Friday, September 23, 2011

Yemen's revolution and declining US power

I am sorry not have to kept up to date with the inspiring resistance in Syria and Yemen. I note that David Cameron's speech at the UN used the example of Libya to argue for more interventions, citing both these countries as being in need of 'reform'.  For what it's worth, it presently seems unlikely that Britain will be able to drive further military interventions, as the conditions that made a relatively low cost and low commitment intervention in Libya possible aren't likely to be replicated elsewhere.  However, the adoption of the language of 'reform' is very interesting, and signals that the strategy of the dominant states has shifted from simply backing the ancient regimes to looking for a managed transition to more liberal societies.  The spirit of this was, I think, summed up in Blair's panicked remarks upon the Egyptian revolution:

"All over that region, there is essentially one issue, which is how do they evolve and modernise, both in terms of their economy, their society and their politics.
"All I'm saying is that, in the case of Egypt and in the case in Yemen, because there are other factors in this – not least those who would use any vacuum in order to foment extremism – that you do this in what I would call a stable and ordered way."
Blair said the west should engage with countries such as Egypt in the process of change "so that you weren't left with what is actually the most dangerous problem in the Middle East, which is that an elite that has an open minded attitude but it's out of touch with popular opinion, and popular opinion that can often – because it has not been given popular expression in its politics – end up frankly with the wrong idea and a closed idea."

Cameron would not be as crude as Blair, since he is an opportunist while the latter is an out and out bampot, but I think he shares essentially the same idea.  As regards Yemen, it's been obvious for a while now that despite Washington's backing for repression and involvement in killing opposition leaders dubbed 'Al Qaeda', they're no longer content to leave Saleh in charge.  The scale and endurance of the resistance, coming as it does from fractured sources and with different motives, combined with internal plotting against Saleh, has forced Washington to change tack (see Obama's UN speech).  As Sheila Carapico points out in MERIP, they have done so reluctantly, and with a clear lack of sympathy for the protesters.  In April, when they thought a face-saving deal might be reached, the US embassy in Sanaa issued a press release urging "'Yemeni citizens' to show good faith by 'avoiding all provocative demonstrations, marches and speeches in the coming days'."

The ongoing UN negotiations over a power transfer concern the terms of Saleh's departure, and constitute an effort by the US to engineer a settlement it can live with.  Meanwhile, as the regime continues to use live rounds, tear gas, sewage water cannons, artillery and tanks to suppress the opposition, it is so important that the opposition has not been demobilised as the Obama administration would like it to be.  This is a mass rally in Yemen today following a week of repression:

This suggests that, despite the very intelligent, cautious and successful intervention in Libya, US power has still taken a very significant regional knock, and its ability to control events is in question. Look at what's happening with Palestine. Egypt relaxing Rafah crossing restrictions, and supporting Fatah-Hamas peace talks, the Israeli embassy beseiged, Turkey continuing its historic break with Israel, and now the Palestinian statehood bid which, with all caveats noted, has left the Israeli leadership manifestly rattled.  Obama has just sent Israel more weapons, and he will almost certainly instruct his ambassador to the UN to veto the bid.  Susan Rice, the administration's uber-humanitarian-interventionist, threatened the UN with the withdrawal of US funding if member states backed Palestinian statehood.  Still, a majority of states may approve the bid, and that would be a defeat for the US and Israel.  As importantly, the Palestinian leadership has decided to sidestep America as the key mediator in the process.  Both the US and Israel insist that there can be no talk of statehood outside the 'peace process'.  But Mahmoud Abbas, after all these years, is acting as if he knows that the 'peace process' is intended to suffocate the very possibility of Palestinian statehood, which is not a small thing.