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Featured / January 27, 2010
By Mark Ames

yemen rebels1

This article was first published in The American Conservative, March 1, 2010.

If the last few decades prove anything about America’s strategy in fighting Islamic terrorism, it’s that no matter what the other side throws our way, America will respond in the most counterintuitive and self-destructive manner imaginable.

The routine goes something like this: if America is attacked by terrorists from Country A, then our response will be to bomb the hell out of Country Z, in which Z equals a doormat of a country whose sole purpose is to provide an easy, morale-boosting win. This strategy has produced mixed results, from total failure to complete catastrophe, depending on variable Z. The doormats have turned out to be booby-trapped.

Take our most recent example of this counterterror formula: a terrorist from Country A (Nigeria) tries and fails to down an American plane. According to the warped logic of the U.S. foreign-policy establishment, we must naturally attack Country Z—Yemen. Leaving aside the question of how effective it is to bomb any demographically-exploding Third World country, let’s follow the hawkish logic: some misfit can’t figure out how to blow up his underwear, but we still have to find perpetrators to punish. Problem is, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is from Nigeria, which has almost 80 million Muslims, the largest number in sub-Saharan Africa. So that’s not going to work. There’s Saudi Arabia, where al-Qaeda’s founder, its sponsors, and its ideological support all come from—that would be a logical Country A to bomb. But the Saudis sponsor the American foreign-policy establishment at least as much as they sponsor anti-American terrorism, so bombing them would be tantamount to suicide for our policymakers. Then there’s Pakistan, another logical choice: that country’s notorious spy service is believed to have been protecting al-Qaeda’s leadership lo these many years—why not bomb Pakistan? Answer: we’re already fighting, and losing, against a Pakistani proxy army, the Taliban. Just imagine how much worse things would be if we expanded the conflict to Pakistan proper, which has over five times the population of Afghanistan and nuclear weapons to boot.

Yet the simple-minded hawks need to invade and bomb someone, just so long as it’s someone they believe will be a pushover; an easy victory where the results are all but fixed in advance; some country that could play the military equivalent of the Washington Generals to America’s Harlem Globetrotters.

That’s how Yemen, a place Abdulmutallab passed through and supposedly got his training in, becomes the new Country Z—the tangentially related state we need to bomb to make things better. As far as the meatheads in D.C. know, Yemen should be a pushover. Otherwise, we’d have heard something about Yemen by now.

Ah yes, lovely Yemen, the perfect choice for another open-ended war, exactly what the bankrupt, overstretched, kneecapped American empire needs. It’s the sort of counterintuitive target the counterintuitive imperialists who have brought us so much ruin would choose for their last gamble: it’s as if they selected Yemen precisely because there’s nothing to steal and nothing to conquer. The only thing a war with Yemen would guarantee is more death, more debt, and generations of anti-American hate to keep our grandchildren busy. To the serial losers who coaxed America into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the losing odds Yemen offers are just too tempting to pass up.


Inside of every Houthi rebel tribesman, there is a tiny, goo-covered Charles Krauthammer trying to get out.

So Sen. Joseph Lieberman goes on television and says, “Iraq was yesterday’s war. … Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act pre-emptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war. That’s the danger we face.” This sums up just how deranged America’s hawks have become. To their minds, wars come in three tenses: past, present, and future. Leaving aside the fact that Afghanistan was yesterday’s war before it became today’s war and that America is still losing both wars in whichever tense Lieberman uses, consider his argument: I gambled American power on Iraq, and I lost; I’m now in the process of losing another war. Therefore, if we don’t want to lose the next war, we need to start it now—to trick time, so to speak, so that we can fight the future in the present tense.

No wonder American power is collapsing harder than just about any empire in history. But it’s not as though Lieberman is displaying any originality. The politicians and wonks leading America down the drain are following a logic that’s been operating for the past three and a half decades, always with disastrous results. It hasn’t mattered whether the controls of the U.S. war machine were in the hands of a peanut farmer or a washed-up actor, a rich white chickenhawk or a socialist of color, America’s military strategy vis-à-vis Islamic terrorism knows no party line—or common sense.

Just look at the record. In 1975, America was smarting from defeat in Vietnam, Gerald Ford was president, and a couple of “bold-thinking” hotheads in his administration had a brilliant idea for how to restore America’s confidence. As luck would have it, Cambodia, one of the world’s poorest countries, then in the middle of a Khmer Rouge holocaust, offered itself as Country Z. Cambodian Communists seized a U.S. merchant boat, the Mayaguez, and briefly held the crew hostage. Rather than negotiating for their release, Ford’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and his underling Dick Cheney pushed for a massive military “rescue operation.” It was a disaster: some 40 American servicemen were killed in the attempt to take control of the island where our sailors were supposedly being held. In fact, the Americans had already been released before the operation started.

In 1983, Hezbollah suicide bombers killed 220 Marines, the worst death toll the service has suffered since the battle of Iwo Jima and perhaps the most pointless mass-death of Marines in the outfit’s brilliant history. Reagan’s response: invade Grenada, a resort island a few miles off of Florida. In his defense, at least he didn’t invade Iraq or Afghanistan, but the basic policy of reacting to terrorism by invading some other “cakewalk” country was set.

Also on Reagan’s watch, Iranian-backed militants in Lebanon kidnapped American citizens and twice blew up the U.S. Embassy. His response: send the Ayatollah a birthday cake and a Bible, along with shiploads of TOW antitank weapons to help Khomeini fight Iraq. Still, something had to be done for public consumption, given all the Americans that the Iranians was killing. So Reagan chose to pick on Col. Muammar Qaddafi, the Gary Numan of scary Muslim villains. He bombed Qaddafi’s tents and killed the cross-dresser’s 4-year-old daughter.

The last terror attack of the Reagan era came just a few weeks before the 40th president left the White House, when a Pan Am jet was blown up over Scotland. Everyone and his grandma knew that the Iranians and their Syrian proxies were retaliating for the USS Vincennes shooting down an Iranian passenger jet in the Persian Gulf a few months earlier. But guess who George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s replacement, blamed the Pan Am explosion on? “Glass Jaw” Qaddafi. Unlike the Iranians, Qaddafi could be counted on to cave and cry uncle, even when he wasn’t guilty. He handed over one of his agents for a show trial in Scotland, and as if it were part of the deal, that Libyan agent was released a few years later by British authorities because he wasn’t feeling well, or something like that.

Then there was Clinton. In 1993, proto-al-Qaeda terrorists led and funded by Saudi Wahhabis tried blowing up the World Trade Center with van-bombs. Clinton’s response: roast a bunch of American Kool-Aid drinkers in Waco, Texas. (The implication is that Texans are the Libyans of North America, all bark and no bite.) In October 1993, Somali terrorists humiliated American forces in the worst military disaster since the 1983 Lebanon barracks bombing. Briefly, America was sobered up by the experience and decided not to bomb someplace like Bhutan or Upper Volta, though I’m sure policy planners considered it. By the time of the Kenya and Tanzania embassy bombings in 1998, Clinton couldn’t hold back, so naturally he destroyed a Sudanese aspirin plant and put on a harmless though expensive fireworks show in Afghanistan.

Under George W. Bush, America’s asymmetrical strategy went off the scale: Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Egyptians trained in Afghanistan and commanded by a Pakistani attacked America with airplanes, and we responded with a catastrophic invasion of Iraq. Operations in Afghanistan became a sideshow to the main event in Mesopotamia. And, as it turns out, right after 9/11 our ultra-hawks considered opening an even more illogical front: a top-secret memo cited in the 9/11 Commission Report—apparently written by Under Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith for Donald Rumsfeld—urged “hitting targets outside the Middle East in the initial offensive,” including Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. The report notes, “The author suggested … since U.S. attacks were expected in Afghanistan, an American attack in South America or Southeast Asia might be a surprise to the terrorists”—not to mention a shocker to any member of the reality-based community.

Which brings us to the Nigerian underwear bomber and 2010’s pending war in Yemen. It doesn’t take a genius to see how this will end up. It’s just too bad that we’re the ones picking up the tab for Lieberman and company’s mad misdirection.

This article was first published in The American Conservative, March 1, 2010.

Mark Ames is the author of Going Postal: Rage, Murder and Rebellion from Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Columbine.

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  • 1. CapnMarvel  |  January 27th, 2010 at 5:21 am

    “The Gary Numan of scary Muslim terrorists”?

    WTF kinda line is that, mang?

    Also, It’ll be interesting to see how the readers of something called “The American Conservative” are going to take to hearing that we ‘lost’ the war in Vietnam. Don’t some of them still think Nixon achieved Peace with Honor or some such horse pucky?

  • 2. twain  |  January 27th, 2010 at 5:38 am

    You completely skipped over clinton’s support of the muslim terrorists in serbia/kosovo. You remember? The bombing campaign that managed to kill about zero of the designated “enemy”? (but -naturally- with plenty of “collateral damage”).

  • 3. BlottoBonVismarck  |  January 27th, 2010 at 5:45 am


    Let us not forget that Bush Senior — “Bush-the-slightly-less-stupid” – Howard Zinn — tried to overcome his obvious lack of cojones by invading mighty Panama and massacring somewhere north of 3,000 Panamians. Interestingly enough, many in cold blood. Why bother shooting bound men in the back of the head? What possible military purpose does it serve, except to fuck up the minds of those doing the killing? Maybe not on the day, but how about those PTSD flashbacks for the perpetrators today???

    How do we know? Because some real American journalists went down there and got the story. Un-embedded real American journalists if you can remember such a thing.

    Summary executions by US forces in Panama – The Panama Deception. –

    As George Carlin memorably pointed out, the 1991 Gulf War was led by three men with the name Bush, Dick and Colon. Doesn’t inspire much confidence in the imbeciles giving the orders. “If only he had been named George Boner he might have felt better about himself and millions of Iraqis would still be alive.” Amen. @5.40

    George Carlin on the dickless wonder and the wimp factor. – ‘A big prick-waving dick-fight’ – @5.00

  • 4. Ali al-Bakir  |  January 27th, 2010 at 6:46 am

    too bad American conservative mag was hacked by some islamist turks….

  • 5. anonymous  |  January 27th, 2010 at 6:53 am

    “This article was first published in The American Conservative, March 1, 2010.” ?

  • 6. Tyr  |  January 27th, 2010 at 9:05 am

    It’s no mystery why Yemen is on the agenda. Saudi Arabia has been fighting a border dispute for some time there (and getting nowhere) irritatingly close to some of their dwindling oil fields. Probably a proxy war with Iran too. Now Saud is calling in its muscle.

  • 7. Tsar_of_the_CafeNoir  |  January 27th, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Ahh 2010. So far: a military occupation of Haiti with 20k troops by this Sunday, QE 2.0 only months away (Joy!), can’t bomb Iran? Conquer the surrounding Nations! Who have we invaded and are currently occupying now, let’s see: we’ve had Saudi Arabia for awhile now, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman and the U.A.E are marginalized with western influence. This really only leaves Yemen and arguably Pakistan left. Turkmenistan probably isn’t on the list, but who knows.

    I don’t think we’ll see a push into Iran until we’ve neutralized the rest of the pawns in the region. After we have all the other nations to blockade with, we’ll be done building all the airbases and installations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Has anyone else even played Age of Empires?

  • 8. wengler  |  January 27th, 2010 at 10:05 am

    LoL @ “socialist of color”

    Playing to The American Conservative crowd a bit there, Ames?

