March 31, 2011

Saleh Crackdowns in Northern Yemen

More attacks on protesters in northern Yemen, probably by “al-Qaeda” and “the Houthis”:
More than 230 people were injured when pro-regime security forces out of uniform and thugs some in female uniform attacked the anti-government protesters in the square of change in Hajjah province in northern Yemen.

Eyewitnesses said head of the ruling party branch in the city and secretary general of the local council were among the attackers, as medical sources said that at least 80 people were in critical condition.

Some of the protesters were injured in nerve gas and live bullets fired at them from over the governmental and other buildings nearby the Hawra square, where thousands of people have been staging a sit-in demanding the ouster of the regime for almost a month, they said.

The attackers spread in many areas with some of them stationed at the square gate in female uniform, who directly fired live bullets at the anti-government protesters, they made clear.
They also said that the security forces in their uniform intervened later but the attackers were seen joining them at a time when members in the General People's Congress, the ruling party, are still giving nerve and tear gas canisters to the regime supporters.

In other cities, hundreds of thousands have been continuing their protests and sit-ins to call for the resignation of President Saleh, who urged his loyalists to gather on Friday in the capital.

Saleh has been mobilizing his loyalists in various provinces in counter-allies to convince the people he has not lost his constitutional legitimacy as the public pressure mounts on him to stand down.
"No one wants chaos in Yemen,” one Western diplomat tells The Wall Street Journal. “A compromised and de-legitimized Saleh is better than chaos.”

This thinking, so common in Washington, automatically assumes that a post-Saleh government will be more chaotic than his own rule. But his government wouldn’t be collapsing if it was stable.

Of particular note, Saleh's three military liaisons with the U.S. government are his eldest son Ahmed, who commands the U.S.-funded and trained Republican Guard, and two nephews, Yahya and Ammar, head the internal security forces and another elite counterterrorism unit. The opposition is seeking a political ban on all three men, something Saleh is not inclined to accept.

Neither is Washington.

March 30, 2011

U.S. Backs Deeper Into Saleh’s Corner

Who wants to be on the wrong side of them?

The White House owes Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad secret thank yous. Libya and Syria’s tenuous presidents kept Washington and the U.S. media busy all Wednesday, once again leaving Yemen’s revolution to languish in the dark. Apparently three events cannot be addressed simultaneously; Gaddafi’s counterattack against Libyan rebels, al-Assad’s conspiratorial address to the nation, and the sequence of events between Ali Abdullah Saleh’s latest political offer and mass demonstrations against him.

Clearly Yemen isn’t so devoid of activity that it warrants being dropped entirely, however its revolution did haunt the State Department in spirit.

At first spokesman Mark Toner appeared to give Syria the same treatment as every other Muslim state experiencing political upheaval. According to the Obama administration’s standard position, the government must deliver reforms as demanded by the people, the opposition must respond accordingly, and both sides must refrain from violence. U.S. officials have held fast to this script despite its juxtaposition towards a revolution, as many governments cannot be trusted and low-intensity violence forms a basis for fourth-generation resistance.

While blatant violence against non-government elements often discredits a revolution, low-intensity violence targeting the government is instrumental in provoking a disproportionate response and gaining international sympathy. Civil-disobedience and low-intensity violence - rocks in particular - are natural acts of revolution.

But Toner offered up stiff words for al-Assad, saying, “it’s going to be the Syrian people, obviously, who are the ones that judge what they heard today and whether or not Assad – President Assad demonstrated positive movement forward in meeting their aspirations and in hearing their call for political and economic and social reform. But we expect they’re going to be disappointed. We feel the speech fell short with respects to the kinds of reforms that the Syrian people demanded and what President Assad’s own advisors suggested was coming.”

Such a statement, while fully applicable in Yemen, has yet to be reserved for its renegade president, Ali "The Boss" Saleh.

And Toner concluded, “he’s [al-Assad] confronted with popular demonstrations calling for change. We’ve seen these kind of demonstrations all over the Middle East, and it goes back to the Secretary’s speech in Doha that leadership of many of these countries need to respond to the legitimate aspirations of their people. It’s far too easy to look for conspiracy theories...”

Maybe al-Assad looked at Saleh and believed he could get away with it too.

At the beginning of March Yemen’s endangered president decided to blame President Barack Obama and Israel for destabilizing not just his own country, but the Arab world in general.
Obama never responded personally despite being called out by name, as Saleh wondered, “Why is he interfering? Is he the president of the United States or the president of the Arab world?" Instead Obama delegated a phone call to counter-terrorism chief John Brennan, who a week later, “reiterated that representatives of all sectors of the Yemeni opposition should respond constructively to President Saleh'ss call to engage in a serious dialogue to end the current impasse.”

As the opposition gradually tightens its circle around him, Saleh resorts to conspiratorial threats that the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), Islah party, northern Houthi tribe, Southern Movement, and al-Qaeda have allied to “rip Yemen apart.” No revolution exists, he claims, only a criminal minority that's misleading the youth.

Although the Muslim revolutionary wave presented the unique opportunity for change that Obama asked for, his administration has worn down on the wrong side of history. Coming in disadvantaged by previous presidents, Obama and his cabinet are still expending a great deal of energy fighting perceptions of being too disconnected, slow, overwhelmed, or not in control. U.S. officials swim against constant criticism of a double-standard between allies and enemies, a line often delineated by Israel and the hegemon war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And the night before Hosni Mubarak left office, Obama tried to jump the bangwagon to much embarrassment by prematurely declaring Mubarak’s exit.

A similar jump occurs after each offer from Saleh; U.S. officials welcome his dialogue and advise the opposition to negotiate with their ruler of 32 years. Problematically, trusting men like Saleh keeps throwing America on the wrong side of revolution.

Yesterday a string of reports surfaced claiming that Saleh would transfer power to a candidate of the opposition’s choice, while he would remain as a figurehead until national elections. Despite reports that it was considering the offer, Yemen’s oppositional coalition wasted no time in rejecting it. Mohammed Qahtan the parliamentary opposition's spokesman, cautioned, "The president throws his different cards here and there every minute and every day and maneuvers... in an attempt to remain in power.”

"There's no choice for Saleh but to resign, and the opposition's stance is tied to that of the protesters," he told AFP. "The opposition is heading towards escalating its civil peaceful movements until the regime falls."

To be safe the opposition re-released its list of demands, starting with Saleh’s removal and a ban on his family from involvement in military and civil affairs (which Saleh adamantly opposes). The constitution would be abolished, giving way to a six-month transition period where local councils, governors, parliament,
and the Shura Council are dissolved, all to be replaced by a supreme constitutional court. The process would be overseen by a five-member national transitional council, including a youth representative (perceived as pure from Saleh’s influence).

One final demand includes abolishing state security - the Political Security and Central Security Organizations - in addition to the Ministry of Information, all moves designed to permit freedom of expression and an independent media. Saleh has accused the foreign media, Al Jazeera in particular, of fomenting unrest and harassed them accordingly.

Yemen’s opposition realizes the hard political fight ahead to clear Saleh’s regime, and wants Mubarak’s deal at the minimum: removing the head of state before proceeding into the unknown. But as Saleh met rejection from the opposition, Washington threw itself behind his latest initiative in an attempt to prematurely end Yemen’s revolution. Although the White House has visibly backed Saleh over Yemeni protesters out of fear of AQAP, their unhealthy relationship turned grossly overt as America’s ambassador sat side-by-side with Saleh’s ruling party.

In a symbolic press conference with the General People’s Council (GPC), ambassador Gerald M. Feierstein released a statement with GPC Secretary-General Sultan al-Barakani declaring, "The U.S. government wishes both sides to reach swift solutions to the political crisis in Yemen.”

One month after scapegoating Obama and his “Zionist propaganda,” Saleh now proudly displays “United States supports Yemen’s unity, stability, security” right on the front page of Saba state media.

Obviously Saleh is manipulating the Obama administration for his own gains, and Washington has allowed him to. Saleh vows to stay on as GPC chairmen if removed from office, and he’s even threatened to undermine the new government in parliament. So stumping for the GPC is currently a suicidal association. The opposition further accuses Saleh of orchestrating al-Qaeda’s takeover of security bases in Abyan province, either by intentionally withdrawing his forces or directly conspiring with the group. They also point to the fact that state media immediately blamed AQAP for the explosion in Jaar, even though it was supposedly caused by a lit cigarette.

A connection between Saleh and AQAP is unlikely, but Yemenis have interpreted the events as Saleh orchestrating chaos to play in Washington.

Opposition spokesman Mohammed al-Sabri criticized recent statements made by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "The remarks are clear indications that the U.S. administration stands by Saleh who gave al-Qaeda elements a green light to create chaos in the south to scare the Americans."

