Spectre of Serial War
Security agencies are now focusing their sights on a whole set of countries deemed to be at-risk. According to a leaked confidential memo, people from these countries will be profiled and targeted for “additional screening” at airports. In the words of one US commentator for the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“… most frightening to me was that while the leaked document deemed that holders of passports from Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Libya, Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Yemen, and Algeria should be subjected to additional screening, no such special attention was given to holders of passports from Saudi Arabia – the home of 15 of the 9/11 hijackers. And now it’s worth noting that the list doesn’t include Pakistan or Nigeria – Umar Farouk’s home – either.”
The decision to widen the “screening” of travellers to encompass this vast array of countries deemed to be countries of particular threat to the West fits well within the original logic of the pre-9/11 geostrategy that has now become the ‘War on Terror’.
Hints of this geostrategy surfaced from disparate sources, such as former NATO Commander General Wesley Clarke, who wrote in his book Winning Modern Wars:
“As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan.”
Clarke didn’t mention Yemen. But Yemen was explicitly mentioned in an address by the infamous Richard Perle – then Chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense policy Board and former Assistant Secretary of Defence in the Reagan administration – in the same month, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Washington DC:
“Those who think Iraq should not be next may want to think about Syria or Iran or Sudan or Yemen or Somalia or North Korea or Lebanon or the Palestinian Authority.”
Obama’s Neocons: Kissinger and Brzezinski
The escalation of US military activity in Yemen, therefore, is by no means simply a response to events of recent years, but merely the continuing extension of a wider bipartisan geostrategy that was formulated not only by people largely associated with Republican neocons, but also by arch-Democrats, such as former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former National Security Adviser to President Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski. During the 1970s Middle East oil crisis, Kissinger secretly advocated that the US military might have to intervene to directly and permanently occupy the oil-producing Gulf States to prevent future volatility in US energy security. Four years before 9/11, in his study published by the Council on Foreign Relations, Brzezinski outlined in unnerving detail the contours of what the Bush, and now the Obama, administration, have pursued in the context of the ‘War on Terror’: a plan to dominate “Eurasia” – the landmass comprising the continents of Europe and Asia, at the juncture of which lies the Middle East:
“… how America ‘manages’ Eurasia is critical… A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions. A mere glance at the map also suggests that control over Eurasia would almost automatically entail Africa’s subordination, rendering the Western Hemisphere and Oceania geopolitically peripheral to the world’s central continent. About 75 per cent of the world’s people live in Eurasia, and most of the world’s physical wealth is there as well, both in its enterprises and underneath its soil. Eurasia accounts for 60 per cent of the world’s GNP and about three-fourths of the world’s known energy resources.”
“Two basic steps are thus required: first, to identify the geostrategically dynamic Eurasian states that have the power to cause a potentially important shift in the international distribution of power and to decipher the central external goals of their respective political elites and the likely consequences of their seeking to attain them;… second, to formulate specific U.S. policies to offset, co-opt, and/or control the above…”
Democratic neocons Kissinger and Brzezinski continue to play a key role in Obama’s foreign and security policies, particularly in… (drum roll)… Eurasia! (Eureka? – no, way too easy) In December 2008 before Obama’s foreign policy team was even fully formed, the incoming President dispatched Kissinger to Moscow to meet Putin and president Medvedev. Kissinger re-visited Russia in March 2009, this time joined by a whole cohort of former senior US administration officials, just two weeks before the Medvedev-Obama summit in London. Although the White House insisted this was a purely private affair, it was obvious that his visit was part of normal ‘Track Two’ diplomacy. Brzezinski is also playing a behind-the-scenes advisory role to Obama, on Russia and NATO, as well as on issues in the Middle East including Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Just how key their role is, is a matter for debate. While Brzezinski has acted as Obama’s senior foreign policy advisor, Kissinger purportedly has no ‘official’ position. Or has he? “As the most recent National Security Advisor of the United States,” declared Obama’s National Security Advisor General Jim Jones at the 45th Munich Conference, “I take my daily orders from Dr. Kissinger, filtered down through Generaal [sic] Brent Scowcroft and Sandy Berger, who is also here. We have a chain of command in the National Security Council that exists today.”
“I think my role today is a little bit different than you might expect”, he added.
US and UK governments are also exploring the prospect of profiling passengers on the basis of race, age and gender. While that is not to endorse profiling of any kind as a meaningful and viable security procedure, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s observation is worth noting – if profiling is going ahead, why is it avoiding US client states like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, among others?
Curiously enough, Wesley Clarke put the case very well seven years ago:
“And what about the real sources of terrorists – U.S. allies in the region like Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia? Wasn’t it the repressive policies of the first, and the corruption and poverty of the second, that were generating many of the angry young men who became terrorists? And what of the radical ideology and direct funding spewing from Saudi Arabia? Wasn’t that what was holding the radical Islamic movement together?”
It is more complicated than Clarke makes out, but he makes a valid point. Why are known state-sponsors of Islamist terrorism being ignored? The question, of course, brings up the wider issue – what exactly is Yemen’s relation to the pre-9/11 bipartisan geostrategy that is currently playing out at the hands of the Obama administration?
