Much like a failed experiment that yields an unintentional discovery, failed states suffer from a warped exploitation within the lab of American empire. The twisted nature of a seemingly endless war against al-Qaeda and like-minded groups is on vivid display around the Horn of Africa, where the threat of attack against the U.S. homeland serves as a de facto license for unilateral military operations. Contrary to the logical objective of stabilization, chaos serves a higher purpose in the grand scheme of U.S. geopolitics.
Yemen and Somalia form a broken spear-tip against Chinese hegemony in the Eastern Hemisphere.
The International Maritime Bureau (IMB), a sub-component of International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), is no stranger to perpetuating the Western status quo into the Indian Ocean. Militarization of the Gulf of Aden didn’t begin yesterday, nor is piracy a new phenomena around the Yemeni archipelago of Socotra. However the IMB’s latest warning that Somali pirates are refueling and arming on Socotra overtly reveals the U.S. plot at work.
"Socotra is strategically located because it is right up there against the Gulf of Aden and also along the eastern seaboard of Yemen," IMB director Pottengal Mukundan explained. "If it is true that the pirates are using Socotra, then it is an extremely disturbing development and it requires immediate investigation."
Mukundan’s claim employs a legitimate front to conceal the real motions behind Somali piracy. It’s true that Yemeni pirates have based themselves out of Socotra and other islands in the past, as several analysts told Reuters Africa. Corrupt officials within Yemen’s government have also been accused of assisting Somali crews. Unidentified pirates just attacked a ship only 20 miles from Aden, Yemen's southern port, necessitating a U.S. Navy rescue mission. The threat of piracy is real enough to provide a shiny veneer of justification for increased military activity within the Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA), as the U.S. Navy designated the Gulf of Aden in 2008, and around Socotra.
"Socotra has been used for months if not longer," said Michael Frodl, with C-LEVEL maritime risk consultancy and an adviser to Lloyd's of London underwriters, citing intelligence reports. "It is perhaps the most important refueling hub for hijacked merchant vessels used as motherships, especially those operating between the Gulf of Aden and India's western waters, mainly off Oman and increasingly closer to the Strait of Hormuz."
Yet these hijacked vessels now symbolize Washington’s hijacking of Yemen’s revolution. For a variety of reasons (all rooted in the acquisition of power), the U.S.-Saudi alliance has imposed a political siege on Yemen’s street coalitions. The IMB’s warning is no coincidence but a ping on the Pentagon’s radar, where Socotra has long tempted Washington into constructing a new base. With U.S. officials legitimizing the remnants of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime and the Pentagon flying drones into southern Yemen’s localized political conflict, increased naval activity along its coast would effectively blockade the fragile nation during a time of historic upheaval.
Fully aware of Socotra’s strategic advantages both regionally and internationally, the Pentagon has pursed inroads to link up with its bomber base in Diego Garcia, roughly 1,900 miles east. One need only glance at a map to observe Socotra’s strategic advantage, the way it caps Africa’s Horn and juts 200 miles into the Indian Ocean. Some analysts suspect that covert operations are already underway. The arrangement, whatever its current stage, would assert new control over the Bab-el-Mandeb choke-point; when combined with the Straight of Hormuz, these points outweigh China’s influence over the Strait of Malacca.
Beyond a regional drone and Special Forces base, militarization of Socotra and the wider Gulf of Aden aims America’s power projection eastward. al-Qaeda’s presence in Yemen and Somalia is protecting America’s spheres of influence in Africa and the Middle East, nudging China into Asia’s eastern half. Already buried under AQAP’s 300-500 fighters, 23 million Yemenis are being crushed by 1.3 billion (non-threatening) Chinese.
Socotra’s propaganda operation, if not a concrete base, is already in effect: heap anything on Yemen’s fire so that it burns blindingly bright. So bright that the nuclear pile is rendered practically invulnerable to external criticism. Terror threats are more common than political details and Washington’s plan, for the most part, is succeeding. The Obama administration has steamrolled Yemen’s revolutionaries without any real damage in U.S. public opinion, which remains low after nearly six months of protests and the Arab Spring's only assassination attempt. "Chaos," in turn, is rising thanks to an economic crisis and U.S.-Yemeni military operations against local militias in the south.
Meanwhile the U.S.-funded African Union mission in Somalia only recently lifted off the ground and requires decades to make a permanent recovery. Last month’s air-strike against an al-Shabab convoy also timed itself to John Brennan’s counter-terror declaration, during which he openly promised to bring U.S. Special Forces, CIA and war machines to Yemen and Somalia. The targets themselves remain nameless, but U.S. officials assured the public that they had “direct ties” to Anwar al-Alwaki, a leading cleric in Yemen’s al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, the Somali pirate who turned up in a New York Court, is now undergoing a similar branding.
Washington’s general scheme to link Yemen and Somalia operates on three levels: both are plotting attacks on the U.S. mainland, AQAP has link to al-Shabab through al-Awlaki, and a future Yemen could undergo “Somaliization.”
The first two claims are true to varying degrees. While al-Qaeda and al-Shabab officials have issued threats against the U.S. homeland, neither has produced a serious attempt to strike. al-Shabab remains a nationalist movement, relatively speaking, and faces internal resistance against turning transnational. al-Qaeda’s local leadership has been left to multiply al-Shabab’s force and concentrate on regional plots. AQAP and Somalia’s AQ cell have also voiced ideological and material support for one another, but these groups mostly operate independently of each other. The third claim undermines the first two through sheer falsity; the threat of al-Qaeda and civil war has been exploited to obstruct Yemen’s revolution.
Given the clandestine mechanisms at work, China itself is being overlooked through no coincidence. The U.S.-Chinese hegemony war isn’t strictly long-term in distance or time; Beijing is laying trade inroads with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Having bid its time in Yemen, China has protected Saleh from the threat of revolution by obstructing UN motions and backing the GCC’s biased power transfer, moves that fit into Libya and Syria’s wider pattern. The battle for Yemen's geopolitical value is very real and immediate.
Although America hasn’t learned many lessons from Yemen and Somalia’s local conflicts, al-Qaeda’s presence is being exploited to further U.S. counter-maneuvers against China. In both Yemen and Somalia’s case, U.S. Special Forces and drones will fail to accomplish the local goals of defeating al-Qaeda and stabilizing the host nation. These tactics will only produce lasting results within a full-spectrum political strategy that, so far, has failed to materialize. Instability on land will generate spillover in the form of piracy, necessitating naval operations that fail to stabilize the conflicts. They will, on the other hand, militarize Africa’s Horn over the next decade and possibly over the next century.
Joseph Stalin once remarked that nuclear weapons “are meant to frighten those with weak nerves,” and the same can be said of al-Qaeda. As the Obama administration's response to Yemen’s revolution conclusively demonstrates, Washington’s public fear of domestic terrorism doesn’t match its private willingness to exploit it internationally.