For its part AQAP just released the latest Inspire magazine to counter fears of a religious takeover. The cover story - "The Tsunami of Change" - was penned Anwar al-Awlaki, AQAP’s Western spokesman and renegade U.S. citizen. Although al-Awlaki predicts that Yemen will be a boon for extremists, he writes, "The outcome doesn't have to be an Islamic government for us to consider what is occurring to be a step in the right direction. Whatever the outcome is, our mujahidin brothers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and the rest of the Muslim world will get a chance to breathe again after three decades of suffocation."

Naturally Yemen’s opposition reads state media and sees Feierstein backing Saleh’s GPC. They realize the U.S. government would rather see Saleh remain in power by issuing reforms, and considers their revolution an inconvenience rather than an opportunity to counter AQAP. But today’s events strengthened Saleh and Washington's bond to an extreme level. Unsurprisingly, Saleh once more denied reports of an offer, a frequent tactic that the White House continues to fall for. Ahmad Al Sufi, the president's spokesperson, described the new offer to Gulf News as "mere illusions and imaginations" of the opposition.

Feierstein pushed America into Yemen's line of fire for nothing - and trapped the Obama administration in the same dead end as Saleh.

[Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill's latest piece, "The Dangerous U.S. Game in Yemen," provides a primer on U.S. activity that may interest those unfamiliar with its history.]

Obama Administration Sucked Into Information Vacuum

They probably would have protested anyway. A few million dollars to pay off what are perceived as three cold-blooded killings. Numb to the Predators that pound Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the case of CIA agent Raymond Davis pushed anti-American sentiment to dizzying heights. After fatally shooting two Pakistanis on the night of January 27th, Davis was due to hear his immunity status when Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah announced his pardon.

Along with the price: a modest $2.3 million split between 19 relatives.

Once again the U.S. government had gotten away with murder. Pakistan’s most nationalistic and religious elements rejected the idea of America exploiting the Islamic principle of diyat. They, along with a broader section of society, denounced Islamabad’s political folly and breach of sovereignty, and even those wishing to move on with Washington’s relationship lamented Pakistan’s dependency. Resonating at all levels, several of Faizan Haider and Muhammad Fahim’s law-studying relatives spoke eloquently of justice - and how America paid no attention to their families’ honor. Broadly translated, Pakistanis believe America assigns a lower value to their lives.

Ibad-ur-Rehman’s case was particularly offensive. Struck by Davis’s frantic rescue party as it drove against oncoming traffic, Rehman's killers immediately fled the country and into the black hole of U.S. secrecy, although his relatives were compensated.

The street protests that followed, then, were inevitable. But when conducting a political experiment, replaying events and altering the future yields applicable knowledge in Pakistan and across the Muslim revolutionary wave. Controlling the message is such a fundamental law in fourth-generation warfare (4GW) that it shouldn’t need repeating, except the rule obviously hasn’t sunk into the White House. Alternate history comes alive when diverged at a single point, and Hillary Clinton missed a unique chance to significantly limit Davis’s fallout.

Although the Secretary of State and subsequent U.S. officials thanked the victims' relatives soon after Davis’s release, they staunchly denied any questions relating to payment. Their I.O.U. ruse with Islamabad quickly surfaced through Pakistani sources, and the motive not long after. U.S. officials soon began to claim that the court released Davis out of goodwill, not compensation, preserving Washington’s outlandish definition of diplomatic immunity. But no guarantee exists that Davis’s outcome will uphold America’s militaristic loopholes.

Clinton's non-denial denial, rooted in the simultaneous events over 24 hours, produced a political butterfly effect in Pakistan: one minute spawned disproportionate restrictions on policy. The U.S. and Pakistani governments, particularly their militaries and intelligence agencies, have “moved on,” but at what cost when many Pakistanis haven't? Were America to admit its diyat upfront and issue an apology, protests would hover at stable levels. Instead Washington and Islamabad stitched their own political and military wounds while leaving a gaping hole in the public sphere.

And the costs will come around. Successfully shaping a counterinsurgent’s image increases control over political policy, furthering control over military policy, while the converse holds true as well. Washington might see a Pakistani invasion into North Waziristan if Pakistanis viewed the U.S. government in a favorable light. But the CIA launched a drone strike less than 24 hours after Davis’s release, killing over 40 civilians and one replaceable militant commander. No acknowledgment, let alone an apology, was issued.

This is not counterinsurgency.

How much damage can one spy inflict? Beyond the victims and their families, Clinton’s denial fused with rumors of forced confessions, disappearing relatives, and silence from Islamabad to generate an information meltdown. The uproar over the relatives’ location particularly demonstrates how poorly the White House communicated to the Pakistani people. Part of the agreement stipulated future resettlement of family members in America or a Gulf state, yet this stipulation goes unnoticed amid the controversy. Rather than taking command and determining its image, Washington has ceded control of its message beyond the average miscommunication.

Now Islamabad’s situation exceeds the outcome of an apology in hostility and distraction to the Pakistani government. Not even strategic considerations can excuse this expedient policy. It was simply ill-conceived and improperly delivered.

Justice Chaudhry Iftikhar Hussain of the Lahore High Court (LHC) recently issued notice to the federal government regarding petition for recovery of the families of Faheem Shamshad and Faizan Haider. The following day Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) submitted an adjournment motion in the National Assembly to discuss Davis's release. The motion accused the government of, “deliberately hiding the facts about the Raymond Davis case and keeping the people of the country in the dark.” It also noted the increased resentment amongst the public and that, “it should be discussed... and the facts be brought out before the masses.”

Consequently, a LHC inspection team started an inquiry against the judge who acquitted Davis, Yousaf Ojla. The petition states that Additional Sessions Judge Yousaf Ojla, “did not implement the blood money law in a transparent manner and ignored several important aspects of the murder case.” Either way Washington may be exposed in the end, all the more reason to come clean immediately.

Pakistanis expect a WikiLeaks in the near future.

Worst still, the mystery behind Davis’s release is creating new divisions within the PML-N and between the ruling PPP, as PPP deputy parliamentary leader Shaukat Basra is challenging Punjab Chief Shahbaz Sharif over Davis’s release from the province. Sharif, the PML-N’s president is the brother of PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif. Thus someone in the nationalistic PML-N must be held accountable for allowing Davis to flee to Afghanistan, to a war the PML-N opposes in principle

If this wasn’t complicated enough, Basra further accused Sanaullah of threatening legal cases against anyone who continued to raise Davis’s release. Sanaullah rejected the allegation but faces many challenges for a public debate beyond Basra. Such an array of consequences for Pakistan’s political system because of one man, and not just his actions but the handling of his image.

Although Davis’s toxic mess always needed time to break down, Clinton could have contained most or all of the spill by taking immediate ownership and control. Filling the vacuum prevents it from opening.

Image is nothing new to warfare, whether war paint, Chinese and Christian banners, or the moral battles of World War II and Vietnam. The beginning of the first and second Gulf Wars produced opposite impressions and ended with similar divergence in U.S. foreign policy. As the current state of warfare stands, the 20th and 21st century’s information explosion further amplified the importance of image. In a political battle of wills between a guerrilla movement and a local government (and foreign governments), image can become all consuming. No longer does one fight simply for the government of one’s birth country.

One saying holds that Afghans fight for their tribe first, religion second, and country third. An Afghan chooses to fight for the government or the Taliban based on their perceptions of the two entities. And despite President Barack Obama’s dependence on Pakistan to conclude the war in Afghanistan, he’s initiated no personal outreach to Pakistanis since assuming office.

Libya is another pertinent example. The immediate takeaway from President Barack Obama’s speech is the theoretical increase in support had he formally addressed the nation and Congress before approving military intervention. Lack of transparency over several weeks made a pivotal difference in how U.S. operations are perceived over the long-term, both internationally and domestically. Obama would have no need to defend himself had he been more proactive in defining America’s intentions.

And the double-standard set between the Libyan government and allies such as Bahrain and Yemen are leaving the White House poorly positioned to criticize fresh uprisings in Iran and Syria. Not that the State Department stopped itself from leading off with them while going deathly silent on Yemen, but the consequences will follow right behind.

The similarities between Davis’s case and Washington’s response to Yemen’s revolution demonstrate the systematic flaws in America’s 4GW. In supporting President Ali Abdullah Saleh until his final days, U.S. officials have gone completely silent in relation to other regional events. After repeatedly failing to respond to Saleh’s rising hostility, the White House seems to grow quieter the louder Saleh yells. Both are quick to eat their cake too, raising al-Qaeda’s alarm and the national security risk of a power vacuum to drown out legitimate political concerns. On top of inducing Saleh’s fall through political favoritism and inadequate oversight, Washington is accelerating his collapse and the resulting chaos through joint stall-tactics.

Yemeni protesters aren’t biting on Saleh and Washington’s dialogue and the ongoing contradiction has ripped open a massive information vacuum. Private diplomacy must compliment, not substitute for, public diplomacy during the natural 4GW that is revolution.

