Poverty Is The Petrie Dish Of Terrorism.

by Daniel Russ on January 7, 2010

Georgie Anne Geyer, Columnist

“WASHINGTON — When I visited Yemen in the mid-1980s, I flew from Cairo to the capital of San’a on Yemeni Airlines, and it was not long before I realized what a strange “journey” I was indeed on.

Almost all of the passengers were Yemeni men in their immaculate white robes, and almost everyone carried a huge radio on his lap, purchased in Egypt with dreams of modernity. For some reason, everyone liked peanuts, which were generously served, but once they ate the nuts, they threw the shells up in the air in glee. The entire trip consisted of avoiding the rain of peanut shells.

Finally, as we swerved and switched and very nearly smashed into the San’a airport, I saw half a dozen wrecks of old Yemeni Air planes ditched on both sides of the runway. “Hmmm,” I thought. “We must be the first ones to make it in a while.”

The capital was a beautiful place in those relatively happy days. In fact, San’a is famous for its ancient architecture of fine brickwork with brilliant white and blue lines around the windows and doors. Just outside the city, I saw valleys so exquisitely beautiful I thought myself in a Garden of Eden.

But all that is over now. We know that the most recent would-be plane bomber, the Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had trained in Yemen and that the U.S. has now named the small country at the bottom of Saudi Arabia as our next “target,” most assuredly of American drone bombings.”

Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab

But what does that mean? Does such dangerous business really make sense? Yemen is far more miserably poor than when I visited. It is a microcosm of the environmental disaster President Barack Obama sees coming: zooming overpopulation (its 23 million people, half under 30 and half illiterate, with 35 percent unemployed, will double in only 20 years) combined with such severe water shortages that it may be the first country to run out of water. It is also a “country” split into bits by rampant, violent tribalism, which has displaced 175,000 people.

Not surprisingly, al-Qaida found this new “failed state,” which is also the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, to be a natural new homeland for itself.

But let’s go deeper than that. The American military says there are no more than 200 al-Qaida members in Yemen, but that is misleading. In fact, at least 2,000 Arab al-Qaida members who fought in Iraq escaped to Yemen and are there preparing to strike again. The country already hosts 200,000 refugees from Somalia, which is torn asunder by Islamic and clan wars.

Under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, the U.S. has inexplicably released small numbers of Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo to their homeland, where they would supposedly be detained, despite the fact that the Yemenis who struck at the USS Cole in 2000 easily escaped from prison there under various pretenses. Most have, not surprisingly, returned to terror groups. {emphasis mine}

Now, in the wake of the Nigerian bomber’s accidental apprehension, American officials are talking blithely about a “partnership” with the Yemeni government; immediately, we upped U.S. aid from $67 million to double that next year, and we say we will fund the Yemeni government in developing a coast guard and counter-terrorism units.

We have already had unnumbered “secret” drone strikes in Yemen. We hear first that these strikes killed top leaders of al-Qaida — then we hear that they “only” killed civilians. Now there will be more of them. Are they done in conjunction with the Yemeni government? Nobody “knows.” In fact, the only thing we do know is that random airstrikes like this make everyone on the ground hate you.

So what are we doing? Due to one foolish and impressionable Nigerian student who probably wouldn’t recognize Chicago on a map of the U.S., we are in the process of moving from two unfinished wars supposedly against al-Qaida to a third one, in a country most Americans would not recognize on a map. Since we are already involved with airstrikes and aid to the anti-al-Qaida government in Somalia, maybe that makes four.

We have to wonder, how many more “failed states” can we find, or back, or even create? And did we “win” in Iraq, or did al-Qaida just move to another country?

This is what I think history, written a half-century or even a quarter-century from now, will say of all this:

“The United States began the 21st century as the pre-eminent and undisputedly greatest power in the world. It was the center of science, learning and innovation. Its democratic system was the envy of much of the world, which engaged in different experiments in governance but basically always used the American experience as its systemic and structural basis.

“Then, after one attack on New York City in which several thousand Americans tragically died, the United States embarked upon a series of ill-thought-out military adventures across the world that took it into small country after small country, never understanding that its very presence turned people against it. It lost the modesty of its founding fathers, who vowed not to meddle abroad, and began to dream of ‘nation-building.’ But in the end, it only de-energized and impoverished its own country, as Asia and particularly China moved in on all levels with economic and diplomatic tools to grasp world leadership.”

There were many other ways we could have responded to 9/11 besides all-out wars, such as police and intelligence actions against particular al-Qaida actors, but those paths were not chosen.”

Source: Chicago Tribune


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