For many Americans, welcoming a new year means champagne, dancing, discharging firearms skyward, college football, collards, black-eyed peas, Black Eyed Peas, Dick Clark and/or Ryan Seacrest, electrified mechanical apples, a midnight kiss, feeling sad about not getting a midnight kiss, vomiting, and headaches.
As if that wasn't enough fun for one holiday, Americans are getting an extra special New Year's gift for 2010 – a new front in the never-ending War On Terror™!
That's right, folks, it looks like Yemen is set to join Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia on the list of countries Americans plan to bomb until its residents like us.
Thank you notes for this thoughtful gift should be addressed to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab c/o Federal Correctional Institution, 4000 Arkona Road, Milan, MI 48160.
Mr. Abdulmutallab is the alleged Underpants Bomber, the man the U.S. government believes tried to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger jet on Christmas Day using explosives hidden in his Fruit of the Booms.
Abdulmutallab isn't from Yemen. He's from Nigeria. But bombing Nigeria isn't in the cards.
Nigerians already adore the United States. A November 2009 Pew Research Center poll showed 79 percent of Nigerians have a favorable view of the United States. That's higher than Germany, Canada, Britain, and Japan. Nigerians probably like America more than Americans do. Bombing won't help.
Because Nigeria is so pro-American, the U.S. government believes Abdulmutallab had to leave to school himself in the fine art of crotch-based terror. They believe he went to Yemen.
Yemen occupies the bottom tip of the Arabian peninsula. Yemen is big 'n' poor – bigger than Spain, but with lousier food and less than one-tenth the per-capita GDP. Unlike its neighbors, Yemen doesn't have enough petroleum to keep its economy afloat. Half the country lives below the official poverty line – a line that's pretty low to begin with.
Yemen's biggest problem isn't poverty, however. It's political instability. Don't be fooled by the solid lines on the map; Yemen isn't really a cohesive political unit. It's hopelessly divided. It has been for a very long time, thanks to a long list of meddling outsiders.
The Ottoman Turks ruled Yemen for centuries. The Brits controlled the southern half of Yemen from 1837 to 1967 because it was a convenient rest stop for ships going back and forth between Britain and its colonial crown jewel, India. In the 1960s, Egyptian troops fought Saudi and Jordanian troops in the country's northern half.
Yemen's northern and southern halves officially united in 1990, but the fighting never stopped. The two halves keep going at each other and, more recently, a guerilla war in the north has pitted minority Shi'ite Muslims against the government they say mistreats them. This, too, has become an excuse for foreign meddling, with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia supporting Yemen's central government; Iran allegedly supporting Shi'ite rebels; and al-Qaida taking advantage of the chaos to strengthen its Yemeni franchise.
Yemen has long been an al-Qaida playground. Yemen's government says it's suffered 61 al-Qaida attacks since 1992. And you may recall the 2000 bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer U.S.S. Cole, attacked by al-Qaida as it sat in the harbor in the Yemeni port of Aden. Seventeen American sailors were killed.
U.S. intelligence believes al-Qaidudes from around the world started coming to Yemen in 2008 and 2009 because it's a uniquely hospitable environment. It's poor, politically divided and the central government is so weak that al-Qaida can set up bases in remote corners with relative ease.
The Obama administration has been on to this for a while, recently doubling military aid to Yemen. We've also helped Yemen's government attack guerilla and al-Qaida bases. Three times in December, the U.S. and Yemen carried out joint air and missile raids in Yemen. Among those targeted was a radical American cleric friendly with the Army major charged with the killing spree at Fort Hood.
In the coming weeks, there will be immense pressure on President Obama to pummel Yemen in a manner demonstrating that he's "tough on terror" – whatever that means. Nothing he's done in 2009 suggests Obama will stand up to that pressure.
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