No good reason exists for Obama and his administration to treat America’s image so carelessly, especially during a historic period of transition in the Muslim world and U.S. policy's relation to it. Image scores high in international diplomacy and revolution alike, and the effort isn’t forthcoming. Rumors have Obama planning a “Cairo II” since the first speech didn’t work out as planned, but the mere necessity of a redo bodes ill for the future. Obama never got around to leading a sincere push into moving Israeli-Palestinian negotiations - after demanding a two-state solution within two years.

A president whose candidacy is forever linked to image, Obama is deeply struggling to represent himself and U.S. foreign policy. Crazy as the campaign trail is, it has nothing on the real world. And the world is waiting for answers.

March 28, 2011

Memo From Saleh to Obama

Another momentous weekend in Yemen, another indifferent Monday in Washington. As expected the White House kept itself to the minimum, mentioning the state’s boiling revolution only in passing. The Obama administration is desperately piecing together a new policy before Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh collapses, but the silence undermined the essence of Obama’s defense of Libyan intervention.

“I believe that this movement of change cannot be turned back,” the President confidently declared, “and that we must stand alongside those who believe in the same core principles that have guided us through many storms: our opposition to violence directed at one’s own people; our support for a set of universal rights, including the freedom for people to express themselves and choose their leaders; our support for governments that are ultimately responsive to the aspirations of the people.”

Saleh’s regime does not qualify as one of those governments, yet the Obama administration is willing to pay for his life-support until the end. Private warnings over violence aren’t halting Saleh’s abuse against his own people in areas outside Sana’a, and he refuses to take responsibility for major attacks against protesters, attacks perpetrated by Yemeni security forces or under their cover.

And over the weekend Saleh retreated from his pseudo-outreach back to his real hard-line without consequence from Washington. Saleh's position hasn't changed all month and neither has U.S. policy. Obama mentioned America's birth in revolution, however his administration urges the opposition to negotiate with an unstable autocrat. He should read the full transcript of Saleh’s interview with Al-Arabiya’s Muntaha al-Ramahi, if he hasn’t already, along with these illuminating excerpts.

Is this the responsive government that deserves America’s support? And how does he make America safer from al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)?

On weekend talks with the opposition:
[Al-Ramahi] About these meetings which were attended by the US ambassador and the JMP and Major General Ali Muhsin. What did you agree on? What did you discuss? What did you approve?

[President Saleh] The discussion was on how to emerge from this crisis. Naturally, they have conditions. Whenever the state presents an initiative, they raise the ceiling of their demands. They want the authorities to leave and they want power to be handed over immediately. We have no problem concerning the transfer power, but to whom and for whom? They propose the departure of the authorities, immediately - within hours, a day, two days, one month, or 60 days. These are their proposals, their demands, but we are adhering to our vision. We have specific points, mentioned in the president's speech in parliament, the points raised at the National Congress, and the points presented by the clerics. The points presented by the JMP are to a certain extent acceptable. These will be subjected to discussion in order to emerge from the crisis. We in power are not insisting on remaining in authority, but who should we hand over power to? It means to the unknown. They are looking continuously for the unknown. This means, throw it away, or let the people get rid of the authorities.

[Al-Ramahi] This means that the discussion did not refer to who will take over once President Ali Abdullah Saleh decides to quit?

[President Saleh] Not at all, this did not happen.
On the JMP, which has negotiated at the behest and irritation of the youth movement:
[Al-Ramahi] No options in this regard were proposed by the Joint JMP, nor General Muhsin...

[President Saleh] The JMP keep raising the ceiling of its demands. Whenever the state offers any initiatives or proposals to emerge from the crisis, the JMP raise the ceiling of its demands. We tell them let us meet and discuss matters in a harmonious and smooth way, and in a calm manner and how to transfer power. We are not hanging on to power but transfer it to whom? To the unknown? Since you are bringing down certain government complexes, besieging the Central Bank buildings, and attacking police, this means that the transfer will be to the unknown, to anarchy. They are tense. They want the authorities to go and they do not care who will take over. This is their aim. They want the regime to fall and they do not mind handing power over to the devil. They demonstrate abnormal and impulsive reactions.

[Al-Ramahi] What is your vision about transferring power to the people?

[President Saleh] My vision is this: You, the JMP, come. You are a minority. They stage protests in the streets and elsewhere. They hardly constitute 2.5 per cent out of 25 million. They seek the support of 4,000 protesters. I have 1 million. If they stage a demonstration of 20,000, I can stage a 3 million-man demonstration. How can the minority twist the arm of the majority? This does not happen anywhere in the world. It is unacceptable that a minority of the society should twist the arm of the majority. You should have seen the million person rally in the Al-Sabain Square. That was a referendum on the legitimacy. Do they want to topple the political regime with 5 thousand? This is unacceptable, whether they are 5, 10, 20 thousands or even 1 million.

[Al-Ramahi] The protesters, the opposition, those who come out to demand a change of the regime, toppling it, or removing the president, were not the JMP alone. The JMP might be part of these groups. But there are other groups linked with youths. The JMP may not necessarily be their umbrella.

[President Saleh] We have an understanding with the youths and we are in contact with them. The JMP is riding the wave of the youths. The youths are not with them. On the contrary, the youths are with us. They have demands and we support the demands of the youths, all of these demands, in part and parcel. Their demands are acceptable but they are riding another wave. They have another agenda. They bear grudges against the political system and all the achievements that have been realized on the Yemeni arena - the building of the centralized, modern, and clean state; the state of political pluralism. This is a grudge. They reject political pluralism and democracy. They say that the president himself should transfer his powers through a constitutional declaration and that the president himself should turn against the constitution. This is their culture. Let me say that this group - I am speaking of them as colleagues and brothers - is foolish. Why? The group of socialists called on us to reach immediate unity. We had several options - confederation, federation, or a merger. They said an immediate unity should be carried out and we met this demand and we reached an immediate unity. They had a plan behind their demand for an immediate unity. They had what was called the national front of the so-called north Yemen and what was called the remnants of the Imamate, those who were grumbling against the republican regime. They said: We will go to unity and then we will turn against the legitimacy, the president, or the General People's Congress and its allies. They wanted to turn against them from within. The plot failed.
On the Muslim Brotherhood:
[Al-Ramahi] I just want to understand what you wants to say. You say that these movements that are on the streets in the various Arab countries are in harmony with external agendas to bring the Islamists to power.

[President Saleh] No doubt about that.

[Al-Ramahi] Does this apply to Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and other Arab countries?

[President Saleh] Yes, the Islamic movements are now riding the wave throughout the Arab world, but the people reject them.

[Al-Ramahi] But they did not try them out.

[President Saleh] They did not try them out because they were completely rejected in advance because they were incapable and the people were afraid of them.

[Al-Ramahi] Do you not think that they should be given a chance before people can reject them?

[President Saleh] They did not try them out because they prejudged them as incapable and the people were afraid of them. Some movements are like al-Qaeda Organization. Where do Al-Qaeda statements come from? They come from these Islamic movements. Where is Bin Ladin from? Who is Ayman al-Zawahiri? These are part of the Islamic movement. People in Egypt are scared and terrified despite the departure of the Egyptian regime and Mubarak. Although there is an interim leadership, represented by the military council, the Egyptian people do not want them to be in power. The same applies to Tunisia. They do not want Ghannouchi or others like him to be in power. People are scared of them. The Yemeni people here are also scared. What is happening in Abyan or Hadramout shows that they are in constant contact with Al-Qaeda.

[Al-Ramahi] In order to understand what is happening in Yemen I want to ask if the Islamic organizations or Muslim Brotherhood are behind what is happening in Yemen.

[President Saleh] Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood movement is in the forefront.

[Al-Ramahi] Are they at the forefront of the revolution or they only rode the wave of the youth revolution?

[President Saleh] They rode the wave of the youth revolution, but the Muslim Brotherhood movement is the basis. As for the socialists, who separated, they followed them. The Nasirites are not large in number. None of the other factions is large in number. The Muslim Brotherhood is the main movement participating in the sit-ins and in the confrontation in the regions. They in the Muslim Brotherhood movement have used all their cards and they no longer have any. They are fighting desperately. They do not accept dialogue. They do not want to reach an understanding. Even their leaders have disappeared from the scene although we have not made any decision to pursue or follow them. This will never happen. We as a political regime will not behave like this because we continue to adhere to dialogue no matter what.

[Al-Ramahi] Dialogue should lead to results. They are holding dialogue with you and you are holding dialogue with them but without any results.

[President Saleh] No, they are not holding dialogue with us. They want dialogue with us only to overthrow the regime.

[Al-Ramahi] They have a goal and they want to achieve it?

[President Saleh] Exactly, they want to overthrow the regime. We want dialogue to ensure a peaceful and democratic change and transition of power.
On the March 18th shootings in Sanaa’s “Change Square":
[Al-Ramahi] They say that they were staging protests in a peaceful manner for a long time. We know that these protests started several weeks ago, but what happened on bad Friday, 18 March, was the turning point that changed the equation.

