Monday, January 11, 2010

Yemen On Lather, Rinse, Repeat Cycle

The security-policymaking community in the U.S. works in very predictable ways. Any time a country no one in the U.S. is really familiar with comes up in the news due to some plausible connection to organized terrorism, the following things happen:

1. There is indignation and disgust directed at the government du jour. Government du jour, you see, has been concentrating on Country X With Lots Of Brown People for the longest time, but what it has missed is that Country Y -- which, incidentally, also has Lots Of Brown People -- is also crucial to the war on terrorism.

2. People who have no idea about Country Y With Lots Of Brown People suddenly feel the need to opine on it. This, by the way, is the most entertaining step -- as long as you're not from Country Y With Lots Of Brown People. Nothing is funnier than watching an entire industry of pundits, writers, op-edders, think tankers, cable news invitees, foreign policy "experts" and bloggers pretend to know what the fuck they're talking about.

Of course, if you happen to be from Country Y With Lots Of Brown People, you begin to get worried, because any time the American punditocracy starts talking about you, only bad things happen. This is why I cried myself hoarse during the Pakistan hysteria in the middle of last year, and why I am thoroughly enjoying the Yemen hysteria now.

3. Suddenly, a split emerges, not so much between the right and left, but between the "Wait, hang on a minute, what're we talking about again"ists and the "Bombs away!"ists. The "Bombs away!"ists have never seen a problem that American military action can't solve. Afghanistan? Send it back to the stone age. Saddam Hussein? Invade. Iran? Nuke it. Pakistan? Drone and special ops it to death. Yemen? Hell, we don't know, but do something!

Sometimes their "policy prescriptions" are heeded and sometimes they are not, but remember that the first rule of membership to the "Bombs away"ists crowd is that some form of military action -- really, anything will do -- will help solve the problem. The second rule for them is that not using military action will make the problem so much worse in the future that countless millions of lives in America will be tragically lost. Act now, or run the risk of being forever in regret.

4. People in power have to respond to step 3, which has shifted the contours of the debate significantly toward crazyland. It makes the new "moderate" position anything but, because "moderate" becomes defined by the split between the two extremes in the debate when it should actually be defined in terms of actual conditions on the ground. As an example, consider being on the edge of a cliff, and having two advisers. One tells you to jump. The other tells you to jump, but to untie your shoelaces. Do you know what the moderate position becomes?

Your death. With one shoe untied.

5. The "moderate" position, because it includes some form of intervention, is advanced in policy circles as sensible and wise. It mostly makes things worse, but the important thing to realize, you silly goose, is how much worse things would've been had Moderate Position MP not been advanced in Country Y With Lots Of Brown People. Everyone is patted on the back, until...

6. Country Z With Lots Of Brown People is in the news, because something bad happened there.

Lather, rinse, repeat.


Anon_for_a_good_reason said...

US started special ops and airstrikes in Yemen and Somalia much before(for years) the Detriot attempt. This is against two specific Al-Qaeda franchises Al-Qaeda in Arab Peninsula(AQAP) and Al-Shahab of Somalia. US doesnt just go "bomb-away" at any country of origin of a terror attempt.The ground and air-strikes are brought about only in safe havens where the area is ungoverned or Govt controlling the region is reluctant to act against the entity or worse actively supporting it. Right now safe havens are in Yemen,Pakistan,Somalia,Gaza Strip-Lebanese refugee camps and ironically in Iran.

Ahsan said...

The US may not actually bomb every country with impunity, but I can promise you there is a considerable groundswell of opinion in the U.S. which dictates that it should. That is what I was getting at in my post.

takhalus said...

good post i'd like to think of it as the bomb it because we can policy.

XYZ said...

I love the explanation of step 4. In more verbose terms, it is termed as "defining the parameters of debate" of which the media is always the main part. Once the parameters of debate are defined (think US relations with Israel for example), there is little new thinking that can permeate it (think Chomsky et al).

Anon_for_a_good_reason said...

US relations with Israel is based on US & Israeli national interests ...And not bcoz of "any defined parameters of debate".

Brett said...

Unfortunately, the cycle is one of the downsides of living in a country where there seem to be a large group of people who think, at least in theory, that the US government can do anything in terms of foreign policy. Anon's right that the US have been meddling in Yemen for a while now.

US relations with Israel is based on US & Israeli national interests

I keep hearing this, but I've yet to actually hear a justification for the US's post-Cold War support of Israel that actually held water on "national interest" grounds. Most of the time, the justifications seem to turn into "we should support the Only Democracy In The Middle East!" (as if Turkey somehow doesn't matter, in spite of being a US ally longer than Israel).

Of course, it make sense from the perspective of Israel's national interest, and there seem to be a number of Very Serious People in the US who have a hard time disentangling Israel and the US.

Ahsan said...

Yes, I agree with Brett. It's hard for me to understand what national interest of the U.S. is served by its relationship with Israel -- it exacts tremendous diplomatic, political, economic and military costs on the U.S. without too much benefit. Anyway, this discussion is veering off the main point, so I'll leave it at that.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to get off topic for a quick second. Just had to post this.,1,26576813-10389,00.html

If this is true, both the whiny, cry baby [censored by Ahsan] should be put on the next flight home.

Yousuf needs to get his beard out of Akmals ass and tell him to fuck off. He should also send Grandpa Misbah and Shoaib Motherfucker home with the Akmal pricks.


Ahsan said...

I let most curse words go, but I will censor racist, sexist or homophobic insults.

Anon405 said...

Sorry about that. Its just this team makes ME feel helpless and incompetent.

Ahsan, do you think it would b possible for you to email Osman and ask him what is actually going on with this situation. Would be nice for all of us.

Sorry again.

Ahsan said...

Haha okay this discussion has really veered off track now. But anyway, I asked Osman, and he said he doubts it's true, but you can never rule anything out with us and our team. Which is, I think, most Pakistani fans' interpretation of this. Honestly, if this had happened two years ago, I would have said it's BS, but now I don't doubt anything when it comes to our cricket. Really, nothing surprises me anymore.

somethingrichandstrange said...

great post, man. one of your best, i think.

Pagal_Aadmi_for_debauchery said...

Ahsan's point about centrism is very astute. Matthew Yglesias usually talks about it in the realm of domestic policy where centrist senators usually split the difference between left and right without consideration to the merit of the 'centrist' position.

Ahsan is right on about the centrist position in foreign affairs.

/sg said...

absolutely spot-on about the moderates in american politics. reminds me of a comment a canadian friend of mine made: the conservative party of canada is more liberal than the democratic party.