Saturday, January 02, 2010

Will ‘the international community’ now create a civil war in Yemen as bad as the ones they’ve created in Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Afghanistan?

After the ‘underpants bomber’’s failed attempt to bomb a flight from Amsterdam to the US the Obama administration has said it will carry out ‘retaliatory strikes’ against Al Qa’ida leaders in Yemen. Yet the Bush and Obama administrations have been carrying out missile strikes on suspected Al Qa’ida leaders since 2002 and organising and training Saudi and Yemeni government forces for attacks on suspected Al Qa’ida leaders in Yemen since 2001. The SAS are also reported to have been deployed to Yemen from 2002 on and US Special Forces have almost certainly been operating too. The results have included a lot of civilian deaths in the strikes and an increase the support for extremist groups in the region.

When the editor of a Yemeni website reported on civilian deaths in a Yemeni military airstrike in September 2009 he was arrested by plain clothes intelligence officers and has not been heard of since.

A junior British foreign office Minister interviewed on BBC news recently said ‘security co-operation’ with the government of Yemen would be stepped up in parallel with development to reduce unemployment, lack of education and poverty.

Looking at the record of the same ‘coherent, integrated strategy’ in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan though the actual results are generally to create civil war and massively increase the number of terrorist attacks. In Afghanistan before the US invasion of 2001 suicide bombings were extremely rare, the most notorious targeted Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Mujahedin leader killed by Taliban suicide bombers in June 2001. Since the invasion suicide bombings have become common and civilian casualties from all causes have risen every year. Ditto for Iraq and Pakistan since big military offensives, air strikes and ‘counter insurgency’ to ‘root out extremists’.

Far from stabilising the countries involved ‘support’ from the US and it’s allies generally leads to massive destabilisation, which is used to justify military bases being set up in the country and troops being deployed to train or operate alongside the forces of the country. The only way you could interpret what’s happened in Pakistan or Iraq as ‘greater stability’ would be if you adopted Chomsky’s interpretation of the phrase – certain governments’ code-word for ‘greater influence for us’.

Afghanistan and Pakistan provide the majority of the pipeline route favoured by the US and EU for export of the post-Soviet republics oil and gas. Iraq has the second largest known oil reserves in the world, while Yemen, though having little oil or gas, is strategically important according to the US Energy Information Agency ‘because of its location on the Bab el-Mandab, one of the world's most strategic shipping lanes, through which an estimated 3.5 million barrels of oil passed daily in 2010. Disruption to shipping in the Bab el-Mandab could prevent tankers in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden from reaching the Suez Canal/Sumed pipeline complex, requiring a costly diversion around the southern tip of Africa to reach western markets.’ You can see on the map below how Somalia and Yemen guard either side of the Gulf of Aden – which would be the main alternative export route for Middle Eastern oil and gas if a conflict with Iran closed off the Straits of Hormuz between Iran and Oman.

map of the middle east showing how Yemen and Somalia guard each side of the Gulf of Aden and how the important Bab el-Mandab oil tanker export route follows Yemen's coast - this map is from infoplease

(Please note that this post originally mistakenly claimed Yemen had as high a share of proven global oil reserves as Kuwait. This was wrong and based on mis-reading a column in BP's Annual Statistical review and mistaking the United Arab Emirate's figures for Yemen's, which are only 0.3% of proven reserves globally.)

American oil giants Exxon-Mobil and Hunt Oil, the French Total Oil and British Gas have had oil and gas contracts in Yemen for many years.

The collapse of Somalia’s government in the late 1980s has led to little oil exploration, so no significant proven reserves, but what surveys have been undertaken suggest it may have large reserves in its territorial waters and several major oil companies, including Conoco, had oil exploration contracts with the dictatorship of Siad Barre before it’s overthrow and have argued that those contracts are still valid if the civil war ends.

Maybe many of the members of governments involved genuinely believe they are preventing rather than inciting terrorism – and maybe the overlap between oil and gas reserves and export routes and countries where the US intervenes against Al Qa’ida is just co-incidence, but it’s just as likely that Al Qa’ida and ‘WMDs’ have become the same worldwide excuse for intervention for other motives that ‘Soviet backed Communism’ was during the ‘Cold War’.

Could it be that more progress would be made in reducing terrorism by ending the raids and the air and missile strikes and the ‘counter-insurgency’ and instead simply defending against terrorist attacks with defensive security measures and providing a standard of living above subsistence level to most Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans and Iraqis?


BBC News 25 Jan 2002 ‘CIA 'killed al-Qaeda suspects' in Yemen’,

BBC News Online 17 November, 2002, 14:49 GMT ‘SAS 'hunting Bin Laden in Yemen'’,

Reuters 23 Sep 2009 ‘Yemen media protest arrest of third journalist’,

Observer 29 Jan 2006 ‘Revealed: UK's role in deadly CIA drone’, 04 Jun 2007 ‘Briton 'killed in US missile attack in Somalia'’,

ABC News ‘Obama Ordered U.S. Military Strike on Yemen Terrorists’,

BBC News 13 Nov 2009 ‘Saudis 'renew Yemen bombing'’,

Guardian 14 Dec 2009 ‘Air strike 'kills 70 civilians' in Yemen’,

Los Angeles Times 13 Jan 1993 ‘The Oil Factor in Somalia’,
; for full version see

B.P. Statistical Review of World Energy 2009,

Arabian ‘Company Profile : Exxon-Mobil Chemical’,

BBC News 21 Dec 2009 ‘Houthi rebels say 54 killed in north Yemen air strike’,

BBC News 24 Dec 2009 ‘Dozens killed in Yemen air strike on al-Qaeda suspects’, (US gave Yemeni government $70mn in military aid in 2009)

Committee to Protect Journalists 25 Sep 2009 ‘In Yemen, critical journalist disappears’,

AP 24 Dec 2009 ‘Al-Qaida fighters killed in Yemen air strikes’,

Guardian 28 Dec 2009 ‘Al-Qaida: US support for Yemen crackdown led to attack’,

Energy Business Review 15 Oct 2009 ‘Total's Yemen LNG Plant Starts Production’,

Cameron's speech pretends 'big government' caused public debt, when de-regulation has caused private debts, bailed out by the public sector

David Cameron’s speech on the economy presents public debt as if it’s the cause of the economic crisis, when the actual cause is private debt, created by the same de-regulated ‘enterprise economy’ which he offers as a solution to the crisis (1).

Most public debt is not the result of ‘big government’ over-spending on the public sector, but of big companies donating to political parties and getting massive subsidies from the public sector as a result.

The most notorious example is of course bailing out debts run up by private banks due to a mixture of deregulation by liberals and conservatives alike on both sides of the Atlantic and an attempt by the Clinton administration to provide housing for the poorest without public spending or public housing , by requiring banks to fund it. The banks refused to accept a loss on this and played pass the parcel with the debt instead (2).

Much of the rest of the public debt, from PFIs and PPPs to Export Credit Guarantees for British Aerospace, is also due to government subsidies to big private companies under both Conservative and Labour governments.

Cameron claimed he would end the “undermining of our public sector professionals”, while simultaneously instituting a public sector pay freeze and cuts.

This continues the strange belief that all money going to the public sector impoverishes the private sector. In fact private firms would struggle to operate without education, transport and law enforcement; and cutting public sector pay and jobs is likely to lead to knock on job losses in the private sector.

If we were living under a vast state economy that allowed no private firms to compete he might have a point. The reverse has been true under Labour and Conservatives though - a few huge private firms in each sector buy massive public subsidies with relatively small donations to party funds.

The last time the Conservatives won an election claiming it would reduce unemployment caused by Labour was 1979. Thatcher’s government rapidly increased unemployment to over 3 million.


(1) = Conservative Party 02 Jan 2010 ‘Speech, David Cameron: We can't go on like this’,

(2) = NYT 30 Sep 1999 ‘Fannie Mae Eases Credit To Aid Mortgage Lending’,