[President Saleh] This is true. We denounce and condemn what happened on Friday, and we are not pleased with it. Luckily, the police, the security forces, the army, and the cadres of the General People's Congress were not involved in it. That happened between them [protesters] and resident citizens. They protested in these areas for several weeks. No woman could go to the hospital or to a grocery for shopping. No child could go to school. No patient could go to the hospital. People in these neighborhoods lived in a state of terror.

All the Yemenis are snipers. They are all trained on the use of arms. What they said was part of the propaganda they fabricated against the central security forces and even the special guard units. They said only the central security or the special guard units can use firearms. Their propaganda reached that level, but our people and the citizens know who fired at them. Some were arrested and they are under investigation. The rest are being pursued in order to bring them to justice.
The usual response to U.S. policy:
[Al-Ramahi] The international position and even the Arab position on Yemen were different from the position on Egypt, for example. Before President Mubarak said anything, we used to hear the White House, Gates, Clinton, or Obama say that the president should leave now, but the position on Yemen is different. Is it because it is complex?

[President Saleh] Yemen is a time bomb. If we, together with all sisterly and friendly countries, do not try to heal the rift and engage in political dialogue, a devastating civil war will erupt and disturb the region in general. None should think that I have an agenda or that I have a special relationship with or support for a certain party, faction, or tribe. That would be a miscalculation. Yemen is a time bomb and if the political system in Yemen is disturbed and if no constructive political dialogue is held to spare Yemen sedition, sedition will be long and very difficult. They should learn a lesson from Somalia. The Somalis have not been able to restore stability to their country over the past 20 years. We are a tribal rather than a civilian society and every one sides with his village and tribe. It will thus be a grinding civil war. Therefore, all should appeal to reason and logic and the wise men in every party should make concessions.
Spreading the fear of civil war:
[Al-Ramahi] So the country will be divided into south, Huthists, Al-Qaeda...

[President Saleh, interrupting] The south will not be with them. The north of the north will not be with them. They are senseless. The north of the north will not be with them; it will not be part of the unified Yemeni state. Hadramout will not be part of the unified state. The south of the homeland will not be part of the unified state. They will rule only the triangle, one, two, three, and even this triangle will be loose.

[Al-Ramahi] Allow me to ask this question: We heard similar arguments from Libya, and it seems people no longer accept such intimidations or threats of partition, Al-Qaeda, and so on. People want to see change on the ground, and now.

[President Saleh] We are ready. We must maintain the unity of the homeland, first, and then talk about change. Come talk to us about change and let us choose who will rule Yemen, a unified Yemen, by peaceful means. Let us talk and transfer power. I am not of the type that adheres to power. I am telling you: come to discuss a peaceful handover of power, through dialogue, a smooth transition, and the ballot boxes. They rejected election; they rejected democracy. What they have on their agenda is communique No 1 and a constitutional declaration, not a peaceful transition of power. Who will feel safe? How can I and other Yemenis feel safe that these people will rule fairly and responsibly when they are issuing communiques 1 and 2 and ordering violence? Who will feel safe? People are scared.

[Al-Ramahi] But there must be some way for a peaceful transition of power acceptable to the other side, perhaps within a short period of time, before the end of 2011, since you are saying that you do not want power anyway.

[President Saleh] Yes, yes. For me, power...

[Al-Ramahi] is no longer a dream or...

[President Saleh] Power will not be in my culture. But I will stick to power until I transfer it peacefully. I will stick to power until a peaceful transition takes place, no matter what the price. But force and arm twisting are out of the question.
On Al Jazeera, who has seen its journalists deported and facilities destroyed by government personnel:
[President Saleh] No, no; this is a minority group from...[changes thought] Let us remain in the climate of tolerance; I do not want to say anything that might provoke anyone. Let us remain in the cycle of tolerance. But the people are the arbiter. And if the media are fair, they should honestly investigate and neutrally cover the sentiments of the Yemeni people. I am sure Al-Arabiya is a sensible, balanced, and good channel that will not engage in agitation like some other channels that add fuel to the fire, sow strife, and act as operation rooms to burn the Arab homeland based on the principle: bring the temple down over everyone's head.
On his plans once he leaves office:
[President Saleh] It means that I must contact no one. In other words, they want to keep you in a closed room; like a prison room, where you don't speak to anyone. They want guarantees that the president will not speak. This is one of the proposals of these people, headed by a leader of a political party.

[President Saleh] Even if I decide to transfer power peacefully I will remain the leader of the party until the party appoints someone else if it decides to replace me. But I will be the party leader, no doubt about it, and I will do to them something worse than what they did [laughs].

[Al-Ramahi] Do you seek to obtain any kind of immunity in case you step down? Do you want them to guarantee that you will have immunity so that no one can harm your excellency?

[President Saleh] I am not asking for this. I will immune myself by myself.
[Update: Saleh delivered a similarly combative speech on Tuesday at the 4th session of the General Committee of the ruling General People's Congress. Now he's really digging in.]

America's Middle East Future

By Michael Brenner, published in The Huffington Post:
"The Middle East never will be the same again" is the declaration of every observer's lips. True -- but in itself that tells us very little as to the consequences and implications for the United States from the political cataclysm shaking the region and reshaping its politics. Restraint in predicting what those implications will be is praiseworthy. Anyone who boldly claims to know the specific and concrete effects is talking through his turban. Yet it is imperative that we begin to think rigorously about what the future holds. So let's begin with a rough taxonomy.

1. Those countries that have experienced political turbulence can be placed in three categories: A) Popular action has toppled both the existing autocratic and his regime; B) popular action has toppled the autocratic but important elements of his regime remain in place -- at least for now; C) popular action has been repressed with no structural political concessions.

2. How stable is the outcome of countries in each of the categories. For those in Category B, irresolution means that the outlook is cloudy by definition. Interim outcomes in the other two categories still leave relatively wide confidence margins as to what the future will bring.

3. Foreign policy outlooks and attitudes are liable to change where there is a discrepancy between public opinion and the orientation of government elites. This holds even where the opposition has been suppressed since there will be incentives for leaders to reduce points of friction and grievances among the general populace.

4. American preoccupations have centered on securing support for its four principal objectives: prosecuting its 'anti-terrorism' campaign; avoiding rifts with Israeli; maximizing pressure on Iran; and securing undisrupted access to the region's oil. On all of these, Washington has placed strong emphasis on short-run risks rather than satisfying these objectives over the long-run.

5. Democracy promotion has been a means to these ends rather than an end in itself.

6. Contradictions among these objectives have gone unrecognized or dealt with on an expedient basis. That will prove much more difficult to do in the future.

Here are some of the new 'givens' in the new context.

1. American credibility, already low, has hit rock bottom. This holds for government elites (e.g. Saudi Arabia) and for public opinion everywhere. We are widely distrusted; Washington's words and those of President Obama in particular will be viewed with pronounced skepticism and will nowhere be taken at face value. The U.S. will receive fewer benefits of the doubt.

2. The political power of fundamentalist Islam has been greatly exaggerated. In no country has it been the primary force as either ideology or organized movement. Whatever role they may play in the future, it would be a cardinal error to fix on fundamentalist groups as a main point of attention and as a measure of whether things are going in a positive direction.

3. The dangers posed to the United States by terrorist groups, too, have been greatly exaggerated. This is true not only as regards the assumption as to some link between Islamic fundamentalism in general and al-Qaeda in particular. It holds as well for official estimates of the latter's capability and threat. The terrorist factor should be given less weight than is done currently.

The notion, affirmed yesterday be Secretary Gates, that the 'war on terror' suffers a serious setback with the weakening (or fall) of Mr. A.A. Saleh in Yemen is striking evidence of this obsession. AQAP has very limited ability to attack major American interests; it has been an enemy of convenience for Mr. Saleh just as the 'war on Communism' was years ago; he under no foreseeable circumstances will give priority to doing our bidding; and disorder itself is the danger insofar as AQAP is concerned. Expressed worries about losing the help of Gadaffi's intelligence services in chasing after al-Qaeda in the Sahara is an even clearer demonstration of the extremity of our obsession.

4. Our ability to maintain the 5 party coalition in support of Israeli's draconian plans for Palestine is in jeopardy. Egypt (above all), Saudi Arabia and Jordan will come under increasing popular pressure to change their policies, and will be more susceptible to it, than in the past. Brutalization of the Gazans, forcing Fatah into humiliating concessions, and holding hands with the Israeli ultras will be harder for our Arab allies to tolerate. That should be welcomed as occasion to rethink our supine kow-towing to the Netanyahu government. Id we don't, our high wire act could end in tragedy.

5. The Sunni-Shi'ite rivalry has deepened and become more embittered -- largely due to events in Bahrain and eastern Saudi Arabia. Doubtless this will solidify already strong backing for our hard line approach toward Tehran. Whatever thoughts there may have been among Sunni governments about negotiating a modus vivendi with Iran are now beyond the pale. In the short run, the Obama administration may see this as desirable given its commitment to coerce Iran into abandoning its nuclear problem and its hopes for reform change.

