Here’s a link to a PDF, a Center For A New American Security paper on Yemen by Andrew M. Exum and Richard Fontaine
Glenn Greenwald talks to Gregory Johnsen
So unless we make it today’s war, it’ll be tomorrow’s war. And presumably next Thursday’s Surge when everything goes wrong and needs to be magically rescued. How can you have a surge without an invasion? It’s time to think seriously, people.
Is it a mistake to respond to this with more than ridicule? Maybe, but if not: it’s a ludicrously blithe and cost-free assertion to say that we need to take preemptive action in Yemen. What the fuck does Joe Lieberman know about Yemen? What does anyone in the Washington policy community know about Yemen? Fucking nothing except that (a) there is an apparently growing al-Qaeda presence there; Abdulmutallab told investigators that he got hooked up with his botched explosive there; the USS Cole was bombed there; there’s an important port there; and… that’s it. What are the local dynamics in Yemen that a military strike would impact? What would the goals of such strikes be? What are the underlying political effects that have allowed al-Qaeda to establish itself in Yemen? What measures short of war might be better targeted to addressing those conditions? These are just a few of the many prior questions that have to be answered before such a thing is considered. Instead, Lieberman just gets to go on Fox and monger away, unchallenged. Such is life.
The good news is that while progressives basically need Joe Lieberman’s vote in the Senate to pass domestic legislation, thus giving him a ton of leverage over what happens, nobody needs to listen to him about Yemen. The balance of risks, it seems to me, is neither that we’re just going to ignore the al-Qaeda movement there nor that we’re going to invade. Rather the risk is that, as Johnsen says, we’ll have too many airstrikes without “the proper groundwork to undermine al-Qaeda to the degree that these attacks would be seen as a good thing by the Yemeni population.” Nobody likes to see American airstrikes happening inside their country. But if the political context is right, people can see it as the lesser of two evils. If the context isn’t right, that can build support for al-Qaeda faster than it kills terrorists.
JOE LIEBERMAN: WHITE HOUSE GOING AFTER YEMEN? “The Connecticut senator said that an administration official told him that ‘Iraq was yesterday’s war, Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war.’” What’s interesting is the raft of commenters accusing Lieberman of being a stooge for Israel because of this statement, when he’s quoting an administration official.
I’m seeing, at the original report that I began with: “an administration official told him that…” So I didn’t think I was quoting a quote. It’s a paraphrase, I think. But Lieberman didn’t make it up, and the NYT article makes it pretty clear that the attacks on Lieberman are embarrassing and should be withdrawn quickly
Steve Clemons at TPM:
Yemen is in a very complicated place when it comes to its efforts against al Qaeda, other rebel tribes, and managing the lines of its sovereignty against explicit foreign intrusion.
Despite the Obama administration’s strange non-denial denial regarding military activities inside Yemen in which passions are running strongly inside Yemen against the US, the US is working with the Yemeni government in trying to identify and attack al Qaeda operations. Some are arguing that a quid pro quo is developing in which the administration is now engaged in a covert war against Houthi rebels, which the US has refused to identify as a terrorist group, in partial exchange for more kinetic action from the Yemen government against al Qaeda operations.
The Obama administration has to step back at some point and ask itself what the dangers and downsides are of an ever-widening military span of operations. Some neocons in addition to Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) are now pointing to Yemen as “threat next” and agitating for a much more aggressive American presence there.
National security officials in the administration need to go back and read Peter Bergen‘s Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden in which he recounts many aspects of bin Laden’s plan from the Islamic extremist uber-guru’s own words – which was to draw the US deeply into the Middle East, and by its presence — destabilize the governments in the region.
Bin Laden, hiding somewhere in Pakistan, remains the single most significant sculptor of global affairs today, pushing the buttons of an American superpower as well as other regimes, so that they engage in emotional, knee jerk crusades that undermine what is left of a global equilibrium and the perception of American power.
Bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and enemies yet to be named win with each new soldier deployed to the Middle East and South Asia.
President Obama must step back and think about America’s current strategic course.
Robert Stacy McCain at American Spectator:
Lieberman’s call for preemptive action provoked an obscenity-filled tirade from liberal blogger Spencer Ackerman, while Matthew Yglesias of Think Progress remarked, “The good news is that while progressives basically need Joe Lieberman’s vote in the Senate to pass domestic legislation…nobody needs to listen to him about Yemen.”
Yglesias then emphasized the “political context” of U.S. military action in Yemen: “Nobody likes to see American airstrikes happening inside their country. But if the political context is right, people can see it as the lesser of two evils. If the context isn’t right, that can build support for al Qaeda faster than it kills terrorists.”
By portraying U.S. military action as a basic cause of Islamic extremism, liberals thereby implicitly argue that U.S. military action can never be the appropriate response to Islamic extremism. The more we attack al Qaeda, Yglesias suggests, the more Muslims will resort to terrorism — unless we have the proper “political context,” whatever that means.
Do Yemenis really have such a nuanced perception of “political context”? This need concern us only if we accept the tacit proposition that there is potentially unlimited support for al Qaeda in Yemen or elsewhere in the Islamic world. However, more than eight years after the 9/11 attacks there is no real evidence that the U.S. military response has made Islamic radicalism more widespread than it was in 2001. Suicidal pursuit of violent death lacks universal appeal and the human resources of al-Qaeda are not infinite. Therefore, U.S. military action should not be contingent on “political context,” but rather on whether it kills terrorists or, at least, deprives them of the opportunity to plot new attacks at their leisure.
UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman and Eli Lake on Bloggingheads
UPDATE #2: Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy