July 31, 2011

Yemeni Tribes Unify Under Western Darkness

As information flows from Yemen’s revolution, it quickly deposits into the black-hole of U.S. and European media. Sometimes this information completes the transit intact, but reports are more often jumbled and spliced before reaching the Western public. Even then, an estimated 3-9% of Americans are paying "serious" attention to the incomplete picture of Yemen’s revolution.

Last weekend naturally elapsed through this machine when many news sources, Western and non-Western, picked up the brutal clashes between Yemeni security forces and anti-government tribesmen. Most bandwidth has been diverted south to the ongoing battle in Zinjibar and Aden, where government forces and anti-government tribes are caught in a proxy battle against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and government-funded "jihadists." While international media generally positions Yemen’s tribes on the government’s side, they are largely fighting both Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime and AQAP after the government manufactured a takeover of
Zinjibar in May.

As the U.S.-trained Republican Guard and Central Security
Organization concentrate their remaining forces in Sana'a and Taiz, local units were ordered to retreat and reinforcements were withheld until mid-July.

The commander of Yemen’s 25th Mechanized Brigade tried to explained his situation in a recent interview with the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat. For reasons still unclear to him, Brigadier General Mohammed al-Sawmali found himself outgunned and "besieged" by AQAP militants at a local stadium. al-Sawmali admitted upfront, "The security services pulled out of Abyan leaving their weapons behind, and Al Qaeda seized these weapons, and is now using them against us. This is something that no one can deny."

"However, if you ask me about the motives behind this, I can only say to you 'God knows.'"

Saleh's Air Force knew exactly what it was doing when it “mistakenly” bombed a 200-strong tribal unit last Friday, killing at least 30 people and wounding dozens more. Civilians were also among the day's collateral damage. One field commander, Mohammed Gaadani, clarified that his forces notified the government of their location after taking up position in a government building. He believed an accident was unlikely. Mohammed Shakim, a tribal leader from Abayan, similarly told The National, "Such strikes do not serve the fight on those militants. The government air strikes will cripple the progress of the tribesmen towards cleansing Zinjibar and other cities from these militants.”

Gaadani added, "It was not just one strike or two, but three in a row! This has made people very doubtful." Warning of "repeated mistakes," he would later tell Reuters after halting his fighters for two days, "they've returned now after we discussed the importance of fighting these extremist elements and clearing Zinjibar of their presence."

Trust between Yemen's tribal network and Saleh's regime remains MIA.

Less reported, although not completely ignored, is the battle near Sana’a airport, where tribesmen from the Arhab district joined in fierce combat with the Republican Guard. Government officials allege that a military camp near Sana’a International Airport came under occupation, necessitating an aerial response, and blamed
the local al-Hanaq tribe (previously accused of harboring AQAP cells). Tribal officials, on the other hand, accuse the Republican Guard of shelling nearby villages, killing protesters and blocking ambulances from reaching the wounded. Bodies of the casualties were also mutilated and burned. These incidents, like the other tribesmen “mistakenly bombed” over the past months, display the regime’s brutality and fit a pattern of eliminating opponents in the crossfire.

One notable example, according to WikiLeaks and Saudi officials, was a 2010 attempt to bomb the now-defected General Ali Mohsen as he engaged the Houthi insurgency. Saudi pilots aborted their strike when they realized Saleh's set-up. A senior aide to the general confirmed the version of events described in the cable, adding, “This was not the first attempt by the president and regime to kill him.”

"Our patience has finished and the aggression against us has gone beyond the limit... the remnants of the regime of Saleh have attacked us with all sorts of weapons,” tribal officials warned after suffering their first round of casualties. “The sons of the Arhab tribe will strike the Sanaa International Airport with all the available means of war in response to the attacks on them by air and the shelling of their villages and homes.”

As this operation would provoke a new round of hostilities, Yemen’s tribes have rallied their cause with an “all for one, one for all” mentality. Yet this formal ceremony, unlike the weekend’s carnage, resulted in deathly low Western media coverage. On Saturday roughly 600 tribal and revolutionary representatives gathered in Sana’a to form the Yemen Tribal Coalition, complete with its own Free Armed Forces. Chaired by Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar, the head of Yemen’s Hashid tribe, the coalition announced a 116-member Shura Council to spearhead its political decision-making. The al-Ahmars (particularly Sadeq’s brother, Hamid) aren’t widely trusted due to their connections with Riyadh, and some protesters believe they’re now resorting to escalation in response to losing Saudi favor. al-Ahmar's announcement was issued at the headquarters of Mohsen's First Armored Division, which has periodically obstructed street demonstrations.

al-Ahmar's militia has also guarded youth camps and the sheikh took a political highroad by opening the coalition to all tribes, parties and individuals seeking the end of Saleh’s regime. Prominent sheikhs of the Bakil tribe, larger but less powerful than the Hashid, attended in a display of solidity with the Houthi sect and Southern representatives. Although
Sheikh Mohammed Nagi Shaef, the Bakil's self-styled chief, denounced the alliance as an offshoot of the Islah party, his "loyalty" to Saleh discolors his rhetoric. The Yemeni Tribes’ Alliance is, according to an internal document, “the largest tribal group in the history of Yemen.”

“Saleh and his sons will not rule us as long as we are alive,” said al-Ahmar, whose home was assaulted by Saleh in an effort to provoke a tribal conflict.

The creation of this alliance is hardly free of danger, both internal and external. The interplay between Hashid and Bakil remains fluid, while the Houthis and Islah elements have competed for Al Jawf governorate
at a high cost of human life. Additionally, a position of strength is unlikely to back down Saleh’s remaining security forces. al-Ahmar declared that an attack on one tribe constitutes an attack on all tribes, and that defending all parties is “a duty to my eyes.” This challenge will be met with increasing force until the tribes can ground what’s left of Saleh’s air support. al-Ahmar also condemned the “injustice, poverty, tyranny, humiliation, social practiced by the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh,” and issued a blanket warning against attacks on the revolutionaries.

He urged tribes from all parts of Yemen to rise up in defense of the Arhab and the youth, prepping
the environment for new clashes.

To be fair, this newly-formed tribal alliance is incredibly complex and prone to foreign misreporting; propaganda is a constant factor. However Yemen's revolutionaries and the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) announced simpler coalitions over a two-week period, only to dwell in the same U.S. darkness. Instead the media has shadowed President Barack Obama's administration, which has yet to respond to any of these councils or ongoing human rights abuses. Many reasons explain the lack of reaction in Yemen, but the Republican Guard functions as a common denominator in these cases. A U.S.-trained outfit that has incurred the Yemeni people’s wrath, the Guard is commanded by Saleh’s son Ahmed, groomed to believe that he's the rightful heir of Yemen.

Now keeping his father's palace warm as Vice President Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-Hadi struggles to assert his authority, Ahmed's abuses are being committed with U.S. equipment and political cover. So it’s little wonder why the U.S. establishment would ignore a tribal alliance reacting to these atrocities: like the revolutionaries, al-Ahmar’s demands include the total end of Saleh’s regime and the arrest of Ahmed, a Pentagon liaison. The Arhab tribe issued a similar demand in addition to Brigadier General Yahya Mohamed Abdullah, Saleh's nephew and commander of the U.S.-trained Central Security Organization. Both have denounced the revolution as a hoax as they suppress non-violent protesters. This devious arrangement has shutdown the Obama administration's response, kept UN sanctions off of Saleh’s back and wrote his familial immunity into the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) initiative.

al-Ahmar referenced the world’s silence when calling on Western countries to support Yemen’s revolutionaries: “We will not stay idly if something dangerous or illegal targets the people.”

Last Friday Jamal bin Omar, the UN’s special envoy, left Sana’a after multiple attempts to sign the U.S-Saudi drafted “30/60” initiative, sponsored by the GCC. Although Omar claims to have met opposition and youth representatives, he would have needed to tracked them down as they protested against foreign intervention. Warning that “the Yemeni political forces now have two options: to reach a compromise accepted by all to start necessary steps for a practical transitional period or to face danger of the collapse of the country or Somalizing it,” Yemen’s revolutionaries have committed themselves past the point of Saleh’s return.

They believe they can stand up for freedom without tearing their country apart - that Saleh can only manufacture an artificial civil war.

Contrary to Omar’s statements, negotiating with Saleh is the quickest path to “Somalization,” a word Yemen’s tyrant has grown accustomed to throwing on the revolution's fire. With Yemen’s tribes coming together more than they've pulled apart, the UN is engaging in Saleh’s fear tactics at the orders of Washington and Riyadh.
He has since emerged to declare his support for "a dialogue based on the peaceful power-transition initiative brokered earlier by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as well as the conciliation efforts by the UN envoy." If signed, the GCC's initiative would prolong Saleh’s rule and dilute the revolution, ultimately increasing instability. His aides now promise a return and snap elections overseen by the government.

