February 28, 2011

U.S. Blackout Over Yemen

Hillary Clinton praised Ali Abdullah Saleh's reforms and advocated "unity" during her January stopover - moments before the revolution

Robert Gates added an interesting twist to the White House’s deliberation over Libya during his weekend speech at West Point. With Muammar Gaddafi striking back against a semi-conventional insurgency through his air-force, special forces, and mercenaries, U.S. military units close upon the country as pressure builds for international intervention. Except the Pentagon chief has sounded the alarm against sending, “a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa.”

"We are not removing options off the table at this point," White House spokesman Jay Carney responded on Monday.

The ensuing comparisons towards Libya tend to ignore the present history unfolding in the Muslim world. Perhaps nation-building from the outside is an impossible concept, but Gates doesn’t elaborate on his thinking. The obvious takeaway is that America can’t wage repeated counterinsurgencies as in Iraq and Afghanistan; COIN is time and resource intensive by nature, explicitly designed to bleed the stronger side dry. The problem is that Libya’s opposition (and Muslims in general) expect some form of international assistance, political or military, after decades of Western repression.

So now President Barack Obama has one more factor to consider as he deliberates the level of force against Gaddafi’s destructive behavior. While an invasion of Libya appears unrealistic compared to a broader array of Air Force, Navy, and Special Forces operations, the complexities of war rapidly multiply beyond human control. Expecting an “easy” fight is the quickest road to defeat, and Gaddafi’s unconventional forces could tie down an invading force for years. Nor does his death assure the end of war. Nation-building may be required.

But judging by the single-minded message out of Washington, the White House and Pentagon will gladly line up Libya as their next target. Anything to block the view of Yemen’s revolution.

As uprisings stir one by one across the Muslim world, it’s become common for Washington and foreign dictators to hide behind each other. Former president Hosni Mubarak crumbled partially because Egypt’s revolution came to dominate the international sphere, while states like Algeria, Libya, Bahrain, and Yemen took refuge behind its shadow.

A geopolitical game of hide and seek.

One might have expected Washington to address Yemen’s growing unrest on Monday, considering Obama’s constant talk of “consistency” and “core values,” but Gaddafi wiped out any trace. For now President Ali Abdullah Saleh, a vital U.S. ally in its war against al-Qaeda, enjoys a comfy refuge behind the maniacal "Colonel." The White House issued a lengthy briefing from UN ambassador Susan Rice that never mentioned Yemen's crisis. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking to the UN Human Rights Council, centered her remarks around Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya - and upholding human rights and democracy - as if these were the only countries experiencing revolution. The State Department’s briefing jumped from Egypt, Iran, Libya, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan - but never stopped by Yemen.

In a world where most everything is coordinated, Saleh’s exclusion yields no possibility of an accident. One crackdown covers up another.

Few lessons have been gleaned from Egypt judging by the U.S. response to Yemen’s uprising. With Obama keeping quiet the entire month, Washington stubbornly fails to realize that a cone of silence accelerates the very instability it fears. With AQAP on the offensive in Yemen’s east and Saleh consumed by his political survival, many believe his government has become distracted against the group. Washington’s concern is manifested in its silence, however this inaction creates no advantage for U.S. policy. The larger the protests, the more Saleh is consumed with staying alive. AQAP recedes as a priority.

And were he to clamp down on AQAP to curry new favor in the West, he’s liable to squash the Southern Movement in the process, exacerbating Yemen’s domestic crisis.

But what seems unfortunate may not be for Yemeni protesters. Though instability looms on their near-term horizon, Washington’s support for Saleh and corresponding silence merely enables its nightmare of a Saleh-less Yemen. As Saleh grows bolder from America’s public inaction, he increasingly jeopardizes his regime through violence and stall tactics. This has sped up the revolution and hardened the opposition’s demands, bringing the country closer to real regime change.

The only “unity” Saleh knows is how to unite the country against him.

Ultimately, true cooperation with Yemen’s tribes stand a better chance of countering AQAP than Saleh’s bribery. Washington simply needs to pull the plug on Saleh and he wouldn’t last long. That leaves America to jump on the right side early or go down with the ship and its delusional captain. Why does Obama even want to be near the same boat as these dictators?

Sooner or later Yemen will take center stage; Saleh offers the next high-profile, U.S.-supported dictator. As regimes fall one by one, others will lose their cover to hide behind. The shadows of tyranny will recede as the Sun's rays cleanse the region. Either Libya’s opposition topples Gaddafi and Yemen takes the revolutionary lead, or Saleh’s own actions reach a point where they cannot be systematically ignored by the U.S. government. Maybe Tuesday is the day to call him out.

Although that’s what we thought of today.

Saleh Spins Unity Into Division

During the initial week of Egypt’s revolution, as protesters flocked to the streets by the hundreds of thousands, they happened to find themselves aiding the very regimes they ideologically oppose. Test subjects trapped within a maze of government security measures, foreign protesters and dictators alike scan Tunisia and Egypt’s uprisings for tactics to apply and avoid in their own battles.

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh tried to learn from Hosni Mubarak’s fall, promising not to run for a fifth term in 2013 and listing economic incentives for the unemployed youth. At first his strategy appeared to work as low turnout kept his concerns to a minimum. President Barack Obama praised Saleh’s “reform” while urging for “concrete action,” and many international observers wrote Yemen off from an Egyptian-style uprising.

Then reality kicked in, exposing these illusions as silencing tactics and turning Saleh into Gaddafi.

Although Obama told Saleh to refrain from violence, over three weeks have passed since he last spoke of Yemen (privately at that). During this time state-controlled and sponsored violence suppressed turnout and killed dozens of protesters, providing a clear rallying point for Saleh’s parliamentary and tribal opposition. After a month of hard campaigning against Yemeni security forces, nearly 200,000 protesters massed for Friday’s “Day of Rage,” considered the largest protest in the country’s history.

Meanwhile White House and State Department websites remain blank.

Now squarely feeling the revolution’s heat, Saleh is reverting to typical authoritarian fear tactics. First blaming the opposition for failing to negotiate - even though he both breaks and fails to deliver on his promises - Yemen’s endangered president unleashed his standard one-two punch. With the international media magnifying the impression that Saleh’s tribal allies are abandoning him, he’s now pointing to these same fractures as proof that a war looms in his absence.

And condemning the "attempt to split the country into north and south” - the Houthis and Southern Movement.

"There is a conspiracy against Yemen's unity and territorial integrity and we, in the armed forces, have served to preserve the republican regime with every drop of blood we have,” Saleh warned, a second place finish to “al-Qaeda is behind Libya's unrest.”

Oddly, Saleh has downplayed the Hashid tribe’s trigger even as he threatens instability. Last week Sheikh Hussein al Ahmar, a powerful chief in the Hashid and a member of Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC), promised to summon his militia if violence against protesters continued. In the wake of new bloodshed, Hussein threw his full weight behind Friday’s “Day of Rage”: “I'm announcing my resignation from the ruling party, party of corruption, and my joining to the revolution of the young people until this regime is toppled.”

GPC officials and analysts were quick to paint Hussein as a “black sheep” and a rogue, labeling his move as a publicity stunt. They even use the recent violence to denounce his oath to protect protesters. Some Yemeni analysts expect the Hashid to switch back to Saleh’s side when he pays them again, while other Hashid leaders renounced Hussein’s actions as his own. Abdul Ghani al-Iryani, a prominent Yemeni political analyst, told Al Jazeera, "It subtracts from the power of what was a popular political protest... it makes it more militaristic and regional."

al-Iryani appears to be referencing Saleh’s own threat of tribal warfare: the possibility that the Hashid will summon tens of thousands of armed tribesman to the capital. And since Yemen’s military is comprised a significant number of Hashid, the additional fear looms of mass defects to the protesters’ side. Saleh is rightfully nervous as Yemen’s most powerful tribe unites against him. Beyond Hussein lies his brother Sadeq, the 'Sheikh of Sheikhs,” who tacitly moved to the protesters’ side by advocating, “I'm the brother of all."

Their brother Hamid eyes Saleh’s position.

Yemen’s various tribes and political actors clearly hope to exploit the wider opposition movement for their own personal gains. This, however, isn’t abnormal during a revolution. Everyone wants something and Saleh happens to stand in the way of it all. Predicting the future actions of Yemen’s tribes cannot be achieved strictly through their histories. The revolution’s overriding lesson is to trap the government in the aggressor role, and to never cede the moral high-ground. Mass civil-disobedience can overpower weak autocracies.

Saleh's contrast couldn’t be more delusional, playing the division card just as Yemen’s opposition is finally attempting to unify. A civil war remains possible because he's promising one.

