That’s a quote from New York Times journalist, Robert Worth, who was interviewed today by Fareed Zakaria, about our role in Yemen’s corner of the Forever Wars.
Yemen, like Pakistan, is where the U.S. is officially unofficially at war. We provide support on the down-low, and occasionally kill people with our flying robots. For some reason, the Yemeni are pissed.
Fareed pondered if it’s possible to ask the Yemen government to extend their rule into remote areas they haven’t controlled in thousands of years.
WORTH: It’s – it’s very difficult. It – it’s hard to say exactly what the right approach is. And the problem is that as the U.S., you know, gets more militarily involved – again, they’re not directly militarily involved, but they’ve been providing lots more training and they’ve been encouraging their Yemeni partners to take more – a more active military role.
That runs a terrible risk in Yemen, just as in, as you say, as in Pakistan and Afghanistan, of alienating the local people, who are intensely suspicious of any foreign intervention. And because you inevitably, in areas like that, where intelligence is poor, where the terrain is hard to – hard to reach, and the tribes are powerful, you – you inevitably have some civilian casualties.
One of the American air strikes last year killed quite a number of civilians, and it had a huge, huge effect in terms of protests. And the problem is, of course, that when you already have a secessionist movement in the south and another rebellion in the north, discontent spreads. It’s sort of hard to separate one issue from the other.
ZAKARIA: As you know, there’s talk here about a drone attack on Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born preacher who sort of inspired the – the Nigerian Underwear Bomber and perhaps has been playing a – a more broad role in inciting anti-American jihad. What do you think would be the effect if there were a drone attack an Awlaki?
WORTH: I think it would be very unpopular in Yemen. I think Anwar al-Awlaki is mostly viewed as a charismatic preacher, and because he has – isn’t known to have actually killed anyone, most Yemenis –
I mean, first of all, he’s not that well-known in Yemen. He’s better known in the U.S. because of all the – of those – the media coverage of him here. He’s becoming better known.
But I think it would be viewed as an attack on a Yemeni, on someone who, you know, isn’t necessarily guilty. Yemenis are deeply, deeply skeptical of this kind of thing.
So, I think – but I think it would – killing Awlaki would – would have a lot of negative reaction, and so there are some people who say that the Yemeni government doesn’t want him to be found, doesn’t want him to be killed because they – they’re nervous, understandably, about what would happen then.
ZAKARIA: So, if you were to rate the progress that Yemeni government, with American assistance, is making in de-fanging or defeating al Qaeda in Yemen, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula what would you say?
WORTH: It’s difficult to say whether they’ve made any progress. I mean, they have killed a lot of people, but they do not seem to have killed the group’s key leaders.
We have no reason to think that – I mean, we know Anwar al-Awlaki is out there, and he’s a – he’s a very, very, you know, popular ideologist. We have no reason to think that any of the top leaders are – are dead. And it only takes a few people to – to put together a – you know, a letter bomb, essentially, that could have terrible, you know, global consequences on the economy.
And, clearly, the number of people, the number of Yemeni soldiers and police that have been killed in the past few months suggests that – that al Qaeda, if indeed it’s responsible for all those killings, is, if anything, bigger than it was.
So I – I can’t say we’ve made visible progress.
Awesome. So the US is utilizing its default Forever War strategy in Yemen: Defeat extremism with extremism. Bomb hatred. Shoot intolerance. Force the enemy to love you by killing his entire family.
Fareed then brought on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak to talk about how his country has dealt with extremism, and to express his admiration for Malaysia’s talent at locking up alleged extremists. Apart from the shameless gushing (and Fareed’s indication that he prefers police states masquerading as happy, tolerant oases over messy democracies,) Razak made a few noteworthy points.
First, he believes the way to lessen extremism is to bomb civilians from the sky alleviate poverty.
ZAKARIA: What do you think is the key to defeating the forces of extremism in an Islamic society?
RAZAK: I think there’s several reasons why we’ve been able to overcome those extreme or extremists in our – in our society. First of all, if you look at the genesis of Islam, you know, how it came to our part of the world, it was – Islam was brought by the Muslim traders from the Middle East, and it was a peaceful conversion of the then-Hindu king and the masses became Muslim. So Islam has never really been associated with – with extremism and violence from day one.
Then secondly, you know, over the years, you know, we’ve been able to bring about development and changes. In the ’60s, poverty was more than 50 percent. But now in terms of – of poverty rate in Malaysia, it’s 3.6 percent. You know, so you see, you know, the fruits of development actually lifting, you know, the – this tape of socioeconomic status off of the people.
Malaysia’s poverty rate is now on par with the United States. And like the U.S, Malaysia now knows to quickly incarcerate any unruly insurgents to “reeducate them” before they can infect the general population.
ZAKARIA: So do you think that there is good government, that there’s rising standards of living, it makes it less likely that these young boys, they’re mostly boy, go into radical movements, go into Jihadi movements?
RAZAK: Yes, with – with one caveat that you do have to ensure the proper teaching of Islam. You know, I keep on saying, being moderate is fundamental to Islam. But once in a while we do have extremists in our midst, whether they are in Malaysia or, you know, they come from neighboring country and we have to deal with it.
And fortunately, our – our security agencies, they’re very, very good at this in – in taking preemptive actions, using the Internal Security Act which allows us to detain people without trial, but it’s not such a sort of onerous kind of punishment. You know, we detain you, you know, we try to reeducate you, and if you accept that Islam is inherently moderate and you shouldn’t resort to violence and extremism, then you’re released back to society.
Yeah, I guess detaining people without trial isn’t that onerous. That’s probably why we’ve been doing it to the boys in Gitmo all these years.
Apart from the cheerleading for police states, Fareed’s guests essentially painted the following picture of the Forever Wars: The drone strikes aren’t working. In fact, they’re turning popular opinion against the U.S. every time another civilian is killed. What really causes societal instability is poverty, and even the very safest “democracies” aren’t ever 100% safe from the possibility of a troublesome agent.
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– Allison Kilkenny