On reflection, though, a Middle East beset by the Sunni-Shi'ite conflict cannot serve our interest in regional stability. For its strengthens the hands of the ultras in Tehran, complicates the challenge of achieving political reconciliation in Lebanon, lays the basis for more violet and more anti-American uprisings by Shi'ites in the Gulf, and adds to the already powerful inertial forces moving Iraq further away from the United states.

6. The gap between American rhetoric and American actions has widened to the point where it no longer is bridgeable. America as the beacon of democracy rings hollows after our string of equivocations, half steps, selectivity and cynical calculation. American diplomacy thereby has lost an asset. A candid reversion to realism has its own liabilities. The American public is deeply attached to the idealistic notion of the U.S. as a principled country that acts in the cause of virtue, enlightenment and morality. If Washington is widely seen as abandoning its native idealism, domestic political support for the inescapable hard policy choices that lie ahead will be unpredictable.

Do not expect President Obama to address frankly any of this tonight.
In our opinion Obama’s remarks on Libya qualify as his most lucid foreign policy to date, although that isn't saying much. Supporting Libya’s opposition is a vital political and moral interest during the Muslim revolutionary wave, equally important to security and economic factors during fourth-generation warfare (and globalization). He needed to give this speech beforehand to better shape impressions, and it still isn’t very detailed, but he appeared more connected than any other war speech. Someone must have told him to nix the stern and solemn act.

Now the end of his speech contradicts everything he says by leaving out those countries suffering under U.S.-allied regimes. Libya’s critics automatically point to Washington’s double-standard. So far these movements haven’t found a friend in America, only a conspirator of the government.

And leaving them out is explicitly intentional.

Petraeus Not Apoloziging For Pakistani Casualties

The News International reports that General David Petraeus, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Commander in Afghanistan, has neither apologized nor given any explanation to Pakistani Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Kayani reacted with a burst of rare anger after 44 civilians were killed in the March 17th drone attack in North Waziristan. Local leaders in the Dattakhel area were holding a jirga on mineral deposits when the Hellfires struck.

Sherabat Khan Wazir doubled as one of those leaders in addition to commanding under Hafiz Gul Bahadur, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan’s chief in NW. Bahadur has since threatened to scrap his truce with Islamabad, but has yet to follow through.

What’s striking is that The News had initially reported the opposite - that Petraeus had reached out to Kayani.
“When contacted by The News, a US military source in Pakistan denied these reports carried by a local news agency, and said, “With regards to the allegation that General Petraeus contacted the Pakistani military or that he expressed regret over this alleged incident, I can assure you that General Petraeus hasn’t had any contact with Pakistani military leaders since his meeting with General Kayani on March 3.”

When asked about this particular drone strike, the US military source responded, “With regards to the alleged drone incident, we do not comment on these allegations. However, the US mission in Pakistan is to conduct training and provide support to Pakistan’s fight against violent extremists.”
So why is America afraid of apologizing and paying blood money in Pakistan but not Afghanistan? U.S. drone strikes are no longer secret, if they ever were. This is counter-productivity COIN. The Palestinians and Pakistanis are in the running for those peoples most let down by President Barack Obama.

Haiti's Movement From Below Endures

Great piece by Jeb Sprague on Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s return to Haiti. The only thing to fear is fear itself.

Jeb Sprague is the author of the forthcoming book Haiti and the Roots of Paramilitarism and was the recipient of a 2008 Project Censored Award, who also regularly blogs and tweets. Also find here a link to Aristide's entire return speech.

March 27, 2011

Saleh and Gates Team Up In Shadows

The latest headlines out of Yemen claim that President Ali Abdullah Saleh has reversed position and, after initially signaling a willingness to resign, will not leave power before a minimum of 60 days. Subsequent statements from his party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), have him finishing his term until 2013, and Saleh further declared that no more “concessions” will be offered.

Few sincere observers should be surprised by today’s events after days (and years) of flip flopping.

However Washington has fully endorsed Saleh’s back-and-forth since early February, at the time panicking over the loss of multiple “allies,” and the White House has welcomes his every “concessions.” Meanwhile the opposition is urged to conclude their revolution through negotiation rather than demonstrations.

U.S. officials admit off record that Saleh is on his way out. And when asked what he would do in Yemen, Senator John McCain responded directly from the White House’s own script: “I have to be honest. I don’t know what we do exactly about Yemen, except that obviously the president has to step down, as he has agreed to do so.”

But judging by Saleh’s demands and behavior over the last five days, he never appeared ready to accept his resignation. His defiance alone further alienated the opposition, slandered as criminals and drug dealers out to “rip Yemen apart.” Yemen's youth has been ordered to abandon the political opposition.

Thus U.S. support for his dialogue is exposed as that much more duplicitous.

U.S. officials like to tell reporters that America hasn’t chosen any side in Yemen. Although seemingly oblivious to the reality that taking no side supports Saleh by default, their fence-sitting is no random product of an uncontrollable crisis. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates caused alarm on Wednesday by admitting the White House lacks a detailed contingency for post-Saleh Yemen. As a result the Obama administration has acted in unison with his stall tactics.

Mirroring the case of Hosni Mubarak, Washington did possess a strategy to extend his flame before being snuffed out completely.

Sunday had its moments of flip flopping. Telling Al-Arabiya he would step down "within a few hours" if his opponents guarantee a "dignified departure,” Saleh shifted blame to the opposition and their primary demand: his immediate removal from power along with his family. Bent on remaining an integral political actor in Yemen even if removed from office, Saleh has motioned his General People’s Party (GPC) to begin forming a new government and constitution based on his “reforms.”

He also vowed to remain in charge of the GPC even if he resigns, and referenced Mubarak’s end by saying he isn’t “looking for a home in Jeddah or Paris.” Ignoring his self-induced collapse, Saleh issued his time-tested warning that Yemen is a "time bomb,” one that could descend into “civil war like Somalia.” Pure U.S. consumption, and why not when the Obama administration continues to play along?

The White House has shown itself resilient in denying updates on Yemen. For weeks we believed it couldn’t ignore Yemen’s revolution, only to repeatedly predict wrong. High level officials from President Barack Obama on down remain silent, giving the press little to run with, and tiny bites of information from press officials are intentionally buried to minimize expose. U.S. policy has refused to change throughout the crisis: the government must address the peoples' demands, the people must accept Saleh’s offer for dialogue, and both sides must refrain from violence.

Whether the White House can maintain this contradictory policy after Saleh’s reinforced hardline doesn’t seem possible - although it will try.

Asked by ABC News about his previous comments, Gates replied in the shallowest detail, “Well, I think it is a real concern, because the most active and, at this point, perhaps the most aggressive branch of al-Qaida – al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula – operates out of Yemen. And we have had a lot of counter-terrorism cooperation from President Saleh and Yemeni security services. So if that government collapses or is replaced by one that is dramatically more weak, then I think we’ll face some additional challenges out of Yemen. There’s no question about it. It’s a real problem.”

Given that this one paragraph represents the White House’s sole statement on Sunday, Gates’s words crudely translate to: “We do not care about Yemenis’ demands.” Such a statement was actually posted on the U.S. Embassy website, the single piece of Yemeni news to be found amongst Libya’s hyper-focus.

Gates managed to keep quiet throughout Yemen’s initial violence, hiding behind Libya and finally breaking silence earlier this week. But once he did start talking, Gates has only emphasized the military component of Yemen, repeating Saleh’s cooperation and reinforcing the terror threat. Just because Gates heads the Pentagon doesn’t mean he should limit himself to military topics. In fact, because Yemen’s revolution and al-Qaeda’s insurgency both represent fourth-generation warfare (4GW), America’s military chief should be constantly highlighting non-military areas in Yemen.

Especially when the White House and State Department haven't; no Yemeni information is available on either website.

The result is a militarized response to an overly militarized policy - and counter-productivity. Saleh and Gates, two shadow masters with a knack for duplicity, are digging their hole together. Beyond the realistic threat of AQAP, U.S. officials (and thus the media) repeatedly emphasize the negative in Yemen in order to spread fear of Saleh’s departure. If any effort was put into the positive side of Saleh’s resignation, the impression of a new Yemen would be drastically altered.

But Yemen is “dark territory,” not a beacon of light to Washington, and Saleh’s replacement is necessarily weaker and more dangerous. Such a statement aims to portray his government as strong - so why is it near collapse?

Saleh’s ill treatment of Yemenis is a separate issue; he hasn’t fully cooperated with Washington either. U.S. officials looking for more responsiveness and accountability weren’t pleased with his track record before the revolution began. They considered him a necessary evil. Many Yemenis and international observers also believe that Saleh overplays AQAP’s threat, and pursues a modest level of action designed to extend its life. When the revolution did spark, AQAP had already positioned itself to capitalize on the military vacuum.