So is Saleh setting up a counterattack to his own tribe’s “renegades?” through the threat of civil war? Evidence to the affirmative already unfolds in southern Yemen, particularly the port city of Aden, where most killings have occurred. The secessionist Southern Movement’s stronghold is haunted by Saleh’s security forces, now trained by the U.S., who periodically arrest its leaders and suppress its supporters under the threat of AQAP. Yesterday Saleh blamed Aden’s violence on “mercenaries” and the SM, saying, "They are now destroying every nice thing in Aden, for nothing but selfishness and remnants of colonialism.”

Simultaneously, sources told the Yemen Post that at least five SM leaders have just been arrested in Aden. With Yemen’s diverse opposition now attempting to coalesce, Saleh has twisted “unity” into his own slogan. But in the south’s case, “unity” is code for crackdown.

For these reasons and others, none of Yemen’s opposition will pay much attention to Saleh’s latest propaganda - except to plan their security. Few believe his promise not to seek another term or expect him to restore Yemen’s decayed economy. Their plights vary yet Saleh’s treatment remains consistent: violence, poverty, corruption, marginalization, and indignity. Tens of thousands continue to march across the country, in the northern cities of Ibb and Hudeida, and in Aden and Taiz. Houthis have begun to join the youth at Sana' university. And Yemen's main opposition group, the Joint Parties Meeting, has announced nationwide rallies for Tuesday.

This is real unity.

How far Yemen’s opposition goes in reducing Saleh's power remains to be seen, as does his reaction. But with his days ticking down, the likeliest fuse of civil war stems from himself.

February 27, 2011

Obama Bleeding Credibility as Protesters Bleed

Last Wednesday, as violence proliferated across Libya, President Barack Obama issued his first speech on Africa’s newest revolution. Having released a written statement shortly after February 15th, when several hundred Libyans gathered in Benghazi to protest the arrest of Fathi Terbil, Obama went silent as the State Department took command. In Voice of America’s own words, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became “the primary public face and voice of the U.S. response.”

Sadly, a reoccurring theme.

Seemingly begging for such momentous change during his campaign, Obama has receded from the spotlight as the Muslim world transforms before his eyes. For someone allegedly obsessed with public relations, Obama’s decision (or indecision) to let others speak for him has entangled America’s overall response. While Obama may believe he’s saving himself for “the big moments” - times of gushing bloodshed or immediate regime change - his delays over the past month have spilled innocent blood in the streets.

And delegation to his officials disregards how Muslims feel about certain U.S. policymakers. They want Obama, the one American they believed they could trust. They don’t want anything to do with Clintons and Bidens.

No longer enjoying the luxury of waiting as death counts escalated, the White House refreshed its page on February 23rd, blaring Libya beside a stoic Obama. By February 20th casualty figures already reached the hundreds as Muammar Gaddafi unleashed the functioning parts of his military, his mercenaries, and paid Libyans off the streets. Rumors into the thousands circulated by February 23rd.

But Obama coolly explained to reporters, “In a volatile situation like this one, it is imperative that the nations and peoples of the world speak with one voice, and that has been our focus. Yesterday a unanimous U.N. Security Council sent a clear message that it condemns the violence in Libya, supports accountability for the perpetrators, and stands with the Libyan people.”

Nearly four days later, Obama finally did get America up to speed with the international community after calling for Gaddafi’s immediate exit. The Washington Post reports, “Obama made the statement in a telephone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, bringing his policy in line with what European leaders began calling for several days ago.”

Clearly the White House does see something wrong with its response, because explanations for Obama’s delay immediately followed. Reading from the Egyptian script, his administration continues to maintain its line that “Libya’s future will be decided by the people.” To preserve this criteria, the White House later summarized his remarks: "When a leader's only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.”

Clinton echoed this sentiment by insisting, "We have always said that the [Gaddafi] government's future is a matter for the Libyan people to decide, and they have made themselves clear. "[Gaddafi] has lost the confidence of his people and he should go, without further bloodshed and violence."

However Washington has already violated its “principle” in Egypt and other U.S. allies such as Bahrain and Yemen, raising questions of its applicability to Libya. At no time did the White House and Pentagon actually leave Egypt up to Egyptians, from Clinton’s initial support of Mubarak to the Suleiman option to the military council installed to oversee the transition. This council is widely criticized for protecting Mubarak’s entrenched allies and, after repeated use of force on protesters, may soon confront another mass movement.

And yet Obama continues to preach, in strictest sense of the word, “Now, throughout this period of unrest and upheaval across the region the United States has maintained a set of core principles which guide our approach. These principles apply to the situation in Libya. As I said last week, we strongly condemn the use of violence in Libya... Let me be clear. The change that is taking place across the region is being driven by the people of the region. This change doesn’t represent the work of the United States or any foreign power. It represents the aspirations of people who are seeking a better life.”

Words of someone trying to catch up - who doesn’t believe the United States has fully expressed its core principles.

Declaring that “the whole world” is watching, Obama seems oblivious to being tested himself. We know this to be untrue though, given reports of his dissatisfaction over his perception. Obama believes his office should be responding differently to this historic moment, wonders how and why he’s on the wrong side. That leaves him simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of events and his own circle, whose updates he repeatedly emphasizes as if they were a good thing.

The American presidency was conceived to resolve deadlocks during emergencies, a system that works well with a decisive commander and rigid chain of command. But the Oval Office's downside is currently on display. Obama has shown an explicit dislike of hard decisions during his first years of foreign policy, decisions that have no middle and need to be called out on the spot.

Gaddafi needed to go before the revolution erupted.

So why wait until now? The White House’s second excuse for delaying its call for Gaddafi’s exit illuminates its thinking. Criticized for a soft response to the most violent suppression thus far, U.S. officials said the safety of US citizens in Libya “tempered” Washington's reaction. Which weighs U.S. citizens’ lives above Libyans. Though meaning well in America, this excuse shows a complete lack of sensitivity to Libyans' own lives. Sympathy is as scarce as water in the desert. Too many people have, for too long, sacrificed their well being to preserve favorable conditions for the West.

And Obama can’t be accused of any deception here.

“First, we are doing everything we can to protect American citizens,” he opened his February 23rd address. “That is my highest priority. In Libya, we've urged our people to leave the country and the State Department is assisting those in need of support. Meanwhile, I think all Americans should give thanks to the heroic work that's being done by our foreign service officers and the men and women serving in our embassies and consulates around the world. They represent the very best of our country and its values.”

It says something in itself when Obama uses Libya’s plight to sneak in a Raymond Davis reference. Too many unmentionables buried beneath “democracy” and “values” - this remains America’s problem in the Muslim world.

The possibility cannot be discounted that Gaddafi would threaten U.S. citizens and personnel had Obama issued an earlier call for his removal. However “Colonel Crazy” lost his mind before February 23rd, leaving Libyans to pay the real price of this risk. Whether Egyptian servitude for Israel, Saudi Arabian oil, Bahrain’s 5th Fleet, Yemen’s al-Qaeda threat, or citizens in Libya, U.S. interests continue to rank first in priority. This trend most accurately expresses Washington’s consistency.

Worse still, Obama speaks in a manner of ignoring all negative perceptions towards U.S. policy, an unflattering ignorance that comes off as delusional.

Neither Egyptians nor Libyans believe America’s response is consistent or based on its values. On the contrary, the international media and observers are largely united in the hypocrisy of Washington’s past and present policies. Obama has issued no comment on Yemen despite over a month of protesting and state-controlled violence. In America’s own streets, solidarity marches beg Obama to change his position to the side of all protesters, foreign and domestic. And in Libya, protesters grew furious with his February 23rd speech after failing to mention sanctions or even Gaddafi’s name.

“Listen to the words of a representative protester speaking to Anderson Cooper after President Obama finally did break his silence on Libya,” William Bennett wrote in an article asking “Where is Obama as the Middle East boils?”
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: "The Libyan public are angry from the statement was given by President Obama today. Everybody was disappointed.

COOPER: You feel he didn't go for enough?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No... It's nonsense. I thought that he's going to give even threats or warning for this to stop. I expected more, to be honest. I expected to read between the lines from his speech. I did not see that. I was very disappointed, not me alone. Everybody was disappointed. We want America to support us.”
Luckily for Obama, protesters across the world cannot afford to refuse U.S. and Western assistance during their historic struggle for democracy. And Muslims still want to believe in the hope Obama promised at Cairo. Except he’s giving them no reason to. If he keeps bleeding in Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Palestine, Pakistan - the list goes on - Obama might find himself completely tapped out of the optimism he initially rekindled in the Middle East.

And once he goes, Muslims won’t have anyone they can trust in Washington.

February 26, 2011

Revolution Exposes Hypocrisy of "Anti-Terrorism"

Published by J of Al Jazeera:

The string of uprisings in North Africa have laid bare Western governments' relationships with regimes in the region, which pro-democracy activists argue have long been fixated on anti-terrorism, immigration and oil.

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, appears to be on the brink of joining Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak - both ousted by their own people. In Algeria, meanwhile, Abdelaziz Bouteflika's government is holding firm, clamping down on protests and carrying out limited reforms in a bid to lull anti-regime rage.