If fused with the opposition's transitional councils, the tribal alliance’s weight could provide the muscle to topple Saleh for good. Who wants to hear about that in America?

July 30, 2011

Somalia’s Battle For Aid

Parallel battles are unfolding amid Somalia's epic drought. On the bureaucratic side, Western governments and aid organizations continue to struggle with financing a multi-billion dollar rescue operation. In far-off Washington, al-Shabab’s red tape conceals ulterior suspicions of a corrupt Transitional Federal Government (TFG), despite its improving performance. This political friction multiplies once it hits the parched earth, where thousands of tons of aid must be distributed throughout some of the world’s worst infrastructure.

Waiting on these roads is al-Shabab, blamed by the U.S. and African Union for obstructing the flow at Mogadishu.

As the UN untangles itself from the controversy of a full storehouse, AU troops have launched a pincer assault on al-Shabab to seize new districts in the capital. Military campaigns usually involve multiple objectives and the AU appears to be tossing the UN an umbrella in the melee. With al-Shabab tied up with Somali and Ethiopian troops on the southwestern front, the opportunity to seize entire districts has drifted in front of AMISOM’s positions. al-Shabab simply has too many obstacles to identify and the AU senses weakness - but commanders have also blamed the group for blocking humanitarian aid.

Each day several planes land in Mogadishu to unload their foodstuffs. As the UN's World Food Program (WFP) feeds some hundreds of thousands in the capital (half of its 1.8 million people are estimated to be IDP’s), the AU reports that al-Shabab just sent reinforcements to hold their remaining territory.

The latest AU offensive began Thursday and immediately ran into an ambush while encircling the Bakaara market. AMISOM has spent the last six months securing those districts around Villa Somalia and the parliament building (Bondhere and Hamar Weyne) and encroaching upon the infamous arms market, which al-Shabab taxes to considerable effect. The AU has since taken Hodan and parts of Hawl Wadag, where the Bakaara market lies, in an attempt to squeeze al-Shabab into the neighboring districts. This process resulted in numerous militant and civilian casualties, but has so far avoided the bloodbath of a frontal raid. AU spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said the force now controls the west, south and eastern flanks, meaning an assault could be coming sooner than later.

He also claimed that AU units are already moving toward al-Shabab’s next stronghold, Mogadiscio Stadium, located roughly a mile northeast in Wardhigley district. Even recent gains, however, leave the AU with a sizable expanse of territory to rest away from an increasingly desperate group. al-Shabab needs popular support to topple the government, but concentrated mobile warfare could maintain a stalemate in the capital. 3,000 additional AMISOM troops are scheduled to deploy by the end of summer to counter this possibility.

The main question in terms of aid is where al-Shabab is holding up distribution, and where the government and NGOs simply cannot deliver food and medicine. The insurgency remains split on allowing open access to all NGOs; only a handful have flown low enough under the radar to continue operations. Al-Shabab’s reinforcements haven’t been independently confirmed as obstructing Mogadishu’s aid, and instead appear to be reinforcing their positions. A paradox also exists in the TFG’s claim that 60% of the city, including the area surrounding Mogadishu’s airport, and 80% of the population is now secured by the government. Why, if al-Shabab is presumed to be choking aid at its source, is the TFG having a difficult time moving supplies south through its own territory?

If these reinforcements do exist, though, they were most likely sent by northern commanders or al-Qaeda operatives firmly opposed to Western agencies. The majority of local reporting has confirmed the opposite feeling within al-Shabab’s southern leadership, which is locally based and more willing to grant access. Last weekend the International Red Cross said it distributed 400 tons of food to Lower Shabelle, one of the hardest hit regions controlled by al-Shabab. Mohamed Bashir Ibrahim, the managing director of Kuwait Direct Aid, said that assessment teams found a child malnutrition rate of 70%, leading them to contact al-Shabab’s regional administration. Two food distribution points were eventually set up.

“Initially, we expected to feed at least 500 children daily in each of the feeding centers located in Kurtunwarey and Bulo-Mareen,” said Ibrahim, “but the number increased to about 1,800 children of every age, including pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers. On average, at least 800 people now come to these feeding centers daily."

Though meager numbers compared to the vast suffering of millions, the food centers themselves demonstrate the patchwork that aid officials must operate under. They also fear that al-Shabab’s orders won’t trickle down to the foot soldiers and local commanders even if they’re given. When officials aren’t navigating al-Sbabab’s hierarchy, they’re swimming through a tribal patchwork to gain access. The slow response to Somalia’s humanitarian disaster can be attributed to all of these factors, rather than the West, TFG or al-Shabab specifically.

In light of the situation's unique circumstances, the international community and TFG/AU do not have the luxury of squabbling with each other. Political friction has impeded Somalia’s resuscitation and is now strangling the response to its drought. An emergency network must be established to coordinate relief efforts; the TFG is working the problem but this operation must be sped up. The TFG faces an immediate dilemma after seizing al-Shabab territory: restoring a semblance of governance to the area. While social services and programs aim to increase their range, Mogadishu’s isolated demands far exceed the TFG’s capacity even if it possessed the necessary authority. Because the political and military tracks multiply each other’s friction, bureaucratic efficiency is key to focusing on security and distribution concerns.

An ideal concept in Somalia, to be sure, but the most realistic option to minimize the people’s suffering.

The question also arises as to whether al-Shabab’s local leadership can be divided by the use of aid. The group is presumed to be allergic to negotiations or compromise, and perhaps nothing exists to pursue if al-Shabab closes ranks. However war normally creates opportunities to foster division, and these efforts don’t seem to be pursued so much as a blunt military offensive. The southern leadership may become more vulnerable to Western aid, allowing the TFG and AU to maintain its focus in Mogadishu and Somalia’s central region, which al-Shabab continues to infiltrate. Waiting becomes less useful now that al-Shabab is stalling and regrouping under the drought and aid organizations - nor does time favor millions of Somalis.

Somalia’s emergency demands immediate action, everywhere and in every possible form. Otherwise the TFG, AU, al-Shabab and the international community will all become mired in an even wider catastrophe.

Iraq Less Safe Than 12 Months Ago

Just because U.S. combat missions are declared "over" doesn't mean that they are, in fact, over. Stuart Bowen Jr., U.S. Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, also claims the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad failed to cooperate during July’s quarterly report.

An Iraqi announcement on the future of 10,000-20,000 U.S. troops is expected any day.

July 29, 2011

Egyptian Revolution Nears Third Phase

The avalanche of U.S. reports shining a negative light on the Arab Spring commit one fundamental error. In announcing that oppressive governments have outmaneuvered protesters - now growing “tired” or “dejected” - the process of a revolution is confused with a coup. Although revolution marks a “turn around” from the previous system and sometimes bursts in a flash, historic uprisings are normally protracted struggles, whether American, French, Cuban or Vietnamese.

Except the need for instant gratification knows no limit in America: why aren’t the revolutions over by now?

NPR, for instance, is one of many U.S. sources “reporting” that “the protesters have returned” to Tahrir Square. While many of the protesters that filled the square in February restored a brief sense of normality to their lives after toppling Hosni Mubarak, a hardened core of activists never left the streets. Life remains hard in Egypt, partly because the revolution has arrested the country and partly because the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has little desire to govern. Spurring the general populace to action, waves of Egyptians have periodically jointed those who guard the square for the past three months, each time refusing to bend to the SCAF’s political maneuverings.

After completing phase one of the revolution (remove Mubarak), protesters consider themselves stuck in the second phase of replacing the SCAF and organizing more representative electoral laws. Once justice is delivered to Mubarak and a democratic structure overthrows the SCAF, they believe the revolution’s third phase can begin by genuinely looking towards Egypt’s future. Egyptians have suffered too much and for too long to give up their dreams after six months or a year.

Back in America pessimism continues to obstruct the view towards Egypt. Either the revolutionaries are no revolutionaries at all, or they had no plan and therefore shouldn’t have revolted against oppression. Many Americans support the Christian minority first, attack Islam in general and brand Egyptians as terrorists, then proceed to ring the alarm over the Muslim Brotherhood. They usually believe that Washington shouldn’t have thrown a U.S. ally “under the bus.” Most of these viewpoints stem from maintaining Israeli-Saudi dominance in the region, and couldn’t care less about the average Egyptian’s fate.