In the meantime Saleh deploys U.S. weapons on the Houthis, Southern Movement, and oppositional tribes, then hides under Washington’s political cover to escape international criticism. The widespread belief in Yemen is that both Saleh and America hyped the threat of AQAP for too long. Washington’s own hands are stuck in Gates’s “real problem.” U.S. policy felt, and apparently still feels, more comfortable with an ineffective autocrat than an inexperienced democracy.

“'I actually fear that Saleh is using it as a card in order to hang on to power and the use of violence against his own people,” Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Saleh’s defected general, said on Sunday. “Saleh has largely contributed to the presence of terrorism in Yemen as he played with it as a political tactic.”

Sounds too familiar in Washington.

The question is stuck on repeat in America and Yemen alike: “what comes next?” But while Yemen’s opposition organizes its demands as quickly as possible, the Obama administration refuses to publicize its own views in fear of agitating Saleh. U.S. officials anticipate destabilization after a revolution as if order is automatically supposed to flow. Yet the chaos of a revolution offers no reason to stop it.

Now flip the argument around. What does Washington expect? Since it continues to urge the opposition to work with Saleh, U.S. policy equates to a transitional period overseen by him. Chaos will be the inevitable outcome. If another policy does exist, no one outside the White House and Pentagon know of it.

And it doesn’t do Yemenis any good in the shadows.

Libyan Opposition’s Evolving Guerrilla Warfare

As the first 100 Tomahawks crashed into their targets, the same doubts that tried to preemptively disarm them prepared their return volley.

Odyssey Dawn cannot achieve decisive results in Libya, and even if it can, the opposition should be left to finish its own revolution. Western military intervention risks a host of unintended consequences including civilian casualties, a humanitarian crisis, new propaganda by Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi, and “legitimacy” for various anti-Western elements such as Iran and the Taliban. President Barack Obama has drawn additional criticism for green-lighting U.S. military operations without Congressional approval, a charge the administration denies.

And those anticipating the loss of Arab League cover were seemingly proven correct after Secretary-General Amr Moussa criticized the initial air-strikes: "What is happening in Libya differs from the aim of imposing a no-fly zone, and what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombardment of more civilians."

Most members of the U.S. Congress, if not every Representative and Senator, agree in principle that Gaddafi’s onslaught must be halted and reversed. Condemnation of inaction would likely exceed the blame of action; the difference in opinion stems from objectives, time-lines, and responsibility. Libya could be headed for a protracted struggle after Gaddafi vowed a “long war,” and many observers fear a quagmire if his staying power emulates a 1990’s Saddam Hussein.

However the Obama administration only bears responsibility on one count, and enough concern has directed itself against a slow response - an ironic product of Obama’s desire to seek an international consensus. The deadly effects on Libyan protesters are well documented. Of more immediate consequence are the political and military factors, as a delayed no-fly zone allowed Gaddafi’s counter-attack to nearly exhaust the rebels’ position and spirit.

Saved from Gaddafi’s armor at the last moment, they had no one to blame for this mistake except themselves.

Libya’s opposition nearly paid the ultimate price for its miscalculation and ignorance of guerrilla warfare, but the highs and lows of battle also provided them with the experience necessary to finish their revolution. Many mistakes can be excused by the power vacuum they suddenly found themselves in. The encouraging sign is that opposition officials and fighters have acknowledged their missteps, and vow not to repeat them.

Jubilant but confused to find themselves in possession of cities and territory over a span of weeks, Libya’s opposition hastily organized itself into local units before the National Transitional Council took command on February 27th. Nearly a month later Ali Tarhouni, the opposition’s Finance Minister, told journalists in Benghazi that the Council, "in general dropped the ball many places, although not by intention." He cited a widespread lack of experience in public associations, largely banned by Gaddafi.

Magnifying the difficulty of their task beyond Egyptians or Yemenis, Gaddafi didn't hesitate to bombard peaceful demonstrators with tanks, helicopter gunships, warplanes, and naval forces. Thus the plight of Libya’s opposition allows little room for second guessing. Their dilemma set in even deeper once Gaddafi’s forces besieged those cities under opposition control. Urban warfare offers many hiding spots but few places to run, and the rebels initially followed guerrilla trapping maneuvers by allowing Gaddafi’s forces inside the cities.

Mounting a stiff, frontal defense would have gotten them killed anyway, and many of Gaddafi’s superior-armored forces were beaten back despite heavy rebel losses.

But political chaos soon transferred into the front-lines. From protesting Gaddafi under hails of bullets, the opposition found itself waging full-scale urban warfare roughly overnight. Political and military defections began within a week and gave way to set battles, and the pace of the revolution began to outstrip its revolutionaries’ capacity. Though some held applicable positions beforehand, many were recruited right off streets: restaurateurs, mechanics, bakers, orthodontists, lawyers. As many newly-minted revolutionaries found out after several days of military training, spirit alone doesn’t make them invincible.

How the opposition should have reacted in the revolution’s early moments is difficult to question. Easier is the opposition’s hasty decision to march on Tripoli.

Halumi participated in the rebel advance west from Benghazi, riding high through Marsa Brega, Ra’s Lanuf, and Bin Jawad. Enjoying swift victory and military bounties, “we’d won so much so fast, we were just believing in God and convinced there was no way we could be stopped.” Halumi trained for four days under defected military officials. Two weeks later he found himself retreating for his life, with the loss of his friends hanging over his head. Halumi says he was among the last fighters to escape from Ras Lanuf.

Hundreds of supporters were killed during Gaddafi's counter-attack, a systematic conquest of towns and cities temporarily occupied by the opposition. In Ajdabiya, the opposition’s last stronghold before Benghazi, hardcore rebels had armed themselves with knives and small arms when Gaddafi bypassed the city. The opposition had depleted its arsenal and most of its hope. Although Western air-strikes created a security bubble around Benghazi, fighters continued to retreat past its lines to set up neighborhood watch groups. Many still voice concern or outright distrust in the opposition’s political and military establishment, some of which was forced to flee the country.

"We were betting 24 hours and he's gone from the country," admitted Tarhouni, an economics professor at Washington University. "Now we're looking at longer. He's much more armed, and we're not as organized as we thought or can be."

Yet a kernel of truth centers this duality. Despite the opposition’s self-admitted and visibly evident disorganization, the revolution’s current phase cannot be discounted entirely. A guerrilla has four stages: subversion and sabotage, mobile warfare, semi-conventional operations, and a total transition to conventional warfare. During the final stage a guerrilla becomes a legitimate political or military actor of the state.

Libya’s opposition found itself caught between the second and third stage - a strong but awkward point to reach. Pure revolution, minus the training and preparation of devoted Maoists or Vietcong, had come to resemble a civil war. Libyans were swept off the streets into battle against fellow Libyans, rapidly morphing from protesters to soldiers, because the revolutionary wave unleashed a large quantity of stored energy. Libya’s opposition vastly exceeded the incubator stage of political subversion and organization, having discredited the government while seeding fear inside it.

Despite his best efforts to suppress them, Gaddafi’s opponents patiently awaited the hour of revolution for decades. And although they couldn’t function as one unit when the bell tolled, the masses rose up in an instant.

Libya’s opposition ran into the same wall that has greeted Maoists, Greek Communists, and the Taliban - too much early success. Rapid expansion of territory and soldiers, if uncontrolled, becomes a burden to the revolution and an easy target for the government. Even guerrilla armies numbering in the ten of thousands pose no match for a modest conventional army. And once Libya’s guerrillas lost their focus on mobile warfare and avoiding costly battles, they exposed themselves in sizable numbers to the government’s air-force, an especially deciding factor in desert insurgency.

One rebel commander, Mohamed Hariri, described his men as "brave to the point of being suicidal.” Guerrilla commanders want to bottle this suicidal spirit without having to spill it. Mustafa Gheriani, a Council spokesman, recently articulated the point well: "It's not an easy task to manage revolutionaries, and we're still trying to organize them. These are volunteers willing to die for their cause, and they can be difficult to control."

While Gaddafi literally defeated their forces in the following weeks, Libya’s opposition ultimately defeated itself. Little could be done about the costly battles for Benghazi, Az Zawiyah, and Misurata, but the western assault on Tripoli reversed the revolution’s cycle and interrupted its time-line. Burning with revolutionary fire, rebels launched a lightning assault on Marsa Brega, Ra’Lanuf, and Bin Jawad. All the while Gaddafi planned his counter-attack in Sirt, and successfully infiltrated Bin Jawad during the night as the rebels organized to advance.

The opposition would mount a stiff resistance two weeks later at Bengazhi, but their revolution faced devolution to square one had NATO seized up.