The four men have co-operated to varying degrees with the West in the post 9/11 era, offering their services against the perceived twin menaces of political Islam and migration from the African continent to Europe.

Salima Ghezali, a well-known Algerian journalist and rights activist, says that politicians have used these supposed threats to justify state violence. Elites in the West, she argues, have attempted to distract voters by playing up threats to security, whilst sidestepping debate on their economies. Their counterparts in the developing world have used the same arguments to draw attention away from "institutional chaos".

"It is this chaos which is provoking and fueling the anger of the people," she says.

By focusing on security, leaders have found a means to legitimize state violence, withhold rights and freedoms, and neglect governance, Ghezali says. "Violence has even become a means of social and political advancement. Murderers have become heroes and hold power in public institutions."

Jeremy Keenan, a professorial research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, agrees that the uprisings are, in some way, related to the prevalence of anti-terrorist policy.

"I think that whole 'war on terror' syndrome has had a potentially significant role in what we're seeing today," Keenan says. "These states have become more repressive in the knowledge that they have the backing of the West."

Demographic disconnect

Many youthful protesters are no longer willing to swallow their leaders’ use of anti-colonialist ideology to justify their political power.

Far from fighting imperialism, these leaders, their opponents say, have been complicit with the West: Acting as its torturers, buying its arms and patrolling the Mediterranean Sea to stem the tides of young people desperate to flee their homelands. All were partners in the CIA's controversial 'extraordinary rendition program' and Libya has been a pro-active partner in a secretive Rome-Tripoli deal, signed in 2009, to intercept boats carrying migrants. In return for the sea patrols, Italy pledged to pay Libya $7bn over 20 years.

"The young generation of Algerians, and the not-so-young, don’t have any illusions about the convictions of their leaders," Ghezali explains.

Despite being skeptical of their leaders' ideological leanings, Ghezali says the youth do still respect authentic symbols of the Algerian War of Independence. Anti-government protesters in Libya have taken to waving the pre-Gaddafi, post-independence flag - a reference to the country's struggle against colonial rule.

With the exception of Ben Ali, all of these leaders have been in government since before most of their people were born. Bouteflika, for example, first became a minister in 1962, yet rules over a country where the average age is 27, according to the CIA World Factbook. Gaddafi took power in 1969, while the average Libyan is just 24.

Playing the 'Islamist card'

The region's leaders have repeatedly tried to portray the current wave of uprisings as somehow terrorist-related.

In a recently released report, Martin Scheinin, the UN special rapporteur on the protection of human rights while countering terrorism, details how Tunisia's counterterrorism laws and policies played a central part in the former government's crushing of political opposition.

And, as Scheinin notes in an interview with Al Jazeera, this was the very language Ben Ali turned to when he responded to the Tunisian uprising.

"I think it is important that when the people started to revolt in Tunisia, the initial reaction by the president and by the government was to say this is terrorists," the UN Rapporteur says.

Ben Ali accused demonstrators in the center of the country of "unpardonable terrorist acts" on January 10, two days after Tunisian security forces had begun deliberately killing protesters in the centre of the country. The Libyan leader's son, Saadi Gaddafi, told the Financial Times on Wednesday that bombing in the east of Libya was necessary because "thousands" of al-Qaeda fighters were taking control of the region. His father elaborated on these allegations in a speech on Thursday night, accusing Osama bin Laden of brainwashing, and even drugging, the country's youth.

Ghezali points to Gaddafi's most recent threats to end his co-operation on immigration, as well as his attempts to blame protests on al-Qaeda, as a particularly "ludicrous" example of what has become a standard form of blackmail.

Tunisian activists interviewed by Al Jazeera cite ending corruption and tyranny and the right to employment, democracy and freedom of expression as the motivations that drove their uprising, while Libyans dismiss Gaddafi's assertion that Osama bin Laden was working to incite dissent against his rule.

Keenan says that the absence of Islamist ideology in the protest movements has underlined the extent to which the "Islamist card" has been overplayed by politicians and the media. "These revolts have nothing much to do with Islamism, they are to do with young people fighting for their rights.

"All of these countries, to varying degrees, have exaggerated the menace of terrorism," says the author of The Dark Sahara: America's War on Terror in Africa.

The birth of an ideology

While it became most pronounced post-9/11, the West's fear of the rise of political Islam in North Africa predates the 'war on terror' by a decade.

When Algeria embarked on its first democratic elections in the early 1990s, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was heading towards a likely victory.

Many commentators in the West feared Algeria would become the next Iran, and that political Islam might then become an unstoppable force, spreading to neighbouring countries.

The Algerian military staged a coup d'état and embarked on a "dirty war" to purge the country of the "Green Peril". During the decade-long civil war that followed, 200,000 Algerians were killed, many by the security forces, and approximately 15,000 were forcibly disappeared.

Western governments were largely silent. In the case of France, in particular, support for the "eradication" campaign was explicit, with Charles Pasqua, France's interior minister, working closely with the Algerian generals to clamp down on Algerian dissidents in France.

The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy and other leading intellectuals – many of whom had been outspoken opponents of Communist totalitarianism in Eastern Europe and Asia - warned of the rise of what they termed “Islamofacism” in North Africa and the Middle East.
François Gèze, head of the leftwing publishing house Éditions La Découverte, and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, a leading historian who has since passed away, addressed what they argued was a double standard in their compatriots’ response to the Algerian conflict.
“How can famous intellectuals, who were willing to stand up when it was necessary against other barbarities, take the side so resolutely of a torturing, corrupt army which has based its power on widespread usage of blowtorches [to torture] and napalm on a scale rarely seen in the last half century. The answer, alas, is summed up in one word: Islam,” they wrote in Le Monde (‘Algeria and French Intellectuals’, February 4 1998). http://www.lemonde.fr/cgi-bin/ACHATS/acheter.cgi?offre=ARCHIVES&type_item=ART_ARCH_30J&objet_id=123778

The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy and other leading intellectuals - many of whom had been outspoken opponents of Communist totalitarianism in Eastern Europe and Asia - warned of the rise of what they termed “Islamofacism” in North Africa and the Middle East.

François Gèze, head of the leftwing publishing house Éditions La Découverte, and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, a leading historian who has since passed away, argued there was a double standard in their compatriots’ response to the Algerian conflict:

“How can famous intellectuals, who were willing to stand up when it was necessary against other barbarities, take the side so resolutely of a torturing, corrupt army which has based its power on widespread usage of blowtorches [to torture] and napalm on a scale rarely seen in the last half century. The answer, alas, is summed up in one word: Islam,” they wrote in Le Monde (‘Algeria and French Intellectuals’, February 4 1998).

By early 2001, pressure for an investigation into the role of the security forces in fostering the violence was increasing, after a series of allegations that the Algerian security establishment had deliberately falsified terrorism to justify its own violence.

Then came the 9/11 attacks, and the 'war on terror,' and Algerian dissidents once again found themselves sidelined.

"After twenty years of security policy - including 10 years of war - Algerian society has been seriously traumatized," Ghezali says, adding that the lack of justice or reconciliation has prevented many from being able to move on.

In contrast, post-January 14, Tunisia has opened a commission to investigate the human rights abuses committed by the security forces during the uprising and is seeking Ben Ali's extradition from Saudi Arabia.

Libya's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, meanwhile, is calling for the International Criminal Court to investigate Gaddafi for war crimes, while Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, is urging an international investigation into the violence against protesters.

Awkward baggage

The first suggestion that Western leaders may be moving to untangle themselves from the increasingly awkward baggage of their 'war on terror' ties to North Africa came during William Hague’s visit to Tunisia, on February 8, as the uprising in Egypt was well underway.

In response to a question from Al Jazeera, the British foreign secretary acknowledged that it was time to move beyond the anti-terrorism framework.

"I think now there is an opportunity for a much broader relationship than a security relationship," he said.

Bolstering his comments came the announcement of an $8.1mn fund to support economic and political reform in North Africa and the Middle East.

Hague also distanced his government from Tunisia's controversial anti-terrorism law, which has long drawn criticism from rights activists who argued that it was used to imprison political dissidents.

"We hope that legislation will comply with international laws on human rights, will respect freedom of expression, and of course we hope in any country that anti-terror laws are not used to stifle legitimate political debate and activity," Hague said.

Yet even as the death toll in Libya continues to rise - possibly to over 1,000 - the anti-terrorist ideology is far from dismantled, as Gaddafi’s attempts to bring al-Qaeda into the equation suggest.

On Tuesday, Algeria lifted its controversial state of emergency, which had been in force since 1992 and which the government had argued was necessary to facilitate its fight against "terrorists". Activists had long criticized the law, arguing that its real goal was to quell dissent and to extinguish the political freedoms that had been won by protesters in the wake of the October 1988 anti-government riots.

