American Footprints

Gregory Johnsenchronicles the disturbing “drift” with respect to the Obama administration’s targeting criteria in Yemen, and the potential for an exceedingly costly, yet unproductive, escalation within that theater. What were once a narrowly defined set of targeting requirements – focused, sharply, on operatives of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – have now become a broader, if circular, rubric:
…[A]s this piece from Greg Miller has it, some “elasticity” has been introduced into the targeting. […]
…officials said the campaign is now also aimed at wiping out a layer of lower-ranking operatives through strikes that can be justified because of threats they pose to the mix of U.S. Embassy workers, military trainers, intelligence operatives and contractors scattered across Yemen.”
In other words, the US has inserted, trainers, operatives and contractors into Yemen in an effort to erode the threat presented by AQAP, but those trainers, operatives and contractors attract attacks from Yemenis who are upset with a foreign military presence (no matter how small) on their land. And then when these trainers, operatives and contractors come under attack as they have recently in Aden and Hudaydah the US feels the need to respond and so it widens the target list even further – which then drives even more people into the arms of AQAP.
As suggested by Johnsen, the mission is drifting toward a circle of self-perpetuating, self-justifying futility.  This pattern is not new, however. The same rationale has been used to justify the prolonged engagement in the Af/Pak region.
Accompanying any discussion of a pull-back of US forces from the Af-Pak region arewarnings that the withdrawal of our troops will destabilize Pakistan, and that we must continue to press the military campaign in order to contain the militant groups operating in that locale. Missing from that analysis – as with the analysis of the Yemen campaign and, in large part, the Iraq war before it – is an acknowledgement that our presence alone, and the use of military strikes in connection therewith, is itself a radicalizing, militarizing and motivating factor.  For example, Pakistan has been destabilized, not made more secure, by our Afghan campaign, so it is dubious to conclude that our continued presence in its current form will serve to ameliorate a problem that it has only exacerbated to date.
Johnsen’s conclusion is worth heeding:
I have argued for several years now that the US needs to draw as narrow of a circle as possible when it comes to targeting AQAP in Yemen. I worried then as I do now, that any expansion of targeting in Yemen would find the US in a war that it could never kill its way out of. And indeed that, I fear, is what is taking place right now. In an effort to destroy the threat coming out of Yemen, the US is getting sucked further into the quicksand of a conflict it doesn’t understand and one in which its very presence tilts the tables against the US.
Al-Qa`ida did not appear to have looked to Iran from the perspective that “the enemy of my (American) enemy is my friend,” but the group might have hoped that “the enemy of my (American) enemy would leave me alone.” […]Although the documents make it clear that the relationship between Iran and al-Qa`ida is antagonistic, it is difficult to explain Iran’s rationale for detaining en masse these jihadis for years, without due process. One plausible explanation that has been advanced is that Iran held them “in part as a deterrent against a Qaeda attack on Iranian soil.” Another widely reported explanation is that Iran was holding al-Qa`ida members “as a bargaining chip in its war of nerves with the US, and will only allow their extradition in return for substantial concessions.” Whether Iran was aware of it or not, al-Qa`ida had plans to put the released detainees to “work.”
One attitude I often see is that Muslims are somehow uniquely intolerant of other religions. A Get Religion blogger named Mollie said in the context of the Saudi mufti’s call for mosque destruction: “Can you imagine the coverage if, say, the Pope or some other major religious leader called for similar destruction? Even if it were a minor Christian or Jewish figure using such rhetoric, one imagines it would receive tremendous coverage.” Actually, comments of foreign religious figures seldom receive any coverage regardless of their faith.