    Connecting the first World Trade Center bombing to Waco was a bit of a stretch too. Burning up Americans is only popular when they aren’t white. That response was driven almost entirely by the ATF losing 4 guys in the initial operation. You pop a cop and you’re a dead man. You pop 3 more and you’re a burnt up cult. Clinton got nothing but grief out of Waco, Ruby Ridge and his “persecution” of cults, separatists and white supremacists. You’ll remember the militia movement “Yemen’d” themselves by blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City.

    Your analysis of “reaching out and bombing someone” when things go wrong is largely correct though.

  • 9. Rubicon  |  January 27th, 2010 at 10:06 am

    Iran is even more interesting, what with the “gifts” from their buds, the Russians. Sunburn missiles with 10 MRV warheads, each with high maneuverability to evade Phalanx guns. Sink a warship in nothing flat. Israel may try to bomb them (as they did with the Osirak reactor in Iraq in 1981), but unlike Iraq, which was in a war with Iran at the time, now the Iranians have nothing but time to plan defense and countermeasures.
    As for Yemen itself–these guys have over 100 years of practice in tribal hit-n-run style fighting and a society antipathetic to foreigners. The Americans will be octuple-fucked if they venture there. Bombs will not subdue anything, nor will videogame-style predator drones. If they did work, they would’ve been done with AfPak by now.

    I can’t resist commenting on:
    “The Gary Numan of scary Muslim terrorists”?
    Here in my tent I feel safest of all
    I can pull down my flaps
    It’s the only way to live, In tents
    Do do do doo do do do

    (tho the idea of Muamar wearing makeup creeps me out).

  • 10. Concerned Citizen  |  January 27th, 2010 at 10:19 am

    “Ah yes, lovely Yemen, the perfect choice for another open-ended war, exactly what the bankrupt, overstretched, kneecapped American empire needs.”

    Actually, yes, it is what American needs. Yemen is home to one of the most important geostrategic locations for the American Empire.

    “It’s the sort of counterintuitive target the counterintuitive imperialists who have brought us so much ruin would choose for their last gamble: it’s as if they selected Yemen precisely because there’s nothing to steal and nothing to conquer.”

    The War Nerd needs to do a bit more research: the evidence strongly suggests that the United States is moving to further militarize a strategic choke-point for the world oil flows in the Gulf of Aden, of which a substantial portion of ship-bound oil traverses. Using the Somalia piracy threat, together with claims of a new Al Qaeda threat arising from Yemen, is far from ludicrous policy–in fact, it’s sensible given the geopolitical state context (why do you think the United States already has tens of thousands of troops based in the pitiful country of Djibouti at Camp Lemonier…for fun? No, it’s the price of empire, baby). Also, with China rapidly becoming a competitor for the West over Central Asian resources, the world’s most important oil transport routes become even more critical. Also, don’t forget the underdeveloped oil reserves in the territory between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, which are reportably among the world’s largest, another incentive to seek stability in a volatile region.

  • 11. Jimmy  |  January 27th, 2010 at 10:38 am

    I’m confused. Wasn’t Yemen invaded in order to better control the strait of Hormuz and put pressure on the Chinese, lest the get any ideas about dumping US debt?

  • 12. e  |  January 27th, 2010 at 11:12 am

    the paragraph about Lieberman’s use of tenses was hilarious. good show, i can’t tell if ames is taking drugs again, or has cut himself off recently, or if the shock of being chased from russia is wearing off, however his prose is getting back in form.

  • 13. Reamer  |  January 27th, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Ames, your analysis is prescient as always. Keep up the amazing work.

  • 14. Allen  |  January 27th, 2010 at 7:48 pm

    I rather hope America has a clever imperialist scheme up its sleeve. At this point it would be mildly encouraging to think someone was thinking coherently, if diabolically, and this was all about oilfield locations or deep water ports. But I am more inclined to think that the blundering instrument of proud ignorance and popular stupidity has spun out of control and struck its masters a sound blow to the head.

