The incident involving an attempted terrorist bombing of a Northwest Airlines passenger jet arriving in Chicago from Holland on Christmas Day, has focused world attention on the nation of Yemen, where the Nigerian terrorist suspect was allegedly trained by Al Quaeda operatives on suicide bomb techniques. President Obama and others in his administration have acknowledged that the U.S. has been funding anti-terrorist efforts in concert with the Yemeni government, and that Yemen is known to harbor a virulent Al Quaeda presence, proselytizing and training potential terrorist operatives. There was talk this weekend on the news-talk programs of possible American military involvement in Yemen.
One of the main pretexts for invading Iraq originally was the (fake) suspicion by our foreign intelligence agencies that Iraq harbored Al Quaeda cells, and that that nation posed a de-facto threat to American security, in addition to which it was attempting to develop a military nuclear threat by refining uranium and acquiring missile delivery capability.
As everyone by now knows, Iraq was not developing nuclear weapons, and had no rocket technology with which to deply such weapons, even if they had had them.
In other words, the Bush Administration coerced the American intelligence community, and duped our allies (and the American Congress and the American people) into supporting a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. The invasion, and subsequent internecine political complications there, in the years since, have done nothing to safeguard the American population, and have in fact provided the Islamic terrorist factions with new propaganda ammunition in the court of public opinion.
After initially subduing the broad countryside in Afghanistan, America was unable either to capture bin-Laden, or to insure the democratization of that country, where age-old, internal, ethnic and religious factions have proven to be more resistant to cooperation or national consolidating priorities than ever before. Indeed, our actions in Afghanistan have caused neighboring Pakistan to become destabilized, to the extent that some experts in the field now expect Pakistan to fall eventually under Taliban rule within the next decade--despite huge infusions of American aid and diplomatic pressure.
In short, the money and lives we've spend in Iraq and Afghanistan have yielded almost nothing in terms of improved relations, or any significant ground gained in the shadow war with Islamic terrorism. And now there are those who are advocating that the U.S. engage Islamic terrorist factions in Yemen.
Yemen is, like Iraq, the creation of European colonial powers. It's a marginal country, with a large sprawling peasant population living in hopeless poverty. Unlike Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Iran Yemen has few oil reserves--and these are expected to be played out very soon. It's heavily Islamic, and is thus--along with its poverty--a fertile breeding ground for terrorist inflluence.
If our adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught us anything, it's that Al Quaeda isn't geographically limited to a single nation. In fact, most of the leaders of the Islamic terrorist movement are Saudis or Egyptians. The terrorist network is now being described as "horizontal"--which is to say it is not linked to any specific national or geographic region, but operates across boundaries, using the modern technologies of computers, cell-phones, and suicide volunteers. In other words, it doesn't make sense for U.S. planners to imagine that we can defeat it by engaging indigenous populations or "host" nations. We could "level" the mountainous regions of Northeastern Afghanistan and Northwest Pakistan, and we'd be no closer to stamping out Al Quaeda than before.
Nevertheless, the illusion persists in our public discussions in America, that this is a "war" which can be "won" in the conventional way, by subduing foreign nations, and by making them "safe" for democratic conversion ("nation building").
This is simply folly. We are not going to succeed in building a democratic nation in any of the Near, or Middle Eastern nations. Islam, and the conditions on the ground, preclude anything like that.
It's also clear that one of Al Quaeda's original intentions was to cause the Western powers to engage in futile military adventures, draining their resources, and stirring up unrest and indignation amongst indigenous Arab, Afghan and other native populations. We have fallen right into this trap. With relatively little expenditure either of funds or of human capital, the terrorists have been able to coerce us into futile conflicts.
Meanwhile, China and India are seeing double-digit economic growth year upon year, and now are bidding to surpass the U.S. in exports, GNP, and net wealth.
In effect, Al Quaeda has managed, with the most modest of means, to tip the balance of world power against The West. Who could have predicted that this would happen, even 10 years ago?