Rather than advance forward after initial success, Libya's opposition should have consolidated their position, organized their ranks, and dispersed throughout the country to conduct mobile warfare, even while seizing conventional weaponry (which was often inoperable). Advancing towards Tripoli allowed Gaddafi to concentrate his forces. Instead his western stronghold of Sabha - and as far beyond as the rebels can reach - should be challenged through gradual infiltration. This movement leads away from Libya’s Arab demographic and into Taureg territory, admittedly increasing the risk of collateral and ethnic strife.

Yet subverting government territory is a main aspect of insurgency so long as it targets government property. Destabilizing valuable territory where the government doesn’t expect disperses its pieces, leaving rebel strongholds freer to operate politically and train militarily.

The opposition violated fundamental guerrilla law by seeking large-scale battles, and fell victim to the temptation to capitalize on sudden victory. Waiting a few extra weeks, or months, before marching on Tripoli would have maintained the revolutionary cycle. As the West needed to move quicker, the opposition needed to decelerate until the finishing blow could be struck with maximum impact. The situation had neared the tipping point. But a sounder strategy would have employed a classic insurgency of sabotage, hit and run attacks, and economic subversion, then waited for a no-fly zone before seeking a decisive outcome in the capital.

Until the final conventional stage, guerrillas must avoid decisive battles with a superior opponent. Only when success can be assured is the time ripe, otherwise the insurgency risks a multi-stage setback. Libya’s opposition sought a military decision before NATO’s equalization had commenced, leaving no assurance of success.

While revolutions are protracted struggles by nature, a reality that politicians despise, Gaddafi may have caved to a synchronized assault. Although this error was largely a matter of insufficient leadership, not individual errors on the front-line, it was nonetheless fatal. Fortunately the opposition knows it raced ahead of itself, and now the objective of revisiting the opposition’s evolution becomes clearer. One must understand the past to have any chance of predicting the future, and the opposition’s future strategy shouldn’t differ from what needed to be the initial strategy.

Libya’s revolutionary energy will regenerate the opposition’s losses. By following the guerrilla cycle and allowing it to fully mature before the final phases, Libya’s opposition and their Western muscle stand a good chance of finishing the revolution with relative conclusion.

"Our hope,” Obama recently told CNN, “is that the first thing that happens once we've cleared the space is that the rebels are able to start discussing how they organize themselves, how they articulate their aspirations for the Libyan people and create a legitimate government.”

The opposition is beginning to answer this hope and those questioning whether Libya’s opposition “has what it takes” to topple Gaddafi. They hear U.S. officials, watch U.S. news and understand the need for transparency, organization, and strategy. To restore a sense of order to this chaos, Libya’s opposition is reaching out to wage the insurgency it should have started with. Taking control over fears of who they are, whether al-Qaeda influences them or they’re “too Islamic,” the opposition has launched a comprehensive political message to rally their supporters and ease Western anxiety.

"Our capital is Tripoli and will forever be Tripoli," spokesman Nisan Gourian told Al Jazeera. "We are striving to liberate the western parts of the country, and Tripoli, and keep the country united. We would like to emphasize this over and over again."

Libya’s latest developments offer encouraging recognition that the political component trumps all other priorities in fourth-generation warfare. The objective of 4GW is to persuade people, not kill them, and image assumes a heightened importance. A clear ideological platform and organized political authority exponentially increases an insurgency’s military capacity. Political direction translates into battlefield success - that is the essence of guerrilla warfare. Halumi, now under orders in Ajabiya to hold his troops from advancing, explains, “we understand we need help, organization. We are going to be more methodical.”

"You need a political body that defines what this revolution is about, and an army on the ground," Tarhouni adds, “but we need to put our own house in order first."

The National Transitional Council now recognizes the “Libyan Republic,” as opposed to Gaddafi’s "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya.” Western governments are considering formal recognition, along with the consequences from the Arab League, African Union, and BRIC. The opposition also released a human rights document that pleased U.S. ambassador Gene Cretz. And Abdel Fattah Younes, Libya’s defected interior minister and head of Special Forces, was subsequently demoted from chief of the Libyan People’s Army due to his past intimacy with Gaddafi.

Although its new chief, Khalifa Huftur, also served under Gaddafi, he’s recently returned from exile and is viewed as a more neutral figure. Another exile, Omar Mokhtar El-Hariri, remains in control of the People’s Army and Air Force as the Council’s Minister of Military Affairs. Younes will stay on as Huftur’s chief of staff.

Meanwhile Air Force Col. Ahmed Omar Bani, the rebels' new military spokesman, recently acknowledged that no army exists to defend Benghazi, much less conquer the heavily-defended Tripoli. He says the army need "weeks" of training, a positive admission as longer preparation generally equates to a shorter outcome. Bani also admits that he doesn’t know where the training and weapons will come from, but guerrilla warfare feeds off the land.

Of course Western governments can speed up the process by lightly arming the opposition, and little danger is likely to come from this tactic. The proposal, already mandated by UN Resolution 1973, is being seriously considered and rightfully so. The key difference between Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and Libya is that the latter qualifies as a true war of liberation, not a proxy war with no objective other than wasteful destruction.

Still, only a modest amount of light arms and explosives should be injected into the conflict. The opposition should find the tools for sabotage and mobile warfare already available.

Whether they need heavy weapons depends on the effectiveness of NATO air-support, but Western states would be wise to bypass the rebels and retain this force themselves. The opposition has organized enough to coordinate air-strikes (and save an F-15 pilot), and an effective system could be worked out over time. The experience will rub off in a positive way given that any contact with Western military officials provides a learning opportunity. Sources within the Pentagon admit they’ve gone so far as to advise the opposition on future strategy, and they may be able to trap Gaddafi’s ground forces in the open.

The opposition doesn’t necessarily require heavy weaponry that the West can substitute for. Consequently, the rebels should stay light and mobile while leaving the hammering to NATO. Unless advised by foreign technicians, artillery and armor is more trouble than it’s worth to guerrillas.

A slow response to civilian massacres proved Obama's weakest moment, but the opposition only has itself to blame only for military rashness. The administration didn’t error in backing the European Union's use of force in Libya. The reaction in Benghazi flipped from “so, we’re being abandoned after all,” to “the French jets saved us all.” This salvation justified Western intervention, which would have made more enemies had it never arrived. Ahmad Dabbous, a clothing wholesaler turned guerrilla, triumphantly declared, “We'd lost hope, but Obama stood with us.”

Libya isn’t America’s problem so much as its policy outside of Libya. Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia could use more stories like those found in Benghazi.

Gaddafi’s forces still have some fight left in them. Although they’ve retreated from Benghazi for now, they continue to assault Zintan, Misrata and Ajabiya with rocket launchers, artillery, tanks, and the occasional gunship. NATO officials caution that while Gaddafi’s air-defenses are largely crippled, his ground forces remain a potent threat to the opposition. Desperation comes with the adverse effect of lashing out and the elite 32nd Brigade continues to fight without its head - Gaddafi’s 7th son Khamis.

But the opposition is now fighting the war it wants to fight - a ground war that Gaddafi is slowly losing the edge in. A weak, isolated government is no match for fully functioning guerrillas operating with majority support and foreign assistance in a large, sparsely populated country.

Libya’s opposition must train diligently throughout the coming weeks and months in order to re-enter stage three. Somewhat disturbing is their latest advance on Ajdabiya and Brega
under Western air-cover; risking another setback is unnecessarily foolish. If they’re gunning for cities, they should also run cross-country sabotage and mobile raids as diversionary measures. By coordinating with NATO, they must spread Gaddafi’s forces and simultaneously achieve their political objectives. Once Gaddafi’s forces have been truly equalized the Libyan People’s Army can proceed in bulk, city by city, and crash into Tripoli at the height of their momentum.

Although revolution is a protracted struggle by nature, this strategy may be capable of delivering victory in the near future.

March 26, 2011

U.S. Sounds Terror Alarm in Yemen

For the third straight day, reports of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s willingness to resign have been contradicted by his own defiance. Yemen’s president wants to cede power, he claims, but “to whom, and how?” Apparently Saleh is growing particularly concerned with acquiring immunity from prosecution.

Maybe he should have worried about that before committing so many crimes against his own people.

Washington predictably continues to play along with Saleh’s stall tactics. State spokesman Mark Toner welcomed Saleh’s “dialogue” on Friday: “I think that he’s obviously reached out to the Yemeni people, but obviously, we’re also waiting for his – for further action on both sides. As I spoke about the other day, I think we’ve got to – that both sides, both the government and the demonstrators, need to come together and decide for the best way forward for Yemen.”

It’s always Yemen’s opposition that’s not doing enough, reaching out enough, etc.

Saleh reportedly met with opposition representatives on Saturday, including the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) and his former general turned protester, Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar. Neither represent the youth movement, which only sees them tools in their revolution. Both sides reportedly gave no ground either, yet the White House maintains its vain hope that people will trust him.

"We stand steadfast, firm as mountains, and will not be shaken by the events," Saleh told tribal chiefs on Saturday in a typical example of double-speak.