    The sad thing is, whatever a secret elite may have in mind, many seem to have embraced reactionary absurdity without any trace of cynicism or irony. After the “underwear bomber” incident, all you had to do was turn on one of America’s cable news networks to see pundits and guests from America’s party machines ruminating clumsily about “America’s failure” and how can we stop all future underwear bombers and maybe we might have to invade Yemen.

    What about a sense of fucking proportion, or just basic rational thought? Not salable? What accounts for the absurd delusions of supposedly educated hangers-on like Feith? It’s quite the comedy … just more pathetic than funny.

  • 15. mmmm  |  January 27th, 2010 at 8:13 pm

    “…Grenada, a resort island a few miles off of Florida.”

    Dude. Honestly.

  • 16. Tsar_of_the_CafeNoir  |  January 27th, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    @ Allen

    Well you could make the argument that the West (mostly the U.S. though) is securing the “oil-rich” region of the Earth before the sheeple get a grasp of the ramifications of peak oil. Most graphs have us passing the maximum by a few years, and it’s all down hill from there. Oil will be ungodly expensive by 2020, if not by 2015 (when the slope truly becomes quite evident). The price of war of course will skyrocket. If I were the Saudis, I wouldn’t release my reserve estimate either!

    Think of all the trillions spent and lives lost as an investment for the Western elites. Most charts don’t take into account population growth, as in 2020 the Earth will be burdened with about 8 billion of us nasty fuckers. “Ceteris Parabis” will change pretty quick though when billions begin “suddenly dying” for no apparent reason in a few years 😉

  • 17. unger  |  January 27th, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    A note to those who obviously don’t know: TAC conservatives != neoconservatives. They’re basically pre-WWII/Cold War conservatives. When they say they hate big government, they, unlike the neocons, actually mean it: they have no use for military adventuring; they have little use (and very often no use at all) for corporations; they have no use for bailouts, etc., etc. In other words, they’re not the sort of conservatives eXile readers should hate.

  • 18. tam  |  January 28th, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Some good points in this article, (although you’re clearly turning into Pat Buchanan Jr) but it ignores the simple fact the US won’t go to war with Yemen because they simply can’t (financially) afford to these days.

    More importantly, you do realise you’re treading on Mr Brecher’s turf with articles on subjects like this? Does this mean he’s not coming back?

  • 19. tim  |  January 28th, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    I can’t believe Cheney’s famous 1991 comment on how we can all now feel better about Vietnam because we beat Iraq.

  • 20. CB  |  January 28th, 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Articles like this are why I never bought the Gary Brecher == Mark Ames theory.

    Any new War Nerd articles in the pipe?

  • 21. mydick  |  January 28th, 2010 at 10:55 pm

    I also think the Waco thing is a stretch.

    Good job otherwise, but I doubt we’re invading Yemen any time soon. We have no money, our troops are overextended as it is. The best we could do is annihilate Yemen from the sky, but that’s pointless. We’d need a draft.

  • 22. Allen  |  January 28th, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    @ Tsar_of_the_CafeNoir

    Alright, if one or more billion people die mysterious deaths sometime in the next twenty years, I will remember to get alarmed … long live the catastrophists!

    (Though to be honest if the next 20 years do not bring some kind of new and bigger catastrophe I will be a little bit shocked.)

  • 23. D.  |  January 29th, 2010 at 6:05 am

    For those curious, the Iran Air Flight 655 downing being linked to Lockerbie is probably coming from this article about German intelligence and Abolghasem Mesbahi.

    “Mesbahi told investigators that Iran had asked Libya and Abu Nidal, a Palestinian guerrilla leader, to carry out the attack on the Pan Am 103, which was destroyed in flight by a small bomb on Dec. 21, 1988.

    According to Mesbahi, Iran planned the attack as revenge after the US cruiser Vincennes shot down an Iran Air Airbus over the Strait of Hormuz a few months earlier in 1988. Few, who studied the Lockerbie bombing, doubt the veracity of this statement.”