But the state of emergency is being replaced by new anti-terrorist legislation, meaning little genuine change. Protest marches will remain forbidden and the military will retain its contested right to intervene in domestic security enforcement.

A spokesperson for Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth office said by telephone on Wednesday that Hague's comments in Tunis also applied to any anti-terrorist legislation in Algeria. The US president Barack Obama welcomed the change as a "positive sign" in a statement on Thursday.

However, Keenan points to Algeria's role as an "absolutely critical ally" for the US during the 'war on terror'. The country has strong historic ties to France and, in the past two years, has grown closer to Britain.

Algeria has the third-largest oil reserves in Africa and is the sixth-largest producer of natural gas in the world, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

"The West is desperate that Algeria, the regime, can stay in place by making the necessary reforms," Keenan says, adding that a cabinet shuffle could be on the horizon and that Bouteflika might eventually be replaced. But such reforms would be "purely cosmetic" and would serve only to maintain the present regime, he argues, noting that the lifting of the state of emergency should be interpreted in this context.

Arming the oppressors

And regardless of any change in tone, European governments seem unlikely to cut back on growing arms sales to North Africa and the Middle East.

Michele Alliot-Marie, the French foreign minister, is still suffering the political repercussions of her offer to support Tunisian and Algerian security forces with protest-suppressing "know-how" on January 12, even as Tunisian protesters were being killed.

Western arms exports to the region have drawn particular attention in the light of the killing of protesters in Libya and Bahrain in recent days, leading the UK and France to halt arms sales to the two countries. But the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT), a UK-based organisation, argues that the bans are temporary and unlikely to lead to any long-term changes in some European governments’ active promotion of its arms export sector.

"As soon as public attention has moved on, they’ll be back supplying them,” Sarah Waldron, a spokesperson for CAAT, says.

Arms exports from EU member countries to Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco have risen significantly over the past five years. Arms export licenses from the EU to the four countries rose from $1.3bn to $2.7bn in 2009, according to CAAT.

Coming in the context of co-operation on border control and anti-terrorism, the arms sales have risen for both strategic and economic reasons, Keenan says. "The equipment that is given to these countries in export arrangements in the name of counterterrorism is the same equipment that is used by these countries in the repression of their own people."


Many North African activists are conscious of years of what they consider hypocrisy from the West and are skeptical about whether the uprisings will have a transformative effective on foreign policy.

For the past decade, only two things have mattered for Europeans and the US when it comes to Tunisia, Mokhtar Trifi, the president of the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH), says.

"The European Parliament and European governments were silent, and many of them were complicit. We never stopped drawing attention to the dictatorship. 'Tunisia is good because Ben Ali was fighting terrorism and clandestine immigration.' That was the argument [from Western governments]," Trifi says.

Jean-Philippe Chauzy, a spokesperson for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which works with governments to manage international migration flows, says that Gaddafi’s threats to open the floodgates has succeeded in worrying European governments. Yet he notes that in recent days, Europeans have been facing up to the reality of the role that migration has played in relations with Libya.

"I think there's recognition, in Italy at least, that realpolitik really dictated Italy's relationship with Libya," Chauzy says.

In the wake of the regime changes in North Africa, combined with the rise in unemployment in Europe, he says that policymakers are likely to consider a new approach to migration management. Ideally, Chauzy would like it to be one that focuses more on tackling the socio-economic factors at the root of migration and relies less on policing the seas.

Keenan says that by focusing on terrorism and immigration, Western countries have damaged their own interests. Whether it is the French, the Americans or the British, he argues that the preoccupation with Islamists and terrorism has undermined Western intelligence services’ ability to understand political and social dynamics in the region.

"If one got rid of the intelligence services, and just listened to Twitter or Facebook, we have more of an idea what's going on."

Oil supplies from Libya are already being disrupted. The same could happen in Algeria if serious unrest were to spread, he notes.

"The West, as a whole, has been wrong footed. I think it's desperately trying to play catch-up. We could be paying a very high price for the strategy of the West towards these countries," Keenan says.


As North Africans progressively overcome the fear factor that, until recent weeks, kept them from voicing their discontent too loudly, Western leaders are scrambling to build relationships with civil society after years of downplaying such ties at the bequest of the region's all-powerful leaders.

Yet members of the Tunisian Democratic Women's Association are unlikely to forget that Rama Yade, as France's secretary of human rights, cancelled her meeting with them for unexplained reasons during her visit to Tunisia in 2008. Nor will Trifi forget the fact that France's last ambassador shunned the Tunisian Human Rights League, never once paying a visit.

Pro-democracy opposition parties such as Algeria's Socialist Forces Front (FFS) are commonly called upon by Western diplomats and politicians behind closed doors, but rarely do private expressions of concern for trampled political rights translate into public support.

Likewise, the diplomatic cables from the US embassy in Tunis leaked by WikiLeaks revealed that though the US authorities understood the nature of Ben Ali's regime, they chose to stay silent.

For Abed Charef, an Algerian writer and journalist, North African countries would be more democratic if Western countries stopped interfering.

"People aspire to freedom, and they haven’t been able to enjoy that freedom, partly thanks to the support of Western countries," Charef says. "In Algeria, we are suffocated by a political system that stifles economic growth, that stifles political opposition, that stifles everything."

"[Western countries] act out of their own interest, they support anti-democratic leaders, they support corruption. That isn't help, it's been destroying us."

The Revolution Will Be Globalized

Tunisians find satisfaction in splitting the atom

America’s greatest strategic concern heading into the 2010’s was Iran’s nuclear program. U.S. policymakers must already view this recent history as the “good old days.” In fact, a nuclear bomb did go off after Tunisia's split atom sent shock waves across the Muslim world and Africa. Tunisians now celebrate their personal achievement in bringing down "the Arab wall of silence."

From Tunisia protests spread like a virus, infecting neighbor Algeria and hopping planes to Egypt, Mauritania, and Yemen. A dozen states had been hit by the time former Hosni Mubarak retreated to Sharm el-Sheikh. Two weeks later and, accounting for a variety of symptoms, 20 states display contact with Tunisia’s radiation.

It’s amazing to simply step back and measure the breadth of this global revolution:
Senegal and Madagascar are considered future candidates for initial protests. We've missed a few too so please add to the list. More importantly, Pakistan and Nigeria are ripe for protests of some kind, whether reformative or revolutionary. These two countries alone account for over 300 million people and, in Nigeria’s case, sizable petroleum reserves. Both governments and medias publicly acknowledge fears of unrest.

The energy released by 2011's events show no sign of depleting, creating ample time to debate and explore the transformative changes underway in the world. The sheer number of states at risk allows a global revolution to maintain momentum. Another movement starts each time one stops, catalyzing the revolution like an engine. And because state-controlled media guided protesters straight to the international media, those not directly participating locally have come to directly participate globally.

The Obama administration must realize that it can absorb this energy and reflect it in a transformative way. Suppressing the Millennial Revolution isn't an option.

February 25, 2011

Saleh’s Repression Generating Yemeni Unity

After the rapidity of Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya, journalists in both the U.S. and international media have reached a general consensus that “no one can predict” what’s about to happen in any given state in the Muslim world. This may be true to an extent. Yet ongoing events in the Muslim world prove how concrete political science, considered a social science and thus a “soft” science, truly is.

The germination of revolution resembles the scientific origins of life. By applying similar quantifiable data to the scientific method, one can start to base accurate predictions on a replicable model. And in Yemen’s case, watching its opposition fuse together is a simple scientific equation of pressure and energy.

We’ve predicted that Yemen would eventually turn down Egypt’s path rather than avert a slide into revolution. While the jury remains hung between concessions and regime change, Yemen’s diverse political opposition has finally started merging into a unifying strain. Protesters for Friday’s “Day of Rage” were estimated above 180,000, over 100,000 by the lowest counts, leaving organizers “shocked.” Around 30,000 gathered outside Sana'a University, the youth movement’s rallying point.

Although many analysts wrote Yemen off as an eventually uprising, today’s mass protests is indisputably “the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in the nation's history.” A snowball effect enabled by the unifying force of Saleh’s opposition and his American muscle.

The primary reason why observers discounted a popular uprising in Yemen happens to be shared by its vanguard protesters. Wielding his tribal influence and economic revenue to maintain stability, Saleh argues that his replacement wouldn’t succeed in keeping the ad hoc system together. But Yemenis are caring less and less about this dilemma. Members of Saleh’s own tribe have begun denouncing government-controlled violence on the protesters, while Yemen’s second largest tribe - the Hashid - has also come down on the protesters’ side.

Organizers admit they couldn’t get the tribes off the fence until now, after Saleh’s response over the past month left them no choice. Now they perceive Saleh’s time as expiring. One student, Adil al-Surabi, says he “desperately” attempted to boost turnout for weeks, only to find himself obstructed by Yemen’s lack of Internet in rural areas. With the tribal patchwork coming online, he no longer needs to rely on the Internet.