So ready is he to leave power that Saleh also warned, "The legitimate authority is firm and steadfast in [the] face of challenges, and we shall not allow a small minority to overcome the majority of the Yemeni people. Yemen is a ticking bomb and if the political system collapses and there's no constructive dialogue there will be a long civil war that will be difficult to end.”

And so willing is Washington to release him that it just issued a new terror threat. The timing of this “non-public warning” must be coincidental...
WASHINGTON — The Yemen-based branch of Al-Qaeda could be close to launching an attack, according to US spy agencies which said the group may be seeking to capitalize on unrest roiling the Middle Eastern country, The Washington Post said Saturday.

Citing unnamed US officials, the newspaper said agencies have gathered only "fragmentary information" on a possible plot from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and have yet to assemble detailed intelligence that would prompt a public warning or take to specific action to counter the threat.

"We're always at a very high level of alert and have been for some time with AQAP," an official told the Post. The intelligence however points to "more than that they are bent on attacking the West and continuing to plot," implying an operation beyond the planning phase, according to the official.

The rising threat comes as Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh hangs on to power amid months of street protests -- which have disrupted his counterterrorism operations -- and high-profile defections in the ranks of top military and tribal leaders just in the past two weeks.

Saleh, in power for more than 30 years, has been a key US ally in its fight against the active Al-Qaeda branch operating out of his country. The group last year launched a failed plot to dispatch parcel bombs on US-bound cargo planes.

National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told the Post in response to the recent intelligence the United States continues "to take very seriously the threat posed by AQAP... They are the most active (Al-Qaeda) franchise, and we are working diligently with our partners to disrupt their activities."

Alongside drone attacks targeting AQAP, the United States over the last 18 months has also dispatched "dozens" of CIA operatives and even Special Operations military troops to operate alongside Yemeni forces to counter and disrupt the group's operations, the Post said.
The Obama administration isn’t walking a “fine line,” or pursuing a “realistic” policy in Yemen. Support for Saleh in defiance of the Yemeni majority is destabilizing the country, not creating “order.” U.S. officials threaten that AQAP is expanding in the power vacuum, then continue to voice open support for Saleh’s version of a transition. U.S. policy in Yemen was not bigger than one man, but constructed entirely on a dictator. And U.S. military assistance has been repeatedly misappropriated against the Houthis and Southern Movement, two groups Saleh steadfastly hopes to freeze out.

Washington’s ongoing response in Yemen isn’t pragmatic as it yields neither short nor long term benefits. Only one realist policy exists, and that is support for a free and open society. Such an outcome isn’t possible if Saleh has anything to do with it.

March 25, 2011

Saleh Tries To Hijack Revolution

Ali Abdullah Saleh has reversed his violent tactics with a slight of hand worthy of Vegas. Attempting to rip the revolution right out of his political opposition’s hands, Yemen’s embattled president hailed the youth - his “millions” of supporters - that turned out for Friday’s ‘Day of Departure.’

And he wasn’t talking about the counter-protests in his favor.

"These crowds, who reject the coup on the constitutional legitimacy, are a practical answer and a public referendum on the unity, freedom, democracy and legitimacy,” Saleh said of Friday’s ‘Day of Tolerance.’ “We, in the leadership, do not want power and do not need it, and we are willing to hand over power to safe hands, not to frivolous, sick, hateful and corrupt hands.”

Branding the wider opposition as criminals, Saleh accused the Houthis, Southern Movement, Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), and al-Qaeda of hijacking the youth’s revolution. He also reiterated his belief (supported by Washington) that oppositional demands should be addressed through dialogue rather than sit-ins, rallies, attacking military bases, or “sniping protesters to incite chaos.”

"The demands of the youths who have no political affiliations are welcome and I urge these youths to found their own political party to represent them," Saleh added.

Distrust between the youth and political opposition is real, mainly because of the JMP’s attempts to negotiate with Saleh in early March. His statements don’t add up to reality. The youth opposes him most of all, whereas his remaining support stems from traditional, older generations. And refusing ownership for last Friday’s massacre in Change Square, an event that sparked military and tribal defections, boosts Saleh’s delusion to a new level. Washington won’t even get the “investigation” it asked for.

Saleh’s argument that he’ll cede power to “safe hands” has a hollow center. “Order” stems from his self-interest, not Yemen’s interest. The outgoing ruler doesn’t choose the future government after a revolution, nor do people always know what comes next. Mystery never stopped American revolutionaries during an eight year war and the decade of political reorganization to follow. So why do Muslim revolutionaries suddenly need a plan anyway?

But Yemen’s 20-and-under crowd, half of the population, has offered their demands “for a peaceful revolution,” starting with Saleh and his family’s immediate departure. A transitional national council from “five respected figures,” including one military officer and at least several political representatives, would assume control for six months. A specialized committee would draft a new constitution based on parliamentary system, while the military reorganizes to “international standards” to ensure neutrality.

Trials and elections would complete Yemen’s revolution.

Saleh’s threats of civil war are so unfounded that these “criminals” have remained largely peaceful; government complaints of low-intensity violence fall on deaf ears in fourth-generation warfare. The youth and general opposition also formulated a reasonable plan, given the situation. And contrary to Saleh’s speech, political inclusion of the Houthis and SM is vital to Yemen’s stability, a policy that Washington must encourage. Excluding them from the political transition invites chaos and works against the very unity Saleh desperately invokes.

And far from playing a role in Yemen’s revolution, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has remained at a distance, using the opportunity to further its military advances. All it’s had to do is sit back and let Saleh fire on Yemenis, then run to the propaganda mill.

Few protesters will be fooled by Saleh’s latest “dialogue,” whether they simply distrust him or were insulted by him. Why Saleh or Washington expects them to bite is uncertain, but it probably has something to do with “needing power.” Although the White House and Pentagon might have “moved on” from Saleh, according to Western reports, they remain clueless of what to do next. Otherwise they would have done something different by now.

Whether Saleh violently spasms again or flees into the night like Mubarak, Yemen’s democratic uprising will sweep his regime into history. The Obama administration should think faster, because no one willingly negotiates with a thief who accuses others of thievery.

U.S. Media Panicking Over Yemen's Revolution

Sometimes better is late than never, like giving a birthday gift or an apology. During revolution, when lives are at stake, late is not always better than never. Yemen’s government has undoubtedly made foreign journalists’ lives difficult, but the sudden rush of reports proves that personnel isn’t the sole factor in their belated arrival.

The U.S. media could have tuned in at any moment. Only now though, on the eve of Friday’s “Day of Departure,” has the mass media submitted to Yemen’s unavoidable gravity.

The White House enjoyed a cushy media blanket throughout a violent February and early March, a product of saying little in the first place. Nowhere has President Barack Obama stood further back than in Yemen, where the administration's entire strategy against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) rested on a sinking and possibly delusional autocrat. Actually thinking it had a pretty good operation going, the U.S. government wasn’t prepared for anything close to what’s happening now.

Libya and Japan don’t fully explain this new flick of the switch, suggesting shadowy influences at work. Many cracks were visible in the crumbling regime and U.S. policy yielded a net negative in 2010, except most reporting and analysis continued viewing Yemen through a “terror” lens. News organizations and journalists have generally failed to press the issue and had marginal incentive to cover Yemen’s crisis so long as Libya served as the administration’s focal point. That too may be part of the plan.

The net result has skewed U.S. media coverage away from Yemen, and the media itself is beginning to concede the administration's reluctance to talk about Saleh.

So why doesn’t the media talk more about him? Isn’t that supposed to be their job? At any time the media could have devoted more attention to Yemen, focused in greater depth, found people who understand its social dimensions and demilitarized the strategy of combating AQAP. It hasn’t happened. Discounting the systematic nature of Yemen’s blackout requires a leap of faith through Washington and Saleh’s smokescreen.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has admitted to an obvious lack of preparation for post-Saleh Yemen, creating a deer-in-the-headlights look. The White House’s ongoing support for Saleh offers no reason to disbelieve Gates, and speaking is difficult without knowing what to say. Why, though, has there been no education to the public and no extensive outreach to the opposition, either publicly or privately? Why have both the U.S. government and media taken so long to ramp themselves up to Yemen’s speed, considering that a burst of reporting is possible?

Why, if Yemen is so critical and AQAP so dangerous, is so little said? Fear is the common bond - the same found in fear tactics.

Fear has now flipped the U.S. media from silent to emergency mode, not exactly conducive to rational thought. Aside from the minority who advocate a holistic approach to Yemen, the U.S. media is responding in the same panic as Saleh, the White House and Pentagon. No matter, all have consistently failed to suppress Yemen’s revolution up to Friday’s scheduled march on the palace.

At least they’ll be there to watch.

[Update: Security forces are blocking protesters from gathering in Sana’a, as promised by Saleh's state of emergency. U.S. officials continue to rule out severing his military aid, but how long can the White House's "dialogue" hold?]