Militarization of Geopolitical Energy Choke-Points
A glimpse of the answer to this question actually arrived one day before the foiled attack from Associated Press:
“The Pentagon recently confirmed it has poured nearly $70 million in military aid into Yemen this year–compared with none in 2008. The U.S. military has boosted its counterterrorism training for Yemeni forces and is providing more intelligence, according to U.S. officials and analysts. The result appears to be a sharp escalation in Yemen’s campaign against al-Qaida, which previously amounted to scattered raids against militants, mixed with tolerance of some fighters who made vague promises they would avoid terrorist activity….
“Yemen’s government, which has little control outside the capital, has been distracted by other internal problems. It is fighting a fierce war against Shiite rebels who rose up near the Saudi border, and Saudi forces have gotten involved, battling rebels who have crossed into its territory. The government is also struggling with a secessionist movement in the once-independent south and trying to deal with rampant poverty…
“The central government’s lack of control of areas outside Yemen’s capital – places where many angry tribes are willing to take in al-Qaeda militants – have raised U.S. fears that the beleaguered nation could collapse into chaos. Yemen not only lies next to Saudi Arabia and near the oil-rich nations of the Persian Gulf, it overlooks vital sea routes in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.”
Couple of key points become obvious from this. The last year, 2009, has seen a sudden massive, unprecedented escalation in US military intelligence activity in Yemen. The Abdulmutallab incident has only intensified and legitimized this activity. The US and Britain are moving to operate a joint “counter-terrorism police unit in Yemen along with more support for the Yemeni coastguard”, while also “pushing for more UN intervention to tackle the emerging terrorist threat in Somalia.” So there is a question of chronology – why now? Then the geopolitics – the US-UK presence in Yemen puts their military forces right on the cusp of the Horn of Africa, poised for intensified force projection in Africa, with a focus on fighting off Somali piracy. The region between Yemen and Somalia is where we find the Bab el-Mandab, the closure of which according to the US Energy Information Administration:
“… could keep tankers from the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal/Sumed pipeline complex, diverting them around the southern tip of Africa. The Strait of Bab el-Mandab is a chokepoint between the horn of Africa and the Middle East, and a strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean. It is located between Yemen, Djibouti, and Eritrea, and connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Exports from the Persian Gulf must pass through Bab el-Mandab before entering the Suez Canal. In 2006, an estimated 3.3 million bbl/d flowed through this waterway toward Europe, the United States, and Asia. The majority of traffic, around 2.1 million bbl/d, flows northbound through the Bab el-Mandab to the Suez/Sumed complex.”
Energy Crisis – US Corporate Loss
There are various problems. Yemeni oil production has peaked, declining from 450,000 barrels per day in 2003 to 280,000 in early 2009. This has led to drastic decline in Yemen’s oil exports by around half – expected to decline to zero in about 10 years. During this period, the Yemen government has attempted increasingly to gain control over domestic oil production projects. As of 2005, a dispute broke out between two major US oil companies, Hunt Oil and ExxonMobil, and the Yemen government, over production of “Block 18”. “Natural gas reserves from Marib Block 18 and other fields located in the vicinity have been dedicated to the project, which will require approximately 1 billion cubic feet of gas per day to produce 6.7 million tonnes of LNG per annum”, reads Hunt Oil’s website on its Yemen projects. The existing gas production facilities in Marib Block 18 currently have a capacity of 3.2 billion cubic feet per day… The LNG will be shipped to markets in the U.S. and Korea.”
Through the Yemen Exploration and Production Company (YEPC), Hunt and Exxon have produced oil in Block 18 for 20 years since 1982. They say that this period was extended for five years in an agreement signed by the Yemen government and YEPC in January 2004, and beginning in November 2005. But Yemen would have none of it, reports Gulf Oil & Gas:
“Since November 15, 2005, the Government of Yemen has taken numerous actions to prevent YEPC from exercising its duties as operator of Block 18 in breach of the various legally executed and binding agreements signed in 2004. This is without precedent in Yemen. Further, Yemen has attempted to replace YEPC in the Marib Block with a government-owned company, Safer Exploration and Production Operations Company (‘SEPOC’)”
Hunt and Exxon responded by filing for arbitration with the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris. The outcome of this was announced in late November 2008 – and it didn’t look good for Big Oil. “… the outcome has ensured that the Yemeni state retains earnings from a disputed production block from 2005 to date”, reported Arabian Oil & Gas, “a ruling worth billions of dollars to the oil-revenue dependent state.” Clearly, Yemen’s insistence on maximising its control over gas revenues is partly a response to its rapidly plummeting revenues from oil exports.
The following year, 2009, saw an escalating deterioration of conditions inside Yemen, with intensifying and proliferating clashes between Yemeni security forces, al-Qaeda insurgents and Shi’ite rebels. Thus Yemen’s own oil and gas energy resources, its geostrategic position in relation to Gulf energy and North African energy supplies, and its escalating domestic energy crisis, have played a critical role in the deepening of US military involvement in Yemen under Obama from early 2009 – now escalating in the aftermath of the crotch-bombing incident.
Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author and political analyst. He is the Executive Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, and has taught courses in contemporary history and international relations theory at the University of Sussex. His Doctoral thesis investigated the radicalization processes and dynamics of violent conflict in the context of hierarchical social systems in the modern world. Dr. Ahmed has also published extensively on international security issues, including The London Bombings; The War on Truth; Behind the War on Terror; and The War on Freedom. He has been an expert commentator for BBC News 24, BBC World Today, Al-Jazeera English, among others. He is currently advising the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst on engaging British Muslim communities. Visit Dr. Nafeez’ website.