Legitimate concerns do exist in Egypt, including the Brotherhood's intentions and Christian representation, but protesters shouldn’t be penalized because their revolution is “hard.” With Mubarak’s hunger status fueling new tensions around his August 3rd trial, many protesters expect a final showdown with the military if his trial is delayed or postponed indefinitely. Former interior minister Habib al Adli, also implicated in the deaths of 800+ Egyptians, has already seen his trial delayed by a week. Some protesters feel no urge to rush, believing a show trial is detrimental to Egypt’s future conception of justice.

The majority opinion, though, wishes to see Mubarak, his sons and cronies made into an example of tyranny’s end, to prevent a repeat offense. They eagerly await the cage match in Cairo.

As a result the SCAF has moved closer to the Brotherhood in an attempt to encircle the revolution, both of which are now in open opposition to each other. Eroding its goodwill from refusing to fire on protesters, the military has marshaled its own loyalists and plain clothes henchmen while referring to the protesters as “thugs,” prompting a “thug off” in the media. Egyptians accuse the SCAF of failing to represent their struggle, and of guarding its own advantage by shielding Mubarak’s regime from prosecution. Last week Army council General Mamdouh Shahin ruled against international monitoring of the impending November election, arguing that Egypt “doesn’t accept guardianship from any country.”

In overcompensating for these transgressions and other political disputes, the SCAF has tried far too hard to convince protesters of its sincerity. Addressing the U.S. Institute of Peace, Major General Mohamed Said al-Assar promised that “we are not dictators” and “are not the continuation of the last regime.” Many protesters fervently disagree, and are organizing new demonstrations to let the generals know that their time is almost up.

This schism has led the SCAF to inch closer to the Brotherhood as it seeks to manipulate the political environment. The Brotherhood kept away from popular rallies to prove their numbers until exploding onto the scene today, "hijacking" a Friday of unity and prompting a harsh rebuke from the youth coalitions. General al-Assar would tell his audience at the U.S. Institute, “Day by day, the Brotherhood are changing and are getting on a more moderate track. They have the willingness to share in the political life... they are sharing in good ways.”

The Brotherhood has responded somewhat positively to the SCAF’s electoral reform; a near-term election favor Egypt’s most organized political bloc. However the group also pushed back against a mixed-electoral system of individual representatives and joint-party lists, which would allow two parties to pool their votes and run on one list. Ahram Online reports that the Brotherhood and liberal Wafd party both seek a system based entirely on the party-list; Army council General Mamdouh Shahin recently deemed this position as “unconstitutional.”

Rather than aligning interests, the SCAF and MB are using each other to further their separate interests. They are more likely to diverge than form a mutual relationship, and the Brotherhood could help bring down the SCAF in the end. At this point the popular revolution would need to form a new sectarian party to outweigh the Brotherhood, and for Egypt to begin functioning as a developed pluralist system.

While Egypt remains a fluid mix of political interests, its revolution is gradually moving forward. Energy hasn’t dissipated, relatively speaking, and a break during Ramadan will set up a fresh wave for September. Once Mubarak faces justice (or escapes) and the SCAF is supplanted, the revolution can begin to prove its merit with a peaceful election and by directing all eyes towards the future. The heaviest lifting begins when the dust of Mubarak's regime finally settles.

Revolutionaries are supposed to evolve and overcome, and Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Syrians, Jordanians, Bahrainis, Yemenis and all those standing up to authoritarianism have persevered through the fire. They should be commended for inspiring the Arab Spring and everything that flows from it, instead of being marginalized, discounted or demonized.

Inside Washington’s Spin Machine: Droning

Apparently an Internet debate has sprung up over Dennis Blair’s speech to the Aspen Security Forum. These articles largely gloss over the surface without addressing the core of Blair’s remarks, instead focusing on Pakistan or why America should get out of the Middle East and, therefore, use drones to stay out. Where these drones are headed - Yemen and Somalia - become lost in the spin.

“Pull back on unilateral actions by the United States, except in extraordinary circumstances,” President Barack Obama’s first Director of National Intelligence told CBS’s Lesley Stahl. “I think we need to change — in those three countries — in a dramatic way. We’re alienating the countries concerned, because we’re treating countries just as places where we go attack groups that threaten us. We are threatening the prospects for long-term reform raised by the Arab Spring … which would make these countries capable and willing allies who could in fact knock that threat down to a nuisance level.”

Taken at face value and Blair sounds more logical than any current administration official. However we do not believe that his remarks are genuine, but a manufactured counterweight by Aspen Institute and the White House, which enjoy numerous connections. On one level Blair was held responsible for near misses over Detroit and in Times Square, as well as the fatal Fort Hood shooting. Two of these attacks trace back to Yemen’s al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) even though neither individual was of Yemeni descent. These are the types of reasons why Yemenis believe that AQAP has been nurtured in their country by Ali Abdullah Saleh, Washington and Riyadh.

In the end Blair was reportedly “fired” because of a French scandal, not his view on drones. After barraging Yemen with drones and cruise missiles in response to 2009’s attempted Christmas bombing, he should know from experience how to alienate a populace. He left his position only days after an errant drone strike killed the deputy governor of Marib province, putting drone flights on hold until Yemen's revolution began. Blair’s testimony “shines” as the “voice of reason” among a fresh pile of AQ-related news and threats, including the just-retired director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

Speaking a day before Blair, Mike Leiter told the Aspen Security Forum that, “the potential threat from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is very real... most likely simple forms of chemical or biological weapons.”

Leiter is sure to clarify that these attacks will spread fear more than death, then proceeds to spread that very fear for them. Both of their statements are caught up in the grander game being played by the Obama administration, and Blair’s remarks have already spun away from their original meaning. For instance, White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked whether, “unilateral drone attacks in Pakistan actually did more harm to U.S. national security interests than good, and he called for I believe a stronger partnership with Pakistan. Does the White House have an opinion about these remarks?”

“Well, without addressing specific methods, I would say simply that we believe our relationship with Pakistan is essential to fighting terrorism and terrorists, fighting al Qaeda. And that’s why we work hard on that relationship even though it is complicated and difficult at times. We also make no apologies for the need to go after terrorists, members of al Qaeda, wherever they are. And that is certainly true about the mission to eliminate Osama bin Laden. And I think that -- I understand that that creates tension. And we have -- we engage with the Pakistanis to discuss these issues all the time. But the relationship is important and, obviously, fighting terrorism is important.”

Never is Yemen or Somalia brought up by the reporter or Carney, and Blair’s words dissolve into the rapid current of U.S. debt.

Washington’s spin machine doesn’t favor a sincere debate on unilateral military operations in al-Qaeda’s remaining havens, whether Special Forces/CIA trainers or Reapers. The system pumps out an artificial conversation to deceive and confuse the masses. Yemen resides at the very bottom of U.S. consciousness, and its revolution hasn’t been addressed by the White House or State Department in weeks. It is controlled solely by the Pentagon and CIA - Yemen and Somalia’s “secret” drone bases remain taboo subjects in the White House. The Obama administration is missing a real opportunity to defeat al-Qaeda’s ideology, instead reinforcing America’s militaristic double-standard in the Middle East.

These discussions would make for a true debate, instead of muzzled, off-key droning at an Obama-friendly think-tank.

Is Obama Blissfully Ignorant of the Arab Spring?

When Tom Donilon told Charlie Rose that the Obama administration has restored America’s credibility and leadership in the world - not just globally but within the Middle East - we assumed that he was stumping for 2012.

In a poll-obsessed White House, President Barack Obama’s National Security Council must have seen the abysmal numbers collecting under Washington’s biased response to the Arab Spring. Overriding them with repetition expedited the sale of a faulty product. This same design may have just unraveled in the State Department, but we’re now less certain that the administration isn’t wallowing in sincere ignorance. At the end of Thursday’s State Department briefing, spokesman Mark Toner was confronted with James Zogby's Arab Attitudes: 2011.

The poll, as the reporter explains, “shows that the U.S. Administration’s approval rating less than 10 percent in the Middle East, which is basically worse than the previous administration. After two and a half years, how do you view - why do you think that your approach and policies in Middle East -”

Might as well cut off the speaker if you don’t know the answer.

“I haven’t seen the poll,” Toner interrupts, “so it’s difficult for me to comment on its findings. We have – this President, this Administration, the Secretary of State have sought a cooperative relationship with the Middle East. And it is a region clearly undergoing tremendous change, whether it be in Syria, in Egypt, and elsewhere – in Bahrain, other countries, and the Secretary has spoken very clearly about the need for many of these governments to reform and to work with their populations to offer them economic promise and political openness. And we’re going to continue to press those messages. We think that those are the correct messages to send to the Middle East, regardless of poll numbers.”