  • 24. Erik  |  January 29th, 2010 at 7:14 am

    And people are still wondering, who was channeling the War Nerd…

  • 25. Tsar_of_the_CafeNoir  |  January 29th, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    @ Allen

    Above should make for interesting reading on this fine Friday afternoon. Peak oil? Seemingly endless engagements in the oil-rich Middle East?! The biggest “shock” will be people waking up to the fact that what was once a seemingly unlimited resource has turned into a 20-carat diamond overnight (w/o DeBeer’s manipulative supply practices). All the “civilization” and good christians are over here, but all the oil is over there.

  • 26. Viking  |  January 30th, 2010 at 1:43 am

    Unger thanks for clarifying the readership of TAC. There’s a world of difference between neo-cons and palecon/libertarians like Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan.

    I see no evidence that our government has aquired the kind of prudence to look at a war and say “we just can’t afford it.” Particularly if it would allow us to grab a geostrategically valuable piece of the map.

    Of course the problem is that we then end up fighting another Afganistan to hang on to that piece of real estate.

    We need to get off the oil folks. It ain’t worth it.

  • 27. Carlito  |  January 30th, 2010 at 8:28 am

    WarNerd is not Ames, fools. There is a radio interview with the warNerd on the web, he sounds nothing like Ames.

  • 28. Jimjones  |  January 30th, 2010 at 11:29 am

    Ames, on another heroic streak. Damn.

  • 29. Marg Bar Amrika  |  January 30th, 2010 at 11:20 pm

    This won’t come as news to the uber-cynical readers of the Exiled, but America is now an utterly purposeless, rudderless, lumbering zombie empire that needs to be put down like a mad dog. There is no sanity in its foreign policy, no coherent strategy in its military adventures, not even any good old-fashioned might-makes-right ass-kickings — just an endless stream of ineptitude and failure. The only explanation I have for all this, other than the obvious fact that America is a failed nation of morons and barbarians, is that our military-industrial complex is now up for sale to the highest bidder. We’ll fight for Israel this week, Saudi Arabia next week, and who knows, maybe we’ll be doing more favors for Iran the week after that. Isn’t this what happened in Rome in its final days – the mercenaries took over and the honorable soldiers went back to their farms?

    Joe Lieberman in particular is certifiably insane – can someone explain how this cretin was ever elected to public office? His neocon program of perpetual war against the Islamic world on behalf of Israel is doomed to failure – even the rednecks are starting to wise up and refuse to be cannon fodder for these chickenhawk swine. I know I’m far from alone when I say that if I take up arms, it sure as fuck won’t be in some foreign shithole like Yemen — it’ll be right here in the lower 48.

  • 30. empire in decline  |  January 31st, 2010 at 4:56 am

    During the Cold War it was the same.

    Couldn’t face the Soviets because they’re too powerful? Can’t face the Chinese since they fought you to a stalemate in Korea and gained nuclear weapons in 1964? Murder four million peasants in Southeast Asia.

    It also has to be understood that the United States never differentiates between different peoples.

    The Vietnamese communists were the same as Chinese communists who were the same as Soviet communists.

    This country lost 19 soldiers in Somalia, failed there, and then used that as an excuse to allow 800,000 Rwandans to get slaughtered. Somalis are the same as Rwandans who are the same as people living in Darfur. They’re just one big black amorphous blob of people to the United States.

    Same with Al Qaeda. No difference is made between Al Qaeda, Iraqis, Afghans or Palestinians. Just a bunch of Muslim terrorists who need to be wiped out genocide-style.

    At the recent World Economic Forum at Davos the United States has been clearly marginalized. Finally the center of power is shifting away from the United States. Hopefully U.S. dominance over world affairs will soon become little more than a painful memory the world will want to forget.

  • 31. adolphhitler  |  February 6th, 2010 at 5:40 am

    @29…i gotta hand it to you…you summed it all up perfectly

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