Last year the government of Moldova moved to recognize Islam as a religion in the country. The Moldovan Orthodox Church went ballistic. The metropolitan of the Moldovan Orthodox Church was among those critical, and the the prime minister finally pledged to review the decision, though I can’t find an indication it was revoked. On the specific issue of houses of worship, I read this: “For the time being, the Muslims are pleased that the government has finally recognized them and that Muslims in the nation’s capitol Chisinau can worship freely. Someday, they hope they might even be able to build a mosque. ‘Now we have a prayer room and for us this is our mosque. As for building a mosque in accordance with Islamic norms, with a minaret and all, maybe it is not the right time now, not now,’ a local worshhipper Ismail Wahab Wahab said.” Meanwhile, one Bishop Marchel said, “Our ancestors’ idea of cleansing the land of pagans is under threat now.”
Meanwhile, also in 2011, an Israeli Jewish publication called “Fonts of Salvation” called for death camps for “Amalekites.” In religious Zionist narratives, the Palestinians are usually said to be the new Amalekites, who attacked the ancient Israelites during the Exodus from Egypt. Two years ago, Rabbi Yitchak Shapira said it was permissable to kill babies if they might grow up to harms Jews. Shapira was supported by a rabbi named Dov Lior who said of Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 machine gun massacre of Muslims at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron: “He took action for no other reason than to sanctify the holy name of God.”
What I take from these stories, as well as the statements by radical Muslim leaders, is that your inclination be a violent and hate-filled fanatic has to do with lots of cultural factors of which religious background is but one, and I’m not convinced an important one.
Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church has died. Although in the years immediately following his 1971 ascension he was a politically active critic of the regime, a house arrest from 1981 until 1986 seems to have led him to become more conciliatory, and he became more a voice for Coptic rights within Egypt’s existing political universe, even discouraging Copts from participating in the 2011 anti-Mubarak protests. His death comes at a time when many Copts are becoming alienated from a hierarchy they see as out of touch, especially in terms of Egyptian politics, but also when all Egyptian Christians face a time of uncertainty as individuals and as a community, one which in many areas faces persecution.
The influence of laymen in Coptic politics dates back at least to the Middle Ages, when Christian government ministers under the sultans were often the community’s conduit to political influence. I wonder, however, if the role of former government officials in today’s Coptic Church could become a source of controversy, given that they will be tainted by connections with the Mubarak regime.
The best estimates for global poverty come from the World Bank’s Development Research Group, which has just updated from 2005 its figures for those living in absolute poverty (not be confused with the relative measure commonly used in rich countries). The new estimates show that in 2008, the first year of the finance-and-food crisis, both the number and share of the population living on less than $1.25 a day (at 2005 prices, the most commonly accepted poverty line) was falling in every part of the world. This was the first instance of declines across the board since the bank started collecting the figures in 1981.
“The estimates for 2010 are partial but, says the bank, they show global poverty that year was half its 1990 level. The world reached the UN’s “millennium development goal” of halving world poverty between 1990 and 2015 five years early. This implies that the long-term rate of poverty reduction—slightly over one percentage point a year—continued unabated in 2008-10, despite the dual crisis.
“A lot of the credit goes to China. Half the long-term rate of decline is attributable to that country alone, which has taken 660m people out of poverty since 1981. China also accounts for most of the extraordinary progress in East Asia, which in the early 1980s had the highest incidence of poverty in the world, with 77% of the population below $1.25 a day. In 2008 the share was just 14%. If you exclude China, the numbers are less impressive. Of the roughly 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 a day in 2008, 1.1 billion of them were outside China. That number barely budged between 1981 and 2008, an outcome that Martin Ravallion, the director of the bank’s Development Research Group, calls ‘sobering’.
“If China accounts for the largest share of the long-term improvement, Africa has seen the largest recent turnaround. Its poverty headcount rose at every three-year interval between 1981 and 2005, the only continent where this happened. The number almost doubled from 205m in 1981 to 395m in 2005. But in 2008 it fell by 12m, or five percentage points, to 47%—the first time less than half of Africans have been below the poverty line. The number of poor people had also been rising (from much lower levels) in Latin America and in eastern Europe and Central Asia. These regions have reversed the trend since 2000.”