Tuesday, January 12, 2010

THE ROVING EYE Empire reloaded By Pepe Escobar

HONG KONG - One's got to hand it to failed underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab. He is the real Man of the Year. With a single twitch of his lower parts, the now iconic young Nigerian single-handedly not only forced the Barack Obama administration to unleash tight airport security measures, a new virtual striptease craze bound to bolster the fortunes of selected players in the security industry; but he also managed to place no fewer than 675 million Muslims (plus sundry Nigerian and even Cuban Christians) on a Cyclopean terror list of 10 "prone to terrorism countries". [1]

That's quite a feat for an apparently trained-in-Yemen jihadi charged by a US grand jury - no irony intended - with "attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction". But weren't WMDs supposed to be buried in Iraq?

It's Pearl Harbor time
As much as 9/11 was the "Pearl Harbor" dreamed of by the neo-conservatives to unleash the American Eagle - which started with the bombing of Afghanistan and morphed into the disastrous invasion of Iraq - Abdulmuttalab's failed attempt to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day in the skies above Detroit is a godsend mini-Pearl Harbor destined to advance the Pentagon's "full spectrum dominance" doctrine.

Yemen could not be a more strategically mouth-watering proposition - with Saudi Arabia to the north, the Red Sea to the west, the Gulf of Aden to the south leading to the Arabian Sea, and on the other side, in Africa, Somalia.

As far as the Pentagon's "full spectrum dominance" goes, Yemen falls right into the Pentagon net alongside Somali pirates and the new bogeyman, al-Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP), when it comes to the militarization of a key strategic oil chokepoint, the Bab el-Mandab, no matter the avalanche of denials from the Barack Obama administration of any intention to put US boots on the ground in Yemen.

The Strait of Bab el-Mandab between Yemen, Djibouti and Eritrea is a key strategic oil chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, linking the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, through which flows at least 3.5 million barrels of oil a day towards the US, Europe and Asia.

Plus, from Washington's point of view, there's the potential of oil reserves lying in Yemen near Saudi Arabia at the Masila Basin and the Shabwa Basin, which could in the not too distant future fall nicely into US Big Oil's lap, unlike Iraq's. (See Iraq's oil auction hits the jackpot Asia Times Online, December 16, 2009).

So it's no surprise that Obama, on the record, had to expand the never-say-die "war on terror" - the cover narrative for "full spectrum dominance". According to Obama, AfPak is still "the epicenter of al-Qaeda", but the Yemen chapter is a "more serious problem". Thus comes into play still one more rehash of the same old narrative: a fragile dictator, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh (in absolute power since 1978) needs America to defeat the terrorists (AQAP).

In practice, the Obama administration has just wallowed in the mire of an Arab Afghanistan, propping up Saleh against the Southern Movement, an unlikely, popular-based alliance of socialists and Islamic conservatives led by a former jihadi, Tariq al-Fadhli, and now characterized as a full nationalist movement. In addition, the Saleh regime is fighting a Shi'ite rebellion in north Yemen. Saleh is Sunni. The rebels are Shi'ite. Saleh is obviously backed by the Wahhabi Saudi regime. Yemen's current oil, by the way, is crucially in the south.

Saleh predictably will dub all his enemies as "al-Qaeda" and call the cavalry - US Special Forces and legions of counter-intelligence operatives. Not to mention the drones. Few noted that last December 17, Obama ordered the bombing of suspected al-Qaeda positions in Yemen with cruise missiles, an attack in which 49 civilians were reported to have been killed, according to Agence France-Presse. Welcome to yet one more sinister Arab-Afghan amalgam.

United States intelligence admits there are no more than 200 al-Qaeda jihadis in southern Yemen (that certainly beats those 100 in Afghanistan). What AQAP basically wants is to bring down US-propped dictators such as Saleh, Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and the House of Saud - a popular agenda across much of the Middle East. So Obama may go to Cairo and talk about democracy in the Muslim world as much as he wants; what the Arab street registers is Obama playing the same old empire game of supporting yet another dictator.

It's the oil ...
"Full spectrum dominance" as applied to Yemen may be - as it always is - about the containment of China, as in threatening China's oil imports (6% of its total) from Port Sudan on the Red Sea, just north of the Bab el-Mandab.

But even if the US eventually controls the port of Aden - the gateway to Asia via the Indian Ocean - China will relentlessly continue to evolve its complex strategy of avoiding chokepoints such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Malacca, or indeed the Bab el-Mandab (See China plays Pipelineistan Asia Times Online, December 24).

The idea of "full spectrum dominance" is about threatening to cut energy flows not only to China but even to the European Union (EU) or anyone for that matter who crosses Washington's policy makers. And it's as much about Saudi Arabia as about China. As Saudi oil exports also have to negotiate the Bab el-Mandab, US "interest" in Yemen means a graphic warning to the House of Saud: don't even think of trading oil in euros or in a basket of currencies including the Chinese yuan.

It also is about isolating Iran - as in using a Sunni dictator to fight a Shi'ite rebellion and in militarizing a useful battleground alongside ally Saudi Arabia. In Washington's scenario, the winners should be the Pentagon, the Central Intelligence Agency and Israel's Mossad, and the losers should be China, Russia and Iran. The turbulent Yemeni street was not consulted and certainly has ideas of its own.

Obama is packaging his strategy as a "war on al-Qaeda". It's not a war. And even if the counter-insurgency gang in the Pentagon conducts it, it's destined to fail. Meanwhile, there's not the remotest chance in sight of a real US withdrawal from Iraq, the end of the AfPak war, or a viable, non-apartheid Palestinian state.

Now that would be a real, concerted counter-terrorist operation, to finish once and for all with the ghost of all those "al-Qaedas". It won't happen. The name of the game is "full spectrum dominance" and empire reloaded. Fasten your body scanners; the decade promises a bumpy ride.

1. The countries are Sudan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen, plus "state sponsors of terrorism" Iran, Syria, Libya and Cuba.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at pepeasia@yahoo.com.