THE ROVING EYE Yemen, the new Waziristan
By Pepe Escobar
Like an ever-profitable horror B-movie franchise, the al-Qaeda myth simply
refuses to die.
United States intelligence has now focused its lasers on the alleged 300
al-Qaeda jihadis concealed in Yemen's craggy, rural Maarib province - as much
as the Pentagon has deployed infinite might to find those maximum 100 prowling
the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan.
But wait. Didn't top US intelligence officials recently swear on their
government paychecks that it's all but "certain" that this sinister,
multifaceted hydra with sleeper cells all over the planet - "al-Qaeda" - will
attack inside the US within the next six months?
What is more likely is that these neo-jihadis will never come from
Yemen or the Waziristan tribal areas in Pakistan or the whole AfPak tribal belt
for that matter. And they will not be native, pious Sunnis from Saudi Arabia or
Egypt either. They will have at best a vague connection to some Middle Eastern
dictatorship/petro-monarchy. They will certainly be young, ultra-globalized and
passionately, perversely addicted to a fantasy - the virtual ummah (Muslim
Their life journey will certainly have evolved as in a triangulation. Many will
have moved from their home country to live in a Western country - or even have
been born there; and that's where they will have honed their yearning to join
jihad in a third country.
Like characters in a novel
Neo-jihadis may eventually - but not necessarily - go to Yemen or the
Waziristans only after they have made the conceptual leap from idealizing the ummah
on the Internet to actually feeling the irresistible urge to act on the ground.
Whenever this happens, they have already broken communication with their
families. This is the pattern followed by virtually every neo-jihadi - from
Dhiren Barot (who planned to bomb the New York Stock Exchange) to the shy
underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. They are all living exercises in
deterritorialization. It's all virtual - especially their idea or vision of
Islam itself. It's all very individualistic - no orchestration by a sinister
"al-Qaeda" network. And it's all done in English - the lingua franca of global
communication - not Arabic. Welcome to the age of the virtual jihadi nomad. In
earlier times, these would have been characters in a Fyodor Dostoevsky or
Albert Camus novel.
As for the motivations of "al-Qaeda", Olivier Roy, professor at the European
University Institute in Florence, Italy, and a top global scholar of terrorism,
argues that al-Qaeda "does not have a political strategy of establishing an
Islamic state". But he insists al-Qaeda's global enemy is the West - not local
regimes. That's not true; al-Qaeda, the historic leadership, treats local
regimes as US lackeys, thus they should be toppled. It's not their priority; a
hefty case can be made that "al-Qaeda" is nothing but a dissidence (or a
"rogue" arm) of Saudi intelligence, considering the very close relationship
between Osama bin Laden and wily Prince Turki bin Faisal, the former director
general of Saudi intelligence.
Unlike Roy's assessment, al-Qaeda's fight has nothing to do with Che Guevara's
in the 1960s. Al-Qaeda is certainly not about ideology - but about an
idea/flame that seduces, as Roy puts it, "the lonely avenger, the hero, who can
redeem a life he is not happy with by achieving fame while escaping a world
where he finds no room". But that could also be a portrait of John Lennon's
American intelligence is unlikely to consider these subtleties. The
multi-billionaire machine is still hostage to the outdated notion of
"territory". So it's automatic to have the Pentagon dispatch its might to fight
"al-Qaeda" in Yemen and in the Waziristans. They will find nothing but ghosts.
Iraq, AfPak and now Yemen have been granted by Washington the same holy trinity
of building "development" and "governance", and counter-terrorism, which in
practice means governance hijacked by Beltway-conceptualized counter-terrorism.
No wonder this recipe was a failure in Afghanistan and will be a failure in
The Yemeni theater will feature yet another deadly mix of counter-insurgency as
applied by the Israelis in Gaza and West Bank and the Americans in AfPak. What
happened in the AfPak tribal belt is enlightening. The power of hardcore locals
- the Pakistani Taliban - was greatly enhanced; and "al-Qaeda" jihadis quietly
left the building, spawning a mini-global migration. The same will happen in
All this is tragically farcical. Obama has done a George W Bush in
Afghanistan, branding the al-Qaeda ghost to justify Washington's "soft"
invasion of Yemen. The government of US-aligned President Ali Abdullah Saleh in
Sana'a accuses the Huthis of being linked to both al-Qaeda (Wahhabi radicals
who consider Shi'ites as worse than the plague) and Iran (Shi'ites who abhor
al-Qaeda). It doesn't matter whether this is utter nonsense. Sooner or later,
Washington will inevitably brand the Huthis as "terrorists" - just like every
resistance in Iraq was "terrorist", whether they were Sunni or Sadrists.
And the Pentagon runs amok
Tens of thousands of foreign troops are bogged down in Afghanistan because the
North Atlantic Treaty Organization invoked its Article 5 collective defense
provision in 2001 to fight "al-Qaeda". Sooner rather than later, NATO will also
As much as oil is power, the good ol' "war on terror" - rebranded or not by the
US - is alive and kicking. Iraq, Afghanistan (then AfPak), Yemen, Somalia,
these are all cogs in the relentless full spectrum dominance machine, the real
deal behind the "war on terror" cover story, intimately linked to Washington's
scramble to control and/or monitor as many global sources of oil and gas as
And for a Pentagon already running amok, it is getting deeper and deeper into
this key stretch of the "arc of instability", from North Africa to the Persian
Gulf, and at the same time instilling the flames of a new Cold War between
Saudi Arabia and Iran. Blessed are those "al-Qaeda" virtual jihadi nomads.