - reformer, brought us Medicare and civil rights, and is chiefly remembered for Vietnam.