While this statement is riddled with falsities, none pack the sheer force of a two-week delay between action and reaction. The State Department took the next week off following Zogby’s poll, but Arab Attitudes: 2011 was released on July 13th, when Toner was still giving briefings. Iran even came out ahead of America despite its own tanking image. This type of material would make for good vacation reading, but Toner returned as clueless as ever. Slow reaction gave way to no reaction, leaving the reporter in disbelief.

“Right. There is not only one poll, actually. There is – there are other polls, like Gallup poll from a couple weeks – a month ago. You obviously – your Administration has been pro-change and, as you describe it, supporting the protesters. So certainly, there should be a reason. I think there is no disagreement about that Middle East has a negative view on your approach. Going forward, do you have any plans to change any policies –”

“No,” answers Toner. “As I said, we’re going to continue to stand for universal rights, as we have thus far in the Arab Spring, and continue to work with these countries that have already, as we say, turned the corner and are on a path towards democratic transition, because we believe it’s the right thing to do. It’s the right thing for them and it’s the right thing for the world and for the region.”

In other words, America will continue standing for partial rights based on U.S. interests, and continue working with compliant allies to avoid regime change. Toner has blown propaganda for months so he can easily sink to such deception, but what if he actually hasn’t seen any of these polls? Is this not his job? Who in the State Department - and White House - is monitoring popular opinion in the Middle East? Perceiving the difference between real and feigned ignorance may be an impossible task.

Either could be true when Toner declares that America is standing up for democracy in Egypt or Bahrain, where the U.S.-Saudi counter-revolution hit hard.

“Look, the U.S. stands ready to support the Egyptian people,” says Toner, when many Egyptians feel that the Obama administration jumped on their revolution too late, only to handcuff them to an unresponsive military council. After defending the military’s role during the revolution and applauding its leadership post-Mubarak, Toner “confirms” that, “our position is that we offer – continue to offer our assistance as they – both in terms of the Egyptian economy but also other facets of this transition.” Either Toner is tracing Donilon’s steps, or he really didn’t catch the June Gallop poll that revealed 75% disapproval for Western financial aid.

According to this particular poll, whose findings match a growing body of statistics, 88% of respondents do not view America as a political model for Egypt.

Meanwhile Bahrain’s silence represents an even greater disconnect from universal values. The monarchy’s sham “National Dialogue” opened with great fanfare from the administration - and many protesters still imprisoned - only to drop completely off radar as it crashed and burned. Saudi-backed Bahraini forces continue to violently suppress those demonstrating against the dialogue, while Manama’s “Hospital of Death” has escaped the U.S. spotlight. Yet when rumors surfaced of a proposed relocation of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, currently stationed on a U.S. naval base, the State Department shot them down immediately.

Of course Yemen’s absence silences speaks for itself, and updates of the revolution will be posted over the weekend. In discussing U.S. policy with local actors, we’ve received an overwhelming response that Egyptians “didn’t need U.S. support to overthrow Mubarak,” and thus have no need America to topple Ali Abdullah Saleh either. Most Yemenis haven’t just lost faith in Obama personally, but despise U.S. interference in their country. Some literally cannot believe that America has and continues to support Saleh's regime.

The White House is alienating the same populace that it claims to host the greatest threat to America, the most backwards area of U.S. foreign policy.

Throughout the Arab Spring Hillary Clinton has spoken “very clearly about the need for many of these governments to reform” - in Syria and Libya. She and Obama have been MIA in Bahrain and Yemen, disconnected from Egypt, and all of these revolutionaries (with the possible exception of Bahrainis) seek nothing less than total regime change. The reaction to U.S. policy is negative for this reason; that a substantial majority of respondents believe the opposite of Toner’s statements is no polling anomaly.

We still can’t split the edge between deceit and delusion, but neither champions universal liberty in the Middle East.

July 28, 2011

Dear Washington: We've Had a Revolution

By Manar el-Shorbagy, published in Egypt's Al-Masry Al-Youm:
It seems that many American policy-makers and think tanks are unaware that Egypt has had a revolution. Even after the fall of Mubarak, they still want us to keep his domestic and foreign policies.They still handle Egyptian affairs in the same haughty manner, assuming the regime is prepared to make any foreign policy concessions to stay in power.

The US has gone so far as to pick policies for Egypt that are tailored to their interests and Israel’s, and then to issue threats and warnings if Egypt rejects them.

The US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, for instance, recently proposed a bill to impose strict conditions on security aid to Egypt. According to the bill, for Egypt to continue receiving US security assistance the US president must certify that the Egyptian government is not controlled by a terrorist organization, is fully implementing its peace treaty with Israel and is taking action against underground smuggling along its border with Gaza. The bill also states that the US state and defense secretaries should submit a report on the behavior of the Egyptian government and the extent to which it has demonstrated its commitment to the above stipulations before making a decision on aid. Egypt should stop all incitement to violence against the US and its citizens, the bill adds. And Egyptian authorities should stop the broadcast of any hostile material on satellites under their control.

Even if the bill is not enforced, it still fosters a political atmosphere that encourages this type of discourse.

We, in Egypt, must keep an eye on what’s going on in the US media and think tanks, where ideas are circulating that are similar to those in the US Congress and aim to uphold Mubarak’s foreign and domestic policy.

By following US newspaper headlines and think tank recommendations, one can notice a pattern in their stances. For example, they all express deep concern over Egypt's decision not to borrow from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and fury at the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for making such a decision. US policy experts have called on Egypt to abolish subsidies, especially on energy, and halt the trials of former regime icons for fears they will lead to instability. They also advocate the signing of a US-Egypt free trade agreement. If the Latin American experience teaches us anything, it’s that such agreements crush any hopes for the development of domestic industries, the defense of labor rights, and the protection of the environment.

Some in the US want Egypt to remain a dependent state that is bogged down with foreign loans and assistance.

A report prepared by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and two other centers known for their conservative orientations advance proposals similar to those of the National Democratic Party's policies secretariat. Speaking about the pre-revolution economy, the report says:

“While poverty levels remained high, the available household survey data indicate that there was no widening of the income distribution, suggesting that the gains from economic growth were fairly widely distributed.”

The report goes on to praise the reforms adopted during the last years of Mubarak’s rule for achieving good results.

The US is acting as though Mubarak is still in power. In response, Egypt should express its clear rejection of any interference in its domestic affairs on three levels.
First, Field Marshal Tantawi should not to accept the new US ambassador until he/she presents a list of all the money that has flowed into Egypt since the 25 January revolution, its recipients and the criteria for their selection.

Second, Egypt should tell Congress that any threats to withhold military assistance will no longer work after the ouster of Mubarak. Egypt receives this assistance as a guarantee for its adherence to the peace treaty. Cutting military aid means that Egypt may rightfully reconsider the treaty and whether it serves its interests.

Third, if American think tanks feel such an overwhelming longing for Mubarak's era, then we’re sorry to tell them that we’re not interested in their advice.

"Reforming Bahrain," America's Way

No surprise that The Wall Street Journal is speaking directly for the Bahraini Monarchy - and the Pentagon:
Over the past four weeks Bahrain has been engaged in an important initiative to re-forge consensus in society. The events at the beginning of the year revealed sharp differences of view among some communities about the way the country should develop.

The National Dialogue that began on July 5 brought together around 300 groups representing a wide spectrum of Bahraini society, including all political associations that included opposition groups, non-governmental organizations, religious scholars, human-rights activists, journalists, economists and business leaders.

Initiated by King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, the dialogue's aim was to generate a consensus on key issues facing Bahrain and submit recommendations for further reforms.

On Thursday, the delegates to the dialogue passed these recommendations to the King in preparation for their enactment into law and implementation. They include radical changes in the level of democratic oversight exercised by parliament over the executive branch. In future, Bahrain's parliament will approve the composition of the government as well as the government's work program. Important proposals for improving the economy also went forward, including measures to increase diversification, strengthen commercial arbitration and amend privatization laws. Delegates also called for a comprehensive study to identify low-income target groups and improve the government's redistribution of funds as part of an effort to raise Bahrain's levels of social inclusion.

Bahrain's long history as a trading hub with a cosmopolitan population means that the principle of tolerance is well founded in our society. This was clear during the national dialogue process.

Of course, there were some issues on which participants did not easily find consensus and some groups were disappointed with the lowest-common-denominator compromises that emerged. Nevertheless, the long and occasionally difficult process of discussing complex and sensitive matters in a responsible way demonstrated to Bahrainis at large that there is a strong desire in society to overcome these differences and set the country on a stable course of development.

