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  • Published in Stop the war

Obama's rebrand of the 'war on terror' has been not just an abject failure but deeply counter-productive and brutal

Drone protest

High profile terror alerts, the closure of US and European embassies in Yemen and across the Middle East, talk of foiled plots and the mobilisation of US special forces: nowadays these kind of events generate as much scepticism as they do anxiety.

Those running the West's war on terror have too long a record of false alarm and scaremongering for it to be any other way.

Under George Bush, the US administration regularly reached for a terror threat to bolster support.

Tom Ridge, Secretary of Homeland Security in the Bush-Cheney Administration, admitted in writing that he had been pressured to raise the alert levels to bolster Bush's popularity in the run up to the 2004 election as Bush's poll position weakened as a result of the Iraq War.

The attack on Iraq itself was justified partly by completely spurious claims by leading Neo-cons that Saddam Hussein regime was in some way linked to