Given what a prominent role "Terrorism" plays in our political discourse, it's striking how little attention is paid to American actions which have the most significant impact on that problem. In addition to our occupation of Iraq, war escalation in Afghanistan, and secret bombings in Pakistan, President Obama late last week ordered cruise missile attacks on two locations in Yemen, which "U.S. officials" say were "suspected Al Qaeda hideouts." The main target of the attacks, Al Qaeda member Qasim al Rim, was not among those killed, but: "a local Yemeni official said on Sunday that 49 civilians, among them 23 children and 17 women, were killed in air strikes against Al-Qaeda, which he said were carried out 'indiscriminately'." Media reports across the Muslim world -- though, not of course, within the U.S. -- are highlighting the dead civilians from the U.S. strike (one account from an official Iranian outlet began: "U.S. Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Barack Obama has signed the order for a recent military strike on Yemen in which scores of civilians, including children, have been killed, a report says").
For many people, the mere assertion by anonymous U.S. Government officials that these attacks targeted "suspected al-Qaeda sites" will be sufficient to deem them justified. All credible reports confirm that there is indeed a not insignificant Al Qaeda presence in Southern Yemen, so that claim, at least, seems at least grounded in reality. Yet arguments about justification to the side for the moment, here we have yet another violent attack by the U.S. which -- even under the best-case scenario -- has killed more Muslim civilians than it did "Al Qaeda fighters," and failed to kill the main target of the attack. When it comes to undermining Al Qaeda -- both in Yemen and generally -- isn't it painfully obvious that the images of dead Muslim women and children which we constantly create -- and which we again just created in Yemen -- will fuel that movement better than anything else we can do?
Consider what else is happening around the Muslim world that is quite consistent with all of that yet receiving virtually no attention in the West (though receiving plenty of attention there). Pakistani lawyers -- many of the same ones who protested the tyrannical practices of General Musharraf -- held a large protest in Islamabad this weekend objecting to the presence of "notorious" Blackwater agents in their country. Palestinians are consumed with a recent incident in which West Bank settlers torched one of their mosques, burning holy books and leaving threatening messages; that was preceded by the Israeli Justice Minister proclaiming that "step by step, Torah law will become the binding law in the State of Israel." And perhaps most significantly of all, while reports have focused on alleged tension between the Obama administration and Israel over the latter's uncooperative conduct, this is what is actually happening:
Behind the scenes, strategic security relations between the two countries are flourishing. Israeli officials have been singing the praises of President Obama for his willingness to address their defense concerns and for actions taken by his administration to bolster Israel’s qualitative military edge -- an edge eroded, according to Israel, during the final year of the George W. Bush presidency.
Among the new initiatives taken by the administration, the Forward has learned, are adjustments in a massive arms deal the Bush administration made with Arab Gulf states in response to Israeli concerns. There have also been upgrades in U.S.-Israeli military cooperation on missile defense. And a deal is expected next year that will see one of the United States’ most advanced fighter jets go to Israel with some of America’s most sensitive new technology.
Amid the cacophony of U.S.-Israel clashes on the diplomatic front, public attention given to this intensified strategic cooperation has been scant. But in a rare public comment in October, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren praised the Obama administration’s response to complaints about lost ground during the close of the Bush years as "warm and immediate."
"We came to the Obama administration and said, ‘Listen, we have a problem here,'" Oren, told a gathering of the National Jewish Democratic Council. "The administration’s reaction was immediate: we are going to address this issue, we are going to make sure that we maintain your QME [qualitative military edge]."
All of this is being done pursuant to this:
America’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge was codified directly into U.S. law via 2008 legislation backed by AIPAC. This legislation requires the president to report to Congress periodically on actions taken by the administration to ensure Israel’s advantage.
I have to confess that I didn't realize that a law was enacted last year making it a legal requirement for America to maintain "Israel’s qualitative military edge," and -- even more amazingly -- that the President of the U.S. is required to report regularly to the U.S. Congress on the steps he's taking to ensure Israel's superiority. That's a rather extraordinary law, and the administration seems to be fulfilling its requirements faithfully.
Whatever else is true, and even if one believes it's justified to lob cruise missiles into more countries where we claim "suspected Al Qaeda sites" are located, one thing seems clear: all of the causes widely recognized as having led to 9/11 -- excessive American interference in the Muslim world, our alliance with their most oppressive leaders, our responsibility for Israel's military conflicts with its Muslim neighbors, and our own military attacks on Muslims -- seem stronger than ever. As we take more actions of this sort, we will create more Terrorists, which will in turn cause us to take more actions of this sort in a never-ending, self-perpetuating cycle. The U.S. military, and the intelligence community, and its partners in the private contractor world will certainly remain busy, empowered, and well-funded in the extreme.
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The excellent academic and political website, 3quarksdaily, gave out prizes this weekend for the best articles of the year in politics, philosophy, science and other categories. The prizes for politics were judged by historian and scholar Tariq Ali. This post of mine on Obama's civil liberties record and the multi-tiered system of justice being created for "War on Terror" detainees was chosen as the top prize winner, which includes a $1,000 award. Thank you to 3quarksdaily and Ali for this selection.
UPDATE: For those struggling to understand the basic point here, there are two primary issues I'm examining with regard to the strike in Yemen: (1) what happened and (2) how it's being depicted in various parts of the Muslim world. The citation to the "official Iranian outlet" pertains to number (2), not to number (1) -- as I made explicitly clear.