"The tribes are finally joining us," he says gleefully.

And they’re trucking to Sana’a for reasons beyond politico-economic marginalization. Many tribesmen who spoke to the media warned that Saleh’s dwindling oil revenue is drying up the favor he bought. One sheik complained, "The government does nothing in my province. We have our own army. We even organize our own legal system. We ask, but the President gives us nothing."

However basic dignity is assuming a significant role. Using Libya’s extremity as a diversion, U.S. officials have remained largely silent over Yemen’s growing unrest. Though several spokesmen have ventured to praise U.S. policy in the country, America sped up Saleh’s insecurity by trying to secure his rule through the threat of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Nasser al-Saber, a tribesman from Marib (considered a haven for AQAP, "The President has told the world that Marib is full of terrorists so he can get more military aid from America.”

"We are here to show the world that he is the terrorist."

A second reason why observers discounted a popular uprising is also starting to crumble. Being fellow Shia, it’s believed that the north Houthi tribe would settle for regional autonomy within the present system, unlike the secessionist Southern Movement. Yet the Houthis’ resentment of Saleh, after six “outbreaks” of warfare, trended towards the protesters' side. As Saleh’s government cultivated a climate of fear, thereby bringing gradual unity to the country’s opposition, it was only a matter of time before the Houthis joined the cause.

The tribe released a press statement earlier this week declaring, "We affirm our solidarity with our brothers from among the Yemeni people and our support of independents who angrily demand the end of the system... and shout for the fall of the regime.”

The progressive inclusion of Yemen’s tribes and the Houthis is completing the unity that Saleh has long feared and tried to prevent. Having suffered at the hands of U.S.-trained counter-terrorism teams, the Southern Movement also opposes U.S. policy for advocating Saleh’s fraudulent appeal to “unity.” Now the synthesizing of Yemen’s political groups actually has the SM reconsidering its platform, opening the door to real unity in the country.

As tens of thousands rallied against Saleh in SM’s stronghold of Aden, Hider Abu Baker Al-Atas denounced the government and its hollow attempts to placate the opposition, saying, ''Saleh's pledge of not being a candidate in the presidential elections in 2013 is because of the popular uprisings that overthrew the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt. If not for the pressure, he would not have made any concessions.”

Now in exile, Yemen's former prime minister from 1990 to 1994 told BBC that Saleh’s regime will “probably fall” in another month if current demonstrations continue or escalate. ''We ask people in Yemen not to stop protesting until Saleh's regime leaves,” and when it does, “we will tackle the problems between the south and the north.”

These three factors - Yemen’s main tribes, the northern Houthis, and Southern Movement - are finally joining the youth-driven protests to exponentially amplify their effect. And they’re joining through the common causes of poverty, marginalization, and lost dignity. Saleh is the glue that unites these varying groups, not a keystone that keeps the country together. His presence is ripping apart Yemen as he knows it.

Although Washington wants no part of Yemen’s revolution, it doesn’t have as much choice in the matter. Military aid can only prop up a failing government for so long, as Egypt proved, and Saleh pushes back against U.S. orders that threaten his power (also like Mubarak). The time is past due to join Yemen’s opposition movement, which has vowed to protest until Saleh’s fall. While the threat of AQAP remains supreme in U.S. policy, the “instability” spawned by Saleh’s vacuum is unlikely to equal the self-inflicted instability already underway.

Easily manipulated when divided, Yemenis are seizing control of their fate through unity against Saleh and his American benefactor. They're no different than a volcano preparing to blow or an earthquake primed to strike.

February 24, 2011

America Choosing Fear Over Love in Raymond Davis Crisis

The rumors of Raymond Davis’s occupation have no bottom. Given rumors that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has stopped providing information on the Haqqani network and Lashkar-e-Taiba, two groups clandestinely financed by the ISI, some reports have Davis selecting targets for the CIA’s drone fleet. Other U.S.-friendly reports have the former Special Operations agent and Blackwater employee as a simple bodyguard for CIA counterparts. He’s even a candidate for the CIA’s temporary chief after Pakistan’s media outed its former occupant.

Few would blink were Davis eventually revealed as an alien. And judging by recent events in Oman, Davis’s case may descend into deeper madness rather than restore sanity to U.S.-Pakistani relations.

An interesting development has unfolded in America’s war in Afghanistan. While the Pentagon hails its progress en route to obliterating President Barack Obama’s July 2011 withdrawal deadline, Pakistan has quietly fallen out of the picture. Deemed crucial to success during Washington’s policy reviews, the country tends to recede once the U.S. military argues its case for “progress.” With Pakistan unwilling to act on command in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), recent military success is largely attributed to U.S. Marines in the south and Special Operations night-raids. Pentagon officials have given up on North Waziristan, at least publicly, now claiming an operation isn’t vital to America’s war in Afghanistan.

In short, Pakistan serves to scapegoat U.S. shortfalls during times of intense political pressure, while simultaneously discarding the baggage Islamabad brings to Washington’s strategy.

But privately, the U.S. military is extremely concerned about Pakistan’s ability to contribute to Afghanistan before and after July 2011. Sending the whole lineup to Oman, the Pentagon’s highest authorities have stepped in to settle Davis’s case out of court. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. David Petraeus, commander of International Security Assistance Force, Adm. Eric Olson, commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, and Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, commander of U.S. Central Command, all met with Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan’s chief of army staff, and Maj. Gen. Javed Iqbal, director general of military operations.

Although the meeting was planned in advance, it came be viewed as a means of “restoring calm” to a volatile situation. Naturally U.S. officials walked away brimming with optimism. But it wouldn’t be the first time the Pentagon disregarded Pakistan’s sovereignty and popular opinion.

"The militaries will now brief and guide their civilian masters and hopefully bring about a qualitative change in the US-Pakistan Relationship by arresting the downhill descent and moving it in the right direction,” says one official involved with the meetings. "The idea is to find a solution whereby the Davis incident does not hijack the U.S.-Pakistan relationship.”

In other words, the U.S. military will once again conspire around Pakistan’s civilian leadership and public to obtain favorable results from themselves. Who exactly is the “master” again?

The most probable outcome, according to this anonymous official, is Davis’s exchange for a proper investigation, along with payment to the victims’ families. An immediate problem according to Mohammad Waseem, brother of victim Mohammad Faheem: "Davis deserves no pardon... We knew from day one that he was working for the CIA and Blackwater.”

Waseem's thinking represents the dilemma currently obstructing America’s continuation of policy in Pakistan. Two sets of relationships are actually competing against each other: the U.S.-Pakistani military relationship and the relationship between Pakistanis and the U.S. government. The first dynamic has long been, and continues to be, maintained at the expense of the second. At the macro level, Davis represents the future of all personnel of his type, quasi-diplomatic contractors that surely roam other countries as well.

That Washington is fighting so absolutely for Davis is logical in this regard. The Special Operatives directive at work was authored by none other than Petraeus.

But at the micro level of Afghanistan and Pakistan, the U.S. military and CIA is protecting their means to wage war by sacrificing a necessary component of “winning” a counterinsurgency. While U.S. officials such as Mullen readily admit the continual downward trajectory of America’s image in Pakistan, the Pentagon and CIA nonetheless blame the ISI for turning Davis into a media sensation. In fact the U.S. media knew of Davis’s identity and concealed it in deference to Washington, which didn’t want Davis’s background surfacing in Pakistan. The White House realized the inflammatory nature of his CIA/Blackwater background and tried to hide it until he could be extracted.

"It's a spy game being played out in the media and the CIA has told the ISI to cut it out," one official warned, yet Pakistan’s media didn’t have to fan self-propelling flames. The Obama administration wouldn’t be in this position had it not continued to run roughshod over Pakistan’s sovereignty, destroying the government’s credibility with the people and bringing the situation to its present stalemate. Thus U.S. officials, after claiming to understand the hypersensitivity in Pakistan, blame the crisis on Islamabad.

They must not understand as much as they think.

Since this tactic failed - what a shock - the Pentagon will once more usurp Pakistan’s civilian authority through its military’s backdoor. Some Pakistani analysts have welcomed the move and justifiably so - they usually lack any confidence in the PPP government. But resolving this individual case in a vacuum is going to create collateral damage in the streets.

The Pentagon is acting as though it doesn't expect additional military operations out of Islamabad, because Washington is making them impossible to sell to an already skeptical public.

Washington seems to have given up rather easily on “hearts and minds.” Two militaries can force their governments to kiss and make up, a scenario that may play out in the end, while the CIA and ISI can reset their "rules of the game." However this “resolution” only clears a small block to U.S. interests. Pakistan’s political sphere will remain indebted with complications from Davis, especially if he receives lenient treatment in America. And U.S. officials will go on complaining of Pakistan’s internal dynamics, one disastrous public relations impacting counterinsurgency on the regional level.