We regretted the decision by four opposition groups to leave the talks. Although they represented views and interests that are an important part of our society, we had a duty to ensure that all voices were heard in the dialogue, and not just the loudest.

The King pledged from the outset to ensure the swift implementation of the dialogue's recommendations. This was a powerful incentive for participants to identify common positions.

Bahrain's adoption of the National Action Charter in 2001 marked an important turning point in the country's political reforms and showed that Bahrain is able to drive change in an evolutionary way. The same is true now.

Through the national dialogue, Bahrainis seized the opportunity to address their concerns and resolve them in a civilized manner. Together we have taken a vitally important step forward in the process of healing divisions in our society.
Khalifa Bin Ahmed Al-Dhahrani is the speaker of Bahrain's elected Council of Representatives and chaired the National Dialogue.

[The WSJ did try to neutralize this "op-ed" with an opposing report. Also see Al Arabiya's update.]

July 27, 2011

Washington Post Confirms Yemeni Drone Base

So al-Qaeda verges on the edge of “collapse.” At least according to the CIA, if only it can push the network over the cliff with another dozen well-placed drone strikes. Citing previous remarks by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and a response from several anonymous officials, The Washington Post races down the blurred line between genuine optimism and propaganda.

“I’m not sure I would have chosen ‘strategic defeat,’ ” said a senior U.S. counterterrorism official, who cautioned that al-Qaeda’s ideology will continue to spread even without its original leadership. “But if you mean that we have rendered them largely incapable of catastrophic attacks against the homeland, then I think Panetta is exactly right. We are within reach of rendering them to that point.”

Beyond bin Laden, “we have eliminated a number of generations of leaders,” this official added. “They have not had a successful operation in a long time. You at some point have to ask yourself, ‘What else do we have to do?’”

How about not systematically isolating America in Yemen, which the Pentagon openly declares as al-Qaeda’s new stronghold?

As The Washington Post reports, “AQAP, as the Yemen-based group is known, has emerged as the most dangerous of those affiliates.” Left out is the disastrous state of U.S. policy in Yemen, where military support for Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime and ongoing political obstruction have turned the majority of protesters against the U.S. government. Talk to Yemen’s revolutionaries and they will reject al-Qaeda’s ideology - now southern tribes have turned against its advances - but nowhere is the corrupt Western tyrant more alive than in Yemen.

Concerns do exist that Yemenis will embrace AQAP in greater numbers if their revolution is foiled by Saleh, Washington and Riyadh. Yet the Obama administration is determined to steamroll U.S. military operations into the country, sacrificing long-term politics to exploit a short-term “opportunity” to eliminate AQAP’s leadership. This policy is wholly contradictory; the quickest, cheapest means of defeating AQAP is supporting Yemen’s revolutionaries.

However Washington and Riyadh, bent on increasing Yemen’s instability to justify their hegemony, remain unwilling to give up their prized colony on the strategic Gulf of Aden.

Despite Yemen’s perceived relativity to al-Qaeda’s story, the inclusion of AQAP strikes a juxtaposition within The Washington Post’s narrative. While the story leans towards al-Qaeda’s defeat, current U.S. policy in Yemen will never defeat AQAP’s ranks or its ideology. This futile strategy is then enumerated as if to instill confidence in U.S. readers. None of these details are new; it is simply jarring to see them packaged together.

The U.S. Joint Special Operations Command is already known to operate “Special Operations advisers... alongside Yemeni forces,” and “pilot drone aircraft from above.” We know that two U.S. warplanes and a drone “nearly eliminated” AQAP cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, something the CIA is now repeatedly reminding the U.S. public in order to legitimize further military escalation. It was Saleh’s new information flow, also designed to win U.S. support, that kicked off the latest flurry of drone strikes.

We know that, because of these operations, “the Obama administration is bolstering the CIA’s role in Yemen, seeking to replicate its pursuit of al-Qaeda in Pakistan. The agency is expected to work closely with Saudi Arabia, exploiting the kingdom’s close ties to Yemen’s most influential tribes in an effort to develop new networks of sources on AQAP.”

Finally, in conjunction with Saleh’s regime (or perhaps not), “the agency is building a desert airstrip so that it can begin flying armed drones over Yemen. The facility, which is scheduled to be completed in September, is designed to shield the CIA’s aircraft, and their sophisticated surveillance equipment, from observers at busier regional military hubs such as Djibouti, where the JSOC drones are based.”

We know that the Obama administration is covering Yemen’s disastrous foreign policy with military smoke-screens. Less clear is why the Obama administration feels so confident that these operations will succeed in “dismantling” AQAP. How can al-Qaeda die so long as AQAP flourishes?

Unless the plan is to keep al-Qaeda alive.

U.S. Launches New EU Strike on Yemen

On Monday the Obama administration released the first of two statements denouncing the crackdown on Syria’s revolution. First Victoria Nuland, a spokeswoman in the State Department, condemned, “the ongoing violence in Syria, particularly the brutality practiced by the Syrian Government against its own citizens.” Her remarks would rebound at Tuesday’s Open Security Council Debate on the Situation in the Middle East, where Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo singled out Israel, Lebanon and Syria in addressing the council.

“Mr. President, let me say a few words about the ongoing crisis in Syria,” the U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative segued her testimony. “The world has been inspired by the courage of the peaceful protestors who have taken to the streets across the country to demand their universal rights. The regime has responded with violence, brutality, and mass arrests.”

Many other areas warrant coverage but somehow only Israeli interests made it into her remarks. Two for Syria, none for Egypt, Bahrain or Yemen, revolutions that apparently don’t inspired the world.

Taking full advantage of the 2-10% of Americans paying “serious attention” to Yemen - and 3% news coverage - the Obama administration continues to deploy Europeans to mop up a toxic spill of U.S. foreign policy. Nearly two weeks of transitional councils and government violence (committed by U.S.-trained forces wielding U.S. equipment) have elapsed without a single response from the White House. We covered the British and German strikes last week, before the UN unloaded over the weekend. Now UK Foreign Secretary William Hague and Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has been sent back into the fray after several weeks of R&R, a cycle that mimics troop rotations on the front-lines.

Echoing Britain's fresh support for the despised Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) “30/60” initiative, Ashton released a statement claiming, "The Yemeni people should not be the prey of political conflicts and humanitarian crises which have grave impacts at regional and international levels.”

This statement reeks of collusion - the hunter preying on its victim while simultaneously feigning concern. Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime isn’t solely responsible for Yemen’s political gridlock and humanitarian crises, nor is the revolution a mere “political crisis.” America, Europe, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia have all trapped Yemen’s revolutionaries between Saleh’s regime and the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), primarily by supporting the GCC’s “power transfer” to the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC). Meeting with Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi in Brussels, Ashton told him to “transmit” a message to Saleh that he must sign the GCC’s initiative, even clarifying that he would be given an additional 30 days to resign.

Hosting al-Qirbi on European turf further legitimized a “power transfer” run through Saleh’s regime.

In addition to low public awareness and the corresponding lack of pressure, the White House has grown increasingly afraid of pushing a futile agreement on Saleh. Yet instead of changing policy, Washington has contracted out doomed missions to the EU in advance (the secondary objective of blocking regime change is still being achieved). The day after Tuesday’s meeting, Ashton and al-Qirbi would quickly part ways as Yemen’s Foreign Minister responded with a message from Saleh.

"President Saleh made this very clear,” al-Qirbi told Reuters in an exclusive interview. “He repeatedly said he is ready to transfer power anytime, but through early elections, through the ballot box and by adhering to the constitution. Now the issue is for the ruling party and the opposition parties to agree on a date for early elections.”

In other words Saleh’s regime still agrees to the GCC’s initiative “in principle,” but wants more time to “address the mechanism.”

"This time schedule has proven to be difficult to implement,” al-Qirbi argued. “Elections cannot take place in 60 days. Therefore, if President Saleh resigns after 30 days and no election can take place in 60 days we will run into a constitutional vacuum in the country. The president is not scrapping the agreement. It is just the timetable for the implementation that need to be readdressed.”

Back in reality, an election mandated by the GPC and JMP would greatly obstruct the revolution, who in turn require months of independence to organize. Demanding an election under such conditions also implies a corrupt electoral process. An early election on the GPC and JMP’s terms would prove disastrous for the revolution, although the possibility of a boycott could negate this scheme. Nevertheless, that outcome would jam the revolution in perpetual stalemate rather than move it forward.

