Barack Obama's war against America's ‘mortal enemy', al Qaida, is growing in scale. Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq have already been drawn into this battle to ‘defend civilisation'. We now have to add Yemen, Somalia and, to a lesser degree, Subsaharan Africa, all of which have also been the scene of ‘targeted raids' and other incursions. Meanwhile the policy of the ‘open hand' towards Iran, announced at the beginning of Obama's presidency and geared towards a diplomatic approach to Iran's nuclear ambitions, is now once again giving way to the clenched fist :
"The US is dispatching Patriot defensive missiles to four countries - Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait - and keeping two ships in the Gulf capable of shooting down Iranian missiles. Washington is also helping Saudi Arabia develop a force to protect its oil installations.
American officials said the move is aimed at deterring an attack by Iran and reassuring Gulf states fearful that Tehran might react to sanctions by striking at US allies in the region. Washington is also seeking to discourage Israel from a strike against Iran by demonstrating that the US is prepared to contain any threat" (Guardian 1/2/10).
The USA, already completely bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, is thus continuing its headlong plunge into war by stepping up its military presence in this entire region.
The strategic importance of Yemen and Somalia
A simple question is posed: what interest do these two countries represent for American imperialism? Yemen, with its very meagre oil resources, has become a real desert, ravaged by years of war. In 1990, the Arab republic of North Yemen and the Popular Democratic Republic of South Yemen got together to form the Republic of Yemen. Since then there has been non-stop war. The Yemeni population of 21 million is one of the poorest in the world. The country is on the verge of cracking up.
As for Somalia, the situation is even worse. This country of 9 million inhabitants is a vast killing field. War has been raging for more than 20 years. The population is in almost permanent flight from all kinds of armed gangs and desperate for shelter and food. The last government to date doesn't even control the whole of its capital city, Mogadishu. The so-called transition government is locked in a conflict with the Islamist groups: Hizbul Islam, led by Sheikh Aweys, a former mentor of the current president; and the al-Shabab group which is linked to al-Qaida. In the regions of Somaliland and Puntland, the search for any semblance of order and stability has been totally abandoned. The fishermen of the coast have turned to piracy to survive, the seas there having been infested by nuclear waste from various European naval ships. Since the collapse of the government in 1990, the USA has been in military occupation of part of the terrain. This was pushed through by the ‘Restore Hope' operation in 1992. This was also the time when France's Bernard Kouchner arrived in Somalia carrying sacks of rice on his shoulder, discretely followed by some French army contingents!
But what is of such interest to imperialist predators like the USA and many others? To respond to this question, you only need to look at a map. Between Somalia and Yemen lies the Gulf of Aden, which is the maritime route towards the Red Sea and the oil fields of the Persian Gulf. The Straits of Ormuz are therefore one of the most surveillanced and coveted areas in the world. More than 20% of the world's oil supplies and more than half the world's oil tankers go through this route. This is also the route through which Chinese imperialism, which is becoming more and more aggressive, is infiltrating towards Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar. In this period of deep economic crisis and sharpening imperialist tensions, controlling the supplies of black gold and the main maritime routes is indispensible for any imperialist power that wants to play a world role. It is a vital weapon of war.
This is why the failed attempt to blow up an American passenger plane heading to Detroit from Amsterdam, carried out on Christmas Day by the Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in the name of al-Qaida, has made it possible to reopen the Pandora's Box of the struggle against terrorism. The fact that this young Nigerian had stayed in Yemen and had been trained there by al-Qaida was the perfect pretext. The reaction was swift. "Washington and London expressed their will to cooperate further in the anti-terrorist struggle in Yemen and Somalia. London and Washington envisage financing a special unit of anti-terrorist police in Yemen and giving added support to the Yemeni coast guard, Downing Street said" (Jeune Afrique, 26/1/0). French imperialism didn't want to be left out and immediately made the same kind of declaration. The president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah, has been in power for 30 years and is an ally of the US. The American army has already sent him missiles and special troops. With the Houti guerrillas in the north being supported by Iran, war is raging, for example round the town of Sa'dah. In a country in such a state of instability, only a direct military presence can serve the needs of a major power. A new American base was already set up there last year, under the banner of anti-terrorism, and the arrival of extra US troops, who will be facing rebellions in both the North and the South of the country, is yet another step by US imperialism into a quagmire with no escape, as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Iran problem and the accelerating decline of US leadership
The recent deployment of tens of thousands of extra US troops in Afghanistan shows very clearly that America is not capable of winning this war. The fact that Pakistan is one of the major prizes in this conflict has resulted in the destabilisation of the Islamabad government, its army and its national unity in a region where Indian and Chinese imperialism are also very active. But although the US is being strongly challenged by China, it has also been reduced to asking it, as well as Russia, for help in dealing with the growing ambitions of Iran, which has been strengthened by the destruction of the Saddam regime in Iraq and which is seeking to extend its influence into Lebanon, southern Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere, as well as taking steps towards equipping itself with a nuclear arsenal : "Two high US officials went to China before the presidential visit and warned the Chinese that if they didn't support Washington over the Iranian dossier, Israel would go onto the attack, provoking chaos in the oil supplies which are so vital to China. Iran is the country's second biggest oil supplier and Chinese enterprises have invested massively there. To loosen this constraint, the USA also proposed that the Chinese should reduce their dependence of Iranian supplies. The Americans' proposals seem to have been listened to. For the first time in a number of years, China voted in favour of the International Atomic Agency condemning Iran" (J Pomfret and J Warrick of the Washington Post, Counter Info 27/1/09). Russia is thus also being courted by the US, which needs their help: this is why they suspended their programme of installing missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic. But Russia and China both have good reasons to continue encouraging Tehran's destabilising role in the Middle East.
These appeals for help are also a real admission of weakness. After the attack on the Twin Towers in 2001, George Bush Jnr launched the USA into a war campaign, striking out almost alone in a bid to demonstrate the absolute military supremacy of the world's leading power. This whole campaign has been a failure. But the ‘new' Obama policy, which uses different language but which is just as warlike, won't produce anything better, either for American imperialism or, obviously, for humanity.
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and now Somalia and Yemen, the war waged in the name of the struggle against radical Islamism is expanding. Each blood-stained step forward by American imperialism exposes its growing powerlessness. In Afghanistan, the USA's inability to defeat the Taliban has become increasingly evident, with mounting calls to negotiate with its more ‘moderate' elements. In Iraq, bomb outrages continue non-stop, the most recent being a deadly suicide bombing of a Shia religious procession at the end of January, leaving sores of dead and maimed. For the USA, Yemen can only be a new Iraq or a new Afghanistan. For the population of these countries, the worst is yet to come. Imperialism in decay sows death wherever it goes. For the working class of all countries, whether or not directly affected, this reality is increasingly evident and intolerable.