At this point the White House is the only entity believing Davis to be a diplomat, and it probably doesn’t buy its own story. All the more reason why Pakistanis won’t. The truth is out on Davis. If America expects to free him without consequences - and by the Pentagon’s intervention no less - it will keep choosing to be feared rather than loved in Pakistan.

And Machiavelli didn’t wage many counterinsurgencies in his day.

U.S. Military Employs Psy-Ops on Senators

Mini-scandal from Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings:

The U.S. Army illegally ordered a team of soldiers specializing in "psychological operations" to manipulate visiting American senators into providing more troops and funding for the war, Rolling Stone has learned – and when an officer tried to stop the operation, he was railroaded by military investigators.

The orders came from the command of Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, a three-star general in charge of training Afghan troops – the linchpin of U.S. strategy in the war. Over a four-month period last year, a military cell devoted to what is known as "information operations" at Camp Eggers in Kabul was repeatedly pressured to target visiting senators and other VIPs who met with Caldwell. When the unit resisted the order, arguing that it violated U.S. laws prohibiting the use of propaganda against American citizens, it was subjected to a campaign of retaliation.

"My job in psy-ops is to play with people’s heads, to get the enemy to behave the way we want them to behave," says Lt. Colonel Michael Holmes, the leader of the IO unit, who received an official reprimand after bucking orders. "I’m prohibited from doing that to our own people. When you ask me to try to use these skills on senators and congressman, you’re crossing a line."

The list of targeted visitors was long, according to interviews with members of the IO team and internal documents obtained by Rolling Stone. Those singled out in the campaign included senators John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Jack Reed, Al Franken and Carl Levin; Rep. Steve Israel of the House Appropriations Committee; Adm. Mike Mullen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Czech ambassador to Afghanistan; the German interior minister, and a host of influential think-tank analysts.

The incident offers an indication of just how desperate the U.S. command in Afghanistan is to spin American civilian leaders into supporting an increasingly unpopular war. According to the Defense Department’s own definition, psy-ops – the use of propaganda and psychological tactics to influence emotions and behaviors – are supposed to be used exclusively on "hostile foreign groups." Federal law forbids the military from practicing psy-ops on Americans, and each defense authorization bill comes with a "propaganda rider" that also prohibits such manipulation. "Everyone in the psy-ops, intel, and IO community knows you’re not supposed to target Americans," says a veteran member of another psy-ops team who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It’s what you learn on day one."

When Holmes and his four-man team arrived in Afghanistan in November 2009, their mission was to assess the effects of U.S. propaganda on the Taliban and the local Afghan population. But the following month, Holmes began receiving orders from Caldwell’s staff to direct his expertise on a new target: visiting Americans. At first, the orders were administered verbally. According to Holmes, who attended at least a dozen meetings with Caldwell to discuss the operation, the general wanted the IO unit to do the kind of seemingly innocuous work usually delegated to the two dozen members of his public affairs staff: compiling detailed profiles of the VIPs, including their voting records, their likes and dislikes, and their "hot-button issues." In one email to Holmes, Caldwell’s staff also wanted to know how to shape the general’s presentations to the visiting dignitaries, and how best to "refine our messaging."

Congressional delegations – known in military jargon as CODELs – are no strangers to spin. U.S. lawmakers routinely take trips to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they receive carefully orchestrated briefings and visit local markets before posing for souvenir photos in helmets and flak jackets. Informally, the trips are a way for generals to lobby congressmen and provide first-hand updates on the war. But what Caldwell was looking for was more than the usual background briefings on senators. According to Holmes, the general wanted the IO team to provide a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds." The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. "How do we get these guys to give us more people?" he demanded. "What do I have to plant inside their heads?"

According to experts on intelligence policy, asking a psy-ops team to direct its expertise against visiting dignitaries would be like the president asking the CIA to put together background dossiers on congressional opponents. Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwell’s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background. "Putting your propaganda people in a room with senators doesn’t look good," says John Pike, a leading military analyst. "It doesn’t pass the smell test. Any decent propaganda operator would tell you that."

At a minimum, the use of the IO team against U.S. senators was a misuse of vital resources designed to combat the enemy; it cost American taxpayers roughly $6 million to deploy Holmes and his team in Afghanistan for a year. But Caldwell seemed more eager to advance his own career than to defeat the Taliban. "We called it Operation Fourth Star," says Holmes. "Caldwell seemed far more focused on the Americans and the funding stream than he was on the Afghans. We were there to teach and train the Afghans. But for the first four months it was all about the U.S. Later he even started talking about targeting the NATO populations." At one point, according to Holmes, Caldwell wanted to break up the IO team and give each general on his staff their own personal spokesperson with psy-ops training.

It wasn’t the first time that Caldwell had tried to tear down the wall that has historically separated public affairs and psy-ops – the distinction the military is supposed to maintain between "informing" and "influencing." After a stint as the top U.S. spokesperson in Iraq, the general pushed aggressively to expand the military’s use of information operations. During his time as a commander at Ft. Leavenworth, Caldwell argued for exploiting new technologies like blogging and Wikipedia – a move that would widen the military’s ability to influence the public, both foreign and domestic. According to sources close to the general, he also tried to rewrite the official doctrine on information operations, though that effort ultimately failed. (In recent months, the Pentagon has quietly dropped the nefarious-sounding moniker "psy-ops" in favor of the more neutral "MISO" – short for Military Information Support Operations.)

Under duress, Holmes and his team provided Caldwell with background assessments on the visiting senators, and helped prep the general for his high-profile encounters. But according to members of his unit, Holmes did his best to resist the orders. Holmes believed that using his team to target American civilians violated the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, which was passed by Congress to prevent the State Department from using Soviet-style propaganda techniques on U.S. citizens. But when Holmes brought his concerns to Col. Gregory Breazile, the spokesperson for the Afghan training mission run by Caldwell, the discussion ended in a screaming match. "It’s not illegal if I say it isn’t!" Holmes recalls Breazile shouting.

In March 2010, Breazile issued a written order that "directly tasked" Holmes to conduct an IO campaign against "all DV visits" – short for "distinguished visitor." The team was also instructed to "prepare the context and develop the prep package for each visit." In case the order wasn’t clear enough, Breazile added that the new instructions were to "take priority over all other duties." Instead of fighting the Taliban, Holmes and his team were now responsible for using their training to win the hearts and minds of John McCain and Al Franken.

On March 23rd, Holmes emailed the JAG lawyer who handled information operations, saying that the order made him "nervous." The lawyer, Capt. John Scott, agreed with Holmes. "The short answer is that IO doesn’t do that," Scott replied in an email. "[Public affairs] works on the hearts and minds of our own citizens and IO works on the hearts and minds of the citizens of other nations. While the twain do occasionally intersect, such intersections, like violent contact during a soccer game, should be unintentional."

In another email, Scott advised Holmes to seek his own defense counsel. "Using IO to influence our own folks is a bad idea," the lawyer wrote, "and contrary to IO policy."

In a statement to Rolling Stone, a spokesman for Caldwell "categorically denies the assertion that the command used an Information Operations Cell to influence Distinguished Visitors." But after Scott offered his legal opinion, the order was rewritten to stipulate that the IO unit should only use publicly available records to create profiles of U.S. visitors. Based on the narrower definition of the order, Holmes and his team believed the incident was behind them.

Three weeks after the exchange, however, Holmes learned that he was the subject of an investigation, called an AR 15-6. The investigation had been ordered by Col. Joe Buche, Caldwell’s chief of staff. The 22-page report, obtained by Rolling Stone, reads like something put together by Kenneth Starr. The investigator accuses Holmes of going off base in civilian clothes without permission, improperly using his position to start a private business, consuming alcohol, using Facebook too much, and having an "inappropriate" relationship with one of his subordinates, Maj. Laural Levine. The investigator also noted a joking comment that Holmes made on his Facebook wall, in response to a jibe about Afghan men wanting to hold his hand.

"Hey! I’ve been here almost five months now!" Holmes wrote. "Gimmee a break a man has needs you know."

"LTC Holmes’ comments about his sexual needs," the report concluded, "are even more distasteful in light of his status as a married man."

Both Holmes and Levine maintain that there was nothing inappropriate about their relationship, and said they were waiting until after they left Afghanistan to start their own business. They and other members of the team also say that they had been given permission to go off post in civilian clothes. As for Facebook, Caldwell’s command had aggressively encouraged its officers to use the site as part of a social-networking initiative – and Holmes ranked only 15th among the biggest users.

Nor was Holmes the only one who wrote silly things online. Col. Breazile’s Facebook page, for example, is spotted with similar kinds of nonsense, including multiple references to drinking alcohol, and a photo of a warning inside a Port-o-John mocking Afghans – "In case any of you forgot that you are supposed to sit on the toilet and not stand on it and squat. It’s a safety issue. We don’t want you to fall in or miss your target." Breazile now serves at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he works in the office dedicated to waging a global information war for the Pentagon.