The Obama administration and European Union have no respect for Yemen’s revolutionaries. At the geopolitical level, Syria’s revolutionaries have been embraced while Yemen’s peaceful uprising has been quarantined. At the street level, the same brutalities committed by Syrian forces pass under Western silence. On Wednesday “security forces and loyalists with sticks attacked a group of female protesters as they rallied in front of the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a.” Did Washington “condemn” this assault? No, the U.S. Embassy in Sana’a “regretted” it.

Just like Washington will eventually regret alienating the entire Yemeni populace as it tries to open its front against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Taliban Score Another Kandahar Kill

Did Ryan Crocker somehow stubble onto The U.S.-Taliban Assassination Challenge? Reacting to the Taliban’s latest casualty, Kandahar mayor Ghulam Haider Hamidi, America’s new ambassador to Afghanistan explained in the clearest terms that a high-level assassination campaign “could indicate a shift in tactics.” Only Crocker reaches the opposite interpretation. Rather than adapting to America’s surge and the ensuing barrage of air and night raids, the Taliban have been forced into “cowardly” assassinations “because of an overall weakness.”

“I would judge that the Taliban is now damaged to the point where they can no longer conduct large-scale operations. They’ve had to kind of regroup and figure out what they can do, and in some cases that has been assassination,” Crocker told reporters at the embassy. “Clearly, these are horrific attacks but they can also be interpreted as a sign of significant organizational weakness on the part of the adversary.”

The details of Hamidi’s death aren’t as immediately shocking as Ahmed Wali Karzai or Jan Mohamed Khan's, two mainstays in President Hamid Karzai’s inner circle, but only because the latter assassinations raised the bar so high. Both attacks struck their targets inside their homes, one by a “trusted bodyguard” and the other by two “students” who tricked Khan’s security detail into giving them money for “clothes.” They then smuggled in weapons and avoided a second body-check. Although Taliban responsibility has yet to be confirmed in either case, Karzai and Khan’s death shared the ingenuity that was again employed to eliminate Hamidi.

Again the Taliban greeted its target in their sanctuary, this time in the mayor’s office at Kandahar city hall. A group of elders had come to speak on Wednesday after Hamidi entered a building dispute the previous day, and a Taliban bomber managed to infiltrate this very group. With a bomb hidden under his turban - “a new tactic used by the guerrillas as security officials do not check turbans” - the unknown Taliban infiltrator shook Hamidi’s hand and detonated them both, according to Kandahar police chief Gen. Abdul Razzik.

Afghanistan’s most notorious “border-lord” upgraded from Colonel after replacing Khan Mohammad Khan, also eliminated by the Taliban in his office in April. A Wali clone (U.S. friendly drug smuggler/tribal warlord), Razzik is presumably next on the list; his power, while substantial, isn’t close to Wali’s.

Crocker may not believe any of these assassinations qualify as ingenious, but the level of sophistication and planning speaks for itself. As for the Taliban’s “cowardliness” and “weakness,” we admitted in our analysis that guerrillas operating openly, in large numbers, symbolizes the insurgency’s evolution into semi-conventional warfare, and thus a sign of strength. Operating in large groups could be a sign of foolishness though. The Taliban does need to regroup and high-level assassinations provide a way of maintaining momentum - a plan no different from America’s withdrawal into counter-terrorism.

The insurgency can also field 15,000-20,000 regular fighters and local reserves, but appears to be content with hit-and-run tactics and out-waiting coalition forces.

Crocker would prefer that the Taliban lay down their arms and surrender unconditionally (apparently a non-cowardly act), or else assault superior armed and armored coalition forces. He is essentially demanding that the Taliban violate the laws of guerrilla warfare, typical goading on the government’s side. This is the pattern of insurgency, just as the Taliban condemns U.S. air-strikes and night-raids as “cowardly.” While we do not question the courage of U.S. soldiers, the Pentagon’s escalating use of drones has led many Afghans and Pakistanis to believe that Americans are afraid to fight their own battles.

Now, after the Taliban removed Kandahar’s police chief, provincial council chief and mayor in less than four months, who can truly deduce the weakest party in Afghanistan: the government, the Taliban or America and NATO?

July 26, 2011

India Forms BRIC Wall Against Arab Spring

Last week Hillary Clinton took the stage at India’s largest library, the newly-minted Anna Centenary Library, to enunciate one her patented “visions.” America’s Secretary of State chose the perfect high-tech setting to herald India into the new millennium, declaring that, “the relationship between India and the United States will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century.”

She then wonders, “what does this global leadership mean in practical terms? And what does it mean for the relationship between the two of us? Well, for starters, it means that we can work more productively together on today’s most complex global challenges. For example, to advance democratic values, the world’s oldest democracy and its largest can both support the democratic transitions taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.”

Clinton never brings up the Arab revolutions again, spending most of her time wandering through Afghanistan and China on “a new Silk Road.” This was no passing reference though. Like the similarly absent Kashmir, Clinton keeps moving away from the very help she’s requesting for a reason: India, “the world’s largest democracy,” has flagrantly opposed the Middle East’s blooming pro-democracy movements.

Days later Abdel Aati Al Obeidi landed in New Delhi to brief the government on the state of Libya’s war. Muammar Gaddafi’s Foreign Minister met with E. Ahamed, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs, who promptly reiterated a position that calls for, “the immediate cessation of all hostilities in Libya and supports peaceful resolution of the Libyan crisis through dialogue, taking into account the legitimate aspirations of the people of Libya." With Libya in a full-blown war, the majority opposition doesn’t feel that dialogue alone will remove Gaddafi from power.

Those advocating a “dialogue only” course of action - Gaddafi's allies in Africa, Russia and China - wish to see the regime retain its influence.

The same BRIC wall also overshadows the United Nations Security Council’s ongoing deliberation as the U.S. and E.U seek a firmer resolution on Syria’s crackdown. India’s inclination to vote on the Chinese-Russian side of Libya and Syria demonstrates that Clinton wasn’t urging New Delhi to assist, so much as to politely reprimand its obstruction of U.S. policy in these spheres. The Secretary insists, “As India takes on a larger role throughout the Asia Pacific, it does have increasing responsibilities, including the duty to speak out against violations of universal human rights.”

However Clinton’s rhetoric functioned as a time-bomb. While New Delhi finds itself on the wrong side of these revolutions and U.S. policy, it has landed on Washington’s good side in Yemen by opposing democratic upheaval. On Saturday Interior Minister Mutahar al-Masri met with Indian ambassador Ausaf Sayeed to discuss an array of “security cooperation agreements,” supposedly dealing with piracy and terrorism. But Saba state media conceded, “Al-Masri and Sayeed also reviewed several security issues, particularly in counterterrorism areas.”

What these agreements entail remains unknown; intelligence sharing, equipment and training of local security forces offer several possibilities. Regardless, Al-Masri “hailed the Indian stances supporting Yemen in all international events,” meaning that New Delhi supports Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime and its attempts to remain in power through the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) vampiric initiative. Sayeed “praised the security efforts the ministry exerted to maintain security and stability in the country,” lumping its actions against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) with its lethal assault against peaceful protesters and anti-government tribesmen in the south.

Sayeed then “asserted the Indian government's support to the unity and stability of Yemen,” codewords that Saleh uses to negate the northern Houthis and secessionist Southern Movement. These groups wanted out of Yemen because of Saleh and, if engaged properly, are open to unifying Yemen without him. Yemen’s democratic elements cannot flourish with Saleh’s regime in power, thus the artificial demand for “unity” and “stability” impedes a stable, unified Yemen.

With no further updates, India’s “security agreements” appear to be little more than political support for Saleh’s regime and the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC). Although this stance positions New Delhi at direct odds with Yemen’s revolutionaries, it also aligns with U.S. interests in suppressing their freedom. The end result is that America, the European Union, China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia - a seemingly impervious wall of power - all oppose regime change in Yemen.

Clinton was presumably referencing Libya and Syria when she implored India to “support democratic transitions taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.” Given the close proximity between her visit and Sayeed’s maneuvering in Sana’a, perhaps New Delhi believed that it was finally supporting U.S. policy in the Arab Spring.

July 25, 2011

Al-Shabab Starving Itself to Death

Somalis are dying one of the slowest, most painful deaths imaginable. Unable to find food or water, thousands continue to stream out of the southern region to Somalia's borders, or to Mogadishu. Cyclical drought has imploded the agro-economy by killing off 80% of livestock, reducing Somalis’ possessions to their clothing. Of an estimated 3.8 million people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance, World Food Program (the UN’s food and aid division) says it can only reach 1.5 million.

The scale of Somalia’s disaster has tragically exceeded the international community’s capabilities; remove all the red tape and people are still going to die in large numbers. UN officials admit that despite al-Shabab’s defiance of its surroundings and the West, its main strongholds in Bakool, Gedo and Lower Shabelle haven’t fared qualitatively worse than the rest of southern Somalia. Nevertheless, the insurgency poses one of the main obstacles to alleviating mass suffering.

"We know that the epicenter of this famine and drought are in Somalia,” explains Josette Sheeran, executive director of WFP. “We are able to reach about 1.5 million people in Somalia. But there's about 2.2 million people that are not able to be reached. We welcome the opening to look to ways to reach people. We'll talk with local authorities and we'll act where we can go."

Days ago al-Shabab reverted from its previous position that aid groups can begin operating in their territory. This move was expected given reports of internal disagreement, but the UN’s definition of “famine” touch a hyper-sensitive nerve. As if waiting for an excuse to backtrack, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage told reporters in Mogadishu, “The UN is exaggerating the droughts in Somalia. They say famine exists here, it is lie, it is false. The report was written by unaware individuals and is politically motivated.”

Rage also issued the usual claims of foreign intelligence agents embedded as aid workers.

Our last analysis predicted that al-Shabab’s main objective was to stall for time, regroup and use aid groups as a shield against TFG and AU operations. Flipping its posture doesn’t cancel out this plan, but instead adds new complications and delays. TFG officials say the humanitarian crisis has assumed top priority and, even if it refuses aid, al-Shabab is still hiding behind the disaster. A “hearts and minds” campaign appeared to be a strategic component rather than the primary goal, and was accordingly sacrificed first.

The flaw in this strategy isn’t reneging on the aid groups so much as losing a starving population and what was left of its support. Now Somalia’s catastrophe, whether a “famine” or not, is shaping up as the final straw that could break al-Shabab. On top of the drought, increasing drain on its recruitment and finances, and the threat of government/AU/Ethiopian assault, TFG spokesman Omar Osman has mused on the possibility of an international intervention.

As the UN Food and Agricultural Organization convenes an emergency summit in Rome, the summit already announced that it will not seek additional aid pledges for the 1.6$ billion Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has appealed for. Instead it “will look at possible measures to address the crisis,” starting with an airlift into al-Shabab territory. The first airlift of aid, estimated to relieve 175,000 people, is due for a trial run in Mogadishu, and WFP says it wants to establish 70 distribution points in four districts. One must assume that if the UN cannot fully distribute aid in Mogadishu, the safest part of Somalia, the south will receive only a superficial level of assistance.

"We feel an imperative to try to get closer however we can,” said Sheeran. “Humanitarian aid at scale cannot get into hard-core areas of (militant) control, but you build up the ability for people to come out in different directions and get the aid they need.”

Osman doesn’t explicitly speak of military intervention is asking for outside help. However the thought appears to be on his mind; a massive civilian initiative demands equivalent security arrangements. Likely seeing an opening to kill two birds with one stone, Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) may seize this opportunity to expand the country’s U.S.-African military presence. A new UN-mandated peacekeeping force could establish dual missions with AMISOM, working in tandem on the military and civilian side. Large-scale airstrikes would be counterproductive, but Western tactical units already operating inside the country could expand their presence and raise a sufficient diversion by themselves.

Any Western military intervention has the potential to backfire through civilian causalities and historic distrust, and inherently presents a myriad of financial and logistics challenges. Al-Shabab will certainly attempt to rekindle its anti-American/anti-interventionist narrative. However Somalis are largely consumed with their own survival and they might welcome any outside assistance at this point. Although we don’t necessarily approve of the idea, it remains the most feasible military response to Somalia’s emergency.

al-Shabab will likely reverse course again on its aid ban, but it will not survive without adapting to a historic drought and looming famine. Mother Nature's fury is infinitely stronger than the TFG.

CCYRC Thanks UN For Turning On Yemen's Lights

Yemenis have relied on their sense of humor to keep their spirits high in the face of a government-induced humanitarian crisis. One common joke is to thank the UN’s envoys for restoring electricity and services during their sporadic visits to Sana’a, a pattern that reveals the government’s ploy. This letter was sent to us by Nezar, a member of CCYRC:
Letter of appreciation to His Excellency, Secretary General of the United Nations

Your Excellency, Mr. Ban-ki Moon,

In the name of the Yemeni people, I would like to express our appreciation to you in person for closely and regularly following up the situation in Yemen through visits made by the different UN missions. We are particularly grateful to the relatively long visits such as the one currently taking place by your envoy, and the one by the UN human rights mission earlier this month. These visits bring along significant improvement in the quality of the livelihoods of the average people. We suddenly have electricity for 12-15 hours per day ( instead of 2 hours only), the piles of garbage mounting for weeks in the different streets are cleaned up, the long lines of cars waiting for gas are cleared up (though the need left unfulfilled), and the gun fire in each city is silenced!

For that we are urging Your Excellency to give orders to your missions to remain longer if not forever! Of course, we would still be left with problems of gas availability, food prices rocketing to the sky complicating the malnutrition crisis in the country, and the rise of a hunger epidemic. In this regard, you may as well include us in the current Horn of Africa Crisis! Our "draught", however, is not caused by an indirect intervention of man in nature, but rather a very direct and intentional one. The Saleh regime, intends to starve us in an attempt to have us give up our dream of freedom. They refuse to understand that we have chosen to live free or to die with our human dignity; the same dignity that UN charters and declarations have often spoken of. We shall compromise no more Sir, and we invite your envoys to come and witness that.

In peace (salam),

Nezar Al-hebshi
[Note: On Monday, after meeting with Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, and JMP officials, UN envoy Jamal bin Omar reaffirmed the need for a “conciliation dialogue.” The previous day Hadi - citing "ambassadors of the security council's five permanent members" - declared his support for the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative after convening what is left of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime.]

Six Degrees of Donilon’s Delusion

Although The Trench is primarily concerned with asymmetric warfare and conflict between state and non-state actors, we find a debate on U.S. engagement of emerging global powers just as stimulating. Not only did Tom Donilon fail to deliver in this regard, the Obama administration’s National Security Adviser went on Charlie Rose with ulterior motives - and not just to campaign for 2012.

Before commending all areas of U.S. foreign policy under President Barack Obama, Donilon states that he isn’t “prone to hyperbole.” His interview melts down at this very point. In blaming Iran at seemingly every turn for “taking advantage of the Arab Spring,” Donilon disconnects from the revolutionary wave sweeping in the Middle East. If he wasn’t deployed to blackout the Arab Spring, he has no idea what he’s talking about.

“America’s Rising Image”

Either Donilon is stunningly disingenuous or he truly hasn’t checked the numerous polls flat-lining Obama’s image in the Muslim world. Interviews are scripted by definition, but Donilon’s Styrofoam remarks and buzzwords rub off extra-scripted. At the beginning, during and after his interview, Donilon resorts to hypnosis by informing the audience, as if it were fact, that Obama’s foreign policy has restored America’s global credibility. With rising powers sensing weakness and Middle Eastern opinion collapsing to new lows, Donilon may have better served Obama by avoiding the obvious.

Yet his over-reliance on deception illustrates the level of foreign policy apathy anticipated by White House.

Syria’s Lucky Opposition

The Obama administration, for instance, expects the American people to ignore the fundamental similarities between Syria’s opposition and less fortune revolutionaries. U.S. officials routinely defend an inconsistent policy by arguing that each situation is “different.” Of course each state weighs different ethnicities, religions, tribes, finances and age demographics. Each nation of revolutionaries has also experienced similar hardship from their governments, and quickly learned from and became inspired by each other’s struggles.

U.S. officials contradict themselves by first hailing the Arab Spring’s unifying potential, then dividing them into categories based on U.S. interests.

The main consistency of Obama’s response is this hypocrisy - the vivid clash between Libya and Syria, and Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain. The blanket ignoring of minor protests in Iraq, Jordan and Algeria, three areas of U.S. interest, further solidifies this pattern. We cannot automatically fault the White House’s response to Syria because here Obama has decided to “get tough.” Not tough enough - al-Assad deserved no second chances - but his administration has vocally berated and sanctioned Syria’s strongman. Here (and in Libya) Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has concentrated all of her fire. After several attempts to force a dialogue on the opposition, Donilon conceded to Rose that al-Assad isn’t serious about negotiating or reforming, and reiterated his “lost legitimacy.”

At several points Donilon clarifies that he will explain the difference between Syria and Bahrain. He never does.