Following the investigation, both Holmes and Levine were formally reprimanded. Holmes, believing that he was being targeted for questioning the legality of waging an IO campaign against U.S. visitors, complained to the Defense Department’s inspector general. Three months later, he was informed that he was not entitled to protection as a whistleblower, because the JAG lawyer he consulted was not "designated to receive such communications."

Levine, who has a spotless record and 19 service awards after 16 years in the military, including a tour of duty in Kuwait and Iraq, fears that she has become "the collateral damage" in the military’s effort to retaliate against Holmes. "It will probably end my career," she says. "My father was an officer, and I believed officers would never act like this. I was devastated. I’ve lost my faith in the military, and I couldn’t in good conscience recommend anyone joining right now."

After being reprimanded, Holmes and his team were essentially ignored for the rest of their tours in Afghanistan. But on June 15th, the entire Afghan training mission received a surprising memo from Col. Buche, Caldwell’s chief of staff. "Effective immediately," the memo read, "the engagement in information operations by personnel assigned to the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan and Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan is strictly prohibited." From now on, the memo added, the "information operation cell" would be referred to as the "Information Engagement cell." The IE’s mission? "This cell will engage in activities for the sole purpose of informing and educating U.S., Afghan and international audiences…." The memo declared, in short, that those who had trained in psy-ops and other forms of propaganda would now officially be working as public relations experts – targeting a worldwide audience.

As for the operation targeting U.S. senators, there is no way to tell what, if any, influence it had on American policy. What is clear is that in January 2011, Caldwell’s command asked the Obama administration for another $2 billion to train an additional 70,000 Afghan troops – an initiative that will already cost U.S. taxpayers more than $11 billion this year. Among the biggest boosters in Washington to give Caldwell the additional money? Sen. Carl Levin, one of the senators whom Holmes had been ordered to target.

February 23, 2011

Why Yemen Is Like Egypt

A month ago Yemen was teetering as the next domino in Tunisia’s revolutionary order, a threat equal to and possibly exceeding Egypt’s instability due to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Then, suddenly, Yemen’s crisis had been averted through President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s promise to reform his administration and the state’s economy. Now Yemen has returned to a bloody stalemate in the streets.

Although real factors caused this whiplash, only denial can fully explain the oscillation between “reform” and revolution. And denial could speed up the latter.

Two arguments recently fused together to temporarily suck the fear out of Yemen’s uprising. First come the reasons why Yemen is not Egypt, some of them legitimate. Yemen’s protests lack mass mobilization due to a variety of factors, although many center around the country’s decentralized nature. Saleh’s three main opposition groups - the northern Houthis, Southern Movement, and the unemployed youth (Yemen's median age is 18) - possess different objectives. One seeks regional autonomy within the current system, another outright secession, while the rest demand either employment or Saleh’s immediate resignation. This schism has left opposition parties to rally their bases, deterring the common Yemeni from seeking national unity.

Ali Saif Hassan, executive director of the Political Development Forum in Sana’a, predicted, “Yemen has a better chance of disintegration" than mimicking Egypt’s popular revolution.

On top of a deficiency in Internet, the new glue of revolution, rural tribes to the east (including those that shelter al-Qaeda) often take little interest in politics to begin with. One senior member of Saleh's ruling General Congress Party (GPC) quipped, "If you think Facebook will change Yemen, you're crazy. We don't even have electricity." And contrary to mobilizing the masses, Hamid al-Ahmar admits that opposition leaders alone should have the power to turn protests “on and off.”

A senior official in the opposition Islah Party and the son of one of Yemen's most powerful tribal sheikhs, Ahmar has inherited his deceased father’s business empire of telecoms and tourism. He didn’t mince words about grassroots complaints, warning that an uncontrolled uprising could trigger Yemen’s tribal fault lines. Most tribes are well armed and often command more local authority than the government.

"These youth are saying we are stealing their revolution," said Ahmar, surrounded by truck-fulls of heavily armed guards, at an opposition base. "They say we are taking them off the streets, and they are right."

Division extends all the way to Saleh himself, who some opposition members aren’t rushing to evict. Threats of tribal anarchy and factionalism, and of AQAP, have served as powerful checks to a popular coup. But Yemen’s own government has set the bar, with Prime Minister Ali Mujawar accusing the opposition of, "trying to duplicate what happened in Tunisia and Egypt, and act as if it should be imposed on the people here in Yemen."

Explicitly rejecting comparisons to Egypt’s revolution, he told CNN, "Yemen is not Tunisia or Egypt. Yemen has its own different situation... Yemen is a democratic country. Through all the stages, elections took place. And therefore this is a democratic regime."

This description has since been floated by a variety of analysts: Yemenis’ gripes aren’t necessarily personal. Saleh enjoyed a landslide victory in 2006 after a relatively credible election, sparing him from the dictator label that stuck to Hosni Mubarak. The economy is Saleh’s main problem, not his character specifically. Some even claim that Saleh skillfully outmaneuvers his opponents within the political system rather than resorting to force.

Thus Yemen’s uprising doesn’t emulate Egypt’s conditions, and in turn became overblown.

So Yemen isn’t exactly like Egypt - does this infer that the fear is truly overblown? The answer partially depends on expectations. Anyone expecting a sudden coup may answer in the affirmative, yet those viewing Yemen as a gradual descent will likely see the same factors flowing through both states and peoples. For every reason why Yemen isn’t Egypt, equally powerful causes entwine their fates. And the greatest parallel of all: waiting to act until after the revolution explodes.

Start with Saleh’s political vulnerabilities. After ruling for 32 years, 12 as President of North Yemen and the rest over Yemen as a whole, Saleh has been around long enough to accrue deep resentment from marginalized Yemenis. While his officials claim free and fair elections, opposition candidate Bin Shamlan accepted the 2006 results as a “reality” that didn’t reflect the people's will. Or they’re trapped with one viable option. To a good segment of Yemenis, Saleh spares the country from tribal anarchy and civil war in exchange for subsistent living conditions.

Preserving Yemen’s unity, conversely pitting him against the Southern Movement, has furthered enraged a fairly cohesive section of society. Saleh has offered to negotiate with Yemen’s opposition groups only on this condition, which they’ve so far rejected.

Having maintained power for so long, protesters are naturally skeptical of Saleh’s highly publicized offer not to run again in 2013. He’s played this card before in 1999 (when he extended term limits from five to seven years) and 2006, swearing not to run only to change his mind at the last minute “for the good of Yemen.” Saleh’s every action consolidates his power while pushing his problems down the road. Maybe he will keep his promise this time under Western pressure, but Saleh just issued remarks to the effect that “U.S. and European Union guarantees are rejected.”

Mounting evidence suggests that, under the umbrella threat of instability, he’ll test his ploy again in 2013. Saleh just attempted to pass a constitutional amendment to remove term limits in January - he got caught at the worst possible time. So his promise doesn’t hold any water to the opposition.

And what about Saleh not applying force to his own people? In late 2010, WikiLeaks revealed Washington's knowledge that Saleh misappropriated U.S. training and equipment against the Houthis and Southern Movement. He also approved errant U.S. air-strikes that have, for the time being, gone silent after an initial uproar. Now riot police and “government loyalists,” a Mubarak favorite, are beating and shooting Yemeni protesters and obstructing them from gathering at Sana’a university. And playing another of Mubarak’s cards: denying responsibility.

The security breakdown is starting to irritate the very fault lines Saleh claims to stabilize. Tribal chief Hussein al-Ahmar, a member of Saleh's tribe, recently told a crowd in his home province of Amran, "It is not the armed forces, nor Saleh and his army that protect Sanaa, but the tribes of Hashed. If the authorities continue to scare the protesters with their thugs, we will have to interfere."

Last but certainly not least comes the widely-held impression that Saleh would have fallen by now if not for America’s support. While U.S. officials continue to promote a partnership with Saleh, distrust between him and his people has only increased since Washington escalated operations in late 2009. Mohammed Qahtan, a senior leader in Islah, declared, "The government is exaggerating the threat of al-Qaeda. There are two reasons for this: The government's rule is weak, and they want to get more and more money and backing from the United States."

Contrary to its intentions, U.S. policy cripples Saleh’s authority with his people and undermines the objective of counterinsurgency.

A second generalized observation of Yemen’s protests postulates the economy as Saleh’s main enemy, rather than personal animosity. But this theory suffers from intrinsic backwardness: Yemen’s perpetually stagnant economy is a main driver of discord. Comparisons are drawn between Egypt’s labor and food protests in 2008 and its 2011 mass uprising, and rightfully so. A mass uprising brings out all peoples, not just the unemployed, and unifies a variety of causes and ideologies.

But political-economic outrage cannot be separated as one builds upon the other. Those sleeping for weeks in Tahrir Square haven’t had a job in years, and the same goes for students at Sana’a University. Were Yemen’s economy to stay depressed, and Saleh unable to fulfill his economic promises, the situation could lead to the same end.

With unemployment running between 30-40%, leaving over 45% of Yemenis below the poverty line (triple and double Egypt’s figures), economic factors magnify the political belief that Saleh’s government is unresponsive to the people’s needs. Although he’s offered to reduce income taxes, raise subsidies on staple foods and fuels, give raises to soldiers and civil servants, and provide more jobs for university graduates, this wish-list is considered a hollow stall tactic to Yemen's real problems. Saleh can’t pass around a sack of cash like King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and Yemenis don’t need temporary economic relief.

Depleted on oil reserves, Yemen’s economy requires a complete overhaul into new sectors and massive investments in infrastructure, a master plan that Saleh and Western donors lack the means or time to implement.

Rudhwan Masude, head of the student union at Sana’a University, explained of Yemen’s brain-drain, “Waiving tuition fees will not stop students from protesting - anyway, most of the students have already paid their fees. There just aren’t enough jobs to go round - the best students don’t think twice before leaving the country to seek work elsewhere.”

Akram Matharamy, one of the protesters, spoke more bluntly: "No one I know has a job. We graduated from university and we don't have jobs. We are poor because this regime is corrupt. Everything here is corrupt."

The combination of suppressive force, token reform, and historic mistrust is leading to what Yemeni and Western officials didn’t think could happen: spontaneous protests composed of self-motivated youths. 12-day protests have absorbed the energy of Mubarak’s fall on February 11th. Egyptian and U.S. officials used to believe that Egypt’s fractured opposition, politically divided and temporarily satiated with government raises, could never form into a mass movement.

Until it was too late to stop a popular uprising.

Although Yemen’s main opposition, the Joint Meeting Parties, allegedly seeks concessions over regime change, it has since joined the protesters to maximize its gains. Thousands began an indefinite sit-in on Saturday, hoping to prove that Saleh cannot divide and conquer them. He’s implored, "Yes to reforms. No to coups and seizing power through anarchy and killing.” And his message is gaining consistency: “You are calling for the regime to go - then come and get rid of it through the ballot boxes, not through violence."

Other threatened regimes and America have adopted this motto as their own. Yet it runs into marketing problems when the government’s violence is self-created, when its reforms cannot be trusted.

Like Egyptians, protesting Yemenis don't trust Saleh to hold a fair election and can’t expect Yemen’s diverse opposition to unite against him. That leaves this moment to take the power back. Revolutionary fever sweeping the Muslim world is fanned by a bandwagon effect; no repressed people wants to be left behind. To underestimate Yemenis’ drive - and shuffle it down the road - commits the same mistake as Hosni Mubarak, Washington, and Israel did in Egypt. And “Colonel” Gaddafi in Libya.

The longer these emotions are suppressed, the greater the explosion when they’re released.

"Within Yemen, I don't think anybody really wants to see a revolution happen,” warns Christopher Boucek, an associate in the Carnegie Middle East Program. "Nobody wants to see the Yemeni government fall. Regardless of what you think of President Saleh or his government, the international community needs this Yemeni government to fight terrorism. I think they (the regime) probably think they have it under control for the time being. I think they know the Americans are not going to push for big change, the Americans don't want to see him (Saleh) go.”

Has Saleh and the U.S. learned nothing from Egypt? Why does today matter more than tomorrow? What about correcting the actual roots of unhappiness? The Muslim’s world current magnitude of unrest cannot be quelled through minor concessions, which are reactive rather than progressive. Transformative governance is the only solution.

Additionally, Yemeni protesters don’t need to topple Saleh in order to produce instability, simply raise the temperature under him. The threat of AQAP doesn’t generate from Saleh’s fall, but in becoming distracted from his and America’s battle against the group. He doesn’t need to meet Mubarak's end for the collateral to spill over. Already concerned with AQAP’s “attempts” to manipulate the democratic protests, Washington is pouring more military aid into counter-terrorism training.

However AQAP has only shown an interest in taking advantage of the diversion, targeting senior military officials and government bases in its territory. America rightfully fears that Saleh’s political blind-spot will take his eye off AQAP’s growth, and that the additional instability could speed up his fall. But if Saleh stores up anger until the next attempt to dethrone him, U.S. officials won’t be able to claim “they didn’t see a revolution coming.”

And Yemen’s uprising may end the same as Egypt's.

African Union Goes Big in Mogadishu

al-Shabab didn’t get much sleep on Wednesday. Early in the morning, local residents witnessed military units gathering around the outskirts of Beled Hawao, a Somali town on the Kenyan-Ethiopian border. Ahlu Sunna Waljama'a, the Ethiopian-backed Sufi militia and a stakeholder in Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) subsequently attacked al-Shabab positions throughout the day. Fighting also erupted in Beledweyn, a key city on the Ethiopian border.

Possible diversions given the African Union’s (AU) synchronized assault in Mogadishu.

According to residents in Hodon and Daynile districts, situated south and northwest of the presidential palace and airport, TFG and AU forces moved into their neighborhoods from three fronts around 2 AM. Fighting ensued over Gashaandhigga, the former Defense Ministry building, with both sides claiming victory. But eye witnesses have given the victory to the TFG and AU. Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed "Farmajo" triumphantly declared, "Our national army crushed the enemy in several areas including the defence ministry building and in the Shirkole neighborhood.”

The TFG's information ministry released an additional statement claiming, "They also captured the former milk factory and the Military Officers Club (Shirkole Officiale) in a major advance in the northwestern part of the city.”

While these conquests sound promising in the moment, high risk, high reward may best describe the AU’s ongoing military operation. The AU is under pressure to deliver with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni cleaning up his latest electoral victory. Both the TFG and AU need to prove their worth before their respective mandates expire after August and September. Having delayed for months a long-anticipated campaign in Mogadishu, they appear to be going big or going home.

The risk does come with its reward. A basic morale boost, the TFG and AU are trying to demonstrate their power to skeptical Somalis. Although a military operation shouldn’t be conducted under unfavorable conditions, repeatedly failures to deliver yield a confidence crisis. Small military gains, if accumulated over time, can both inspire Somalis and lead to genuine political and military success.

At the tactical and strategic level, the TFG and AU’s movements suggest an attempt to encircle the capital. By circumventing Hawl Wadag, home of the Bakaara market, and extending far west, the TFG is trying to form a front between Daynile and Villa Somalia. From here its units will push east and north across the city, first into Hodan and Hawl Wadag, then passing Bondhere into Wardhadley and Yaqshid, all the while expanding the AU’s bubble from Villa Somalia (Hamar Weyne).

The TFG and AU likely envision a security perimeter in their grander scheme. Once in possession of Mogadishu, they’ll deploy north to Dhuusamarreeb, Ahlu Sunna’s stronghold, south to al-Shabab’s garrison of Kismayo, and in tandem with Ethiopian forces to Beledweyne and Beled Hawo.

But nearly every military operation comes with drawbacks and this one is no exception. The TFG and AU have shown their ability to make incursions into al-Shabab’s territory, whether in the south or the capital. What it rarely demonstrates is the ability to hold this territory. Building isn’t even part of the equation, however holding territory necessitates a degree of improvement. Somehow the TFG must deliver a basic administration, not just preside over ghost territory, to eliminate al-Shabab from the city. Mogadishu, more than half abandoned, still presents massive security and logistics demands that the TFG and AU will struggle to meet.

Securing the capital requires more than the 12,000 soldiers currently deployed by the African Union, and a blank check to pay for the heaviest nation-building on Earth. Yet the TFG’s political turmoil has scared off Western donors, an unsolved dilemma.

Indiscriminate shelling, a problem that often accompanies clearing operations, goes hand in hand with the challenge of holding territory. Employed to preserve one’s own fighting strength, the concept of “ignorant killing” runs perpendicular to counterinsurgency, where the government must assume a higher risk to protect its own people. While the AU denies targeting civilians as a matter of policy, commanders admit off record that “things happen.” Multiple incidents reported overwhelming AU retaliation to al-Shabab’s brutal urban warfare.

Publicly concerned over incoming reports, the TFG might privately tolerate these casualties as inevitable in the war against al-Shabab. Except counterinsurgency isn’t any war, and gaining the moral high ground is imperative to the government’s success.

Attempting damage control, the TFG’s Information Ministry did release a statement explaining, "The move into these positions is designed to inhibit the group's ability to hide behind non-combatants and should result in a drastic reduction of civilian casualties in the city.” However, in addition to a lower standard in counterinsurgency, the AU should think twice if it believes holding contested territory will reduce civilian casualties. Terrain that cannot be held by either side, and is thus constantly competed for, poses the highest risk to Somalis.

Conventional warfare aims to eliminate the enemy’s means to wage war, personally and mechanically. Counterinsurgency aims to eliminate the factors that cause insurgents, not the insurgents themselves. The TFG and AU must keep this in mind as they plot strategy over Mogadishu’s sandbox.