Bahrain's "Special Circumstance”

What we do “know” about U.S. policy in Bahrain, “thanks” to Donilon, is that only “dialogue” can generate stability on the divided island. This response is false enough on any July day, as King Hamid’s contrived “National Dialogue” stumbled out of the gate and triggered repeated alarms from the Shia opposition. But al Wefaq had already dropped out of negotiations and Wa'ad was considering its own future by the time Donilon’s interview had been taped. Thursday night’s interview soon give way to Friday morning, when al Wefaq rallied en masse to denounce the “National Dialogue” as a “joke,” according to its chief Sheikh Ali Salman.

This “dialogue,” the very same found in Syria, launched under U.S. fireworks and went out in cold silence. Donilon acts as though none of these developments have occurred, and what need of reason when fear will do the job quicker? Evidently Iran is to blame for encouraging Bahrain’s uprising and trying to take advantage of the situation, an ambiguous reference to funding al Wefaq. What, though, has al Quds given to youth protesters in the streets? Those same protesters who demonstrated against al Wefaq’s participation in the “National Dialogue?” Did Tehran marginalize them until they were ready to blow?

The uncoordinated use of Iran simply exposes America’s double-standard. In Syria, Iran is propping up the government and must be opposed. In Bahrain, Iran is propping up the opposition and must be opposed. The common denominator is U.S. interests, not the universal value of freedom so often invoked by U.S. officials.

Israel - "Better Than Ever”

Donilon squeezes as much straw as he can out of Iran’s scarecrow. Having been accused of foreign intervention in Syria and Bahrain - cover for Washington’s own interference - Tehran then finds itself torn down as Donilon builds Israel back up. The contrast, presumably, aims to divert attention from a stubborn Benjamin Netanyahu, while also draining the energy out of the Palestinians’ bid in the United Nations.

Instead of concerning himself with Netanyahu’s posturing and inability to negotiate in good faith, Donilon employs a special rhetorical device to ignore these obstacles: insist that America and Israel are “closer than they’ve ever been,” as if they had actually separated!

Is he not aware of continuing arms deals, the coordinated politico-military assault on a besieged Freedom Flotilla, or America’s veto in the UN? The notion that Obama “stood up” to Netanyahu and pushed the allies apart is a product of Netanyahu’s own government, conservative Israelis and U.S. policy-makers, Jewish Americans, and the U.S.-Israeli lobby. Donilon falls into the last category.

He then applies similar rhetoric to the peace process (or lack-thereof) by claiming that Obama has “put a tremendous amount of energy” into his “plan.” Many Palestinians and Muslims in general disagree; a healthy majority of Palestinians believe that Obama’s policy aligns with Israel’s. Time and effort has also lagged far behind his campaign promise. Rather than engaging the conflict from day one, the Palestinians have been forced to seek UN refuge under a hail of U.S. and Israeli criticism.

Perhaps a veto will “rebuild” their trust.

Saudi Arabia’s "Fundamental Fundamentals"

Although Donilon’s rhetoric collapses at multiple points, his denial of the Arab Spring naturally leads him to replay his Israeli card in Riyadh. Asked about the U.S.-Saudi relationship, Donilon replies that the two governments are “closer than ever.” A widening gap between Washington and Riyadh is more realistic given their squabbles in Egypt and Libya, but the capitals have managed to stay on the same page in Bahrain and Yemen. Thus far the Obama administration displays no willingness to challenge Saudi Arabia’s counter-revolution.

This counter-revolution must be the “fundamentals” that America shares with the Kingdom. Donilon never clarifies them beyond global economics (translation: oil and arms), but countering Iran’s regional hegemony serves as another “fundamental.” So do Saudi troops in Bahrain, also blamed on Iran. Donilon’s “fundamentals” might include Riyadh’s debated “anti-terror” law, a proposed set of punishments that would mandate 10 year sentences for criticism of the King. Saudi officials deny that the bill is aimed at “dissidents, not terrorists,” but do not dispute its contents.

America and Saudi Arabia do share “fundamental” interests - a desire to play kingmaker in the Middle East.

The Ghost of Yemen's Elephant

In closing his interview Rose mentions the Arab Spring one last time, prompting Donilon to immediately blurt out the word “al-Qaeda.” Once he finishes celebrating U.S. counter-terrorism, Donilon argues that the Arab Spring has dealt equal damage to the group. True, al-Qaeda’s global ideology has eroded from the rise of legitimate democratic movements, but U.S. policy has also reaffirmed al-Qaeda’s narrative of corrupt Western dictators.

Despite numerous references to al-Qaeda’s offshoots, clearly with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in mind, Donilon fails to mention Yemen once in 53 minutes of “in depth” conversation. His avoidance of the revolution strikes to the heart of U.S. policy in Yemen, considered (and still considered) a forward military base by the Pentagon before it was sucked into Riyadh’s counter-revolution. The lack of a political response from the Obama administration indicates not only a lack of will, but the lack of any strategy whatsoever. The Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative is no strategy and neither is stalling.

The latter, however, is an ironic “fundamental” shared by Washington and Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Needing no outside assistance, Yemen’s blackout exposes Donilon’s final repetition of “restoring America’s credibility.” Even with Indonesia and Saudi Arabia’s relative support, Obama’s personal rating with Muslims is hovering between the single digits and teens. Conservatives accuse of him of being too cozy, for apologizing or bowing down to Muslims. Obama’s administration has done no such thing, and Yemen warrants its own chapter in the history of U.S. foreign policy failures. The U.S. government has treated the Yemeni people with open hostility, brazenly promoting meager humanitarian aid as the Pentagon supplies Saleh’s regime. Unlike al-Assad, he doesn’t need to worry about UN sanctions against his family of commanders.

Within Yemen, apparently, lies the greatest threat to the U.S. homeland, and Washington has done everything in its power to antagonize the populace. This is the reality of the Arab Spring - no wonder Donilon tried to escape.

July 24, 2011

Popular Support Builds for Yemen’s Transitional Council

After intense deliberation within the council and its partners, Yemen’s Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC) has declared its full support for the transitional council announced by Tawakel Karman. A coalition of youth groups have debated their response to Karman and the Joint Meeting Parties' (JMP) ensuing “National Revolutionary Council” throughout the week, ultimately accepting strength in numbers. The core of CCYRC’s statement reads as follows:
“Due to our national duty and our determination to achieve all the goals of the popular youth revolution, and for the escalation to resolve the revolution including the formation of a "Transitional Council" as one of the demands by all of the revolutionary components in Change and Freedom Squares, we, in the Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change have worked on mechanisms and collected the necessary information to form the Transitional Council in cooperation and coordination with all the revolutionary components in the different Squares of Yemen in order to lift the country from the political vacuum.

In the midst of the ongoing efforts with the national components of declaring a transitional council, a draft of a Presidential Transitional Council was formed on July 16th 2011 by one of the active partners in the Square. Despite the reservation of a number of revolutionary components on the mechanisms of declaring it, we, in the CCYRC made the effort to communicate with the members of the proposed Transitional Council inside and outside of Yemen. We touched their complete willingness to take on this historical responsibility in this stage that requires the unity of the revolution...”
The immediate question now shifts to the Transitional Council’s next moves, specifically whether the council aims to challenge the JMP or merge into its political leadership. Considering pre-existing overlap between the street movement, JMP and tribal authorities - Karman herself belongs to Islah, a component of the JMP - it is not inconceivable that the JMP would be given one last chance to break from the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative. As the situation stands, the majority of Yemenis revolutionaries consider the Transitional Council only a “step forward in the correct revolutionary path.”

This line references the JMP’s repeated negotiations with Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime, along with GPC and U.S. attempts to brand their revolution as a “political crisis.”

It is vital to preemptively clarify (if the U.S. media doesn’t ignore Yemen’s developments) that the Transitional Council doesn’t seek a negotiated settlement with the regime. On the contrary, a popular Transitional Council will be tasked with forging sufficient national and international authority to overthrow the regime. A clash with the JMP is unavoidable if the coalition refuses to scrap its approval of the GCC’s “power transfer,” which its own members occasionally denounced over the past month. The creation of a national council should remove the JMP’s signature from the GCC’s draft.

Yemen’s revolutionaries know that the GCC’s road leads backwards, to Riyadh and Washington instead of Sana’a, and that international legitimacy should come from their own support. The only dialogue they are concerned with is an internal dialogue to “find consensus and unanimity, and repair any shortcomings and bridge the gaps.” Yemen’s Transitional Council represents the first platform to true self-determination.

Its revolutionaries must unite at this critical moment, because the international community will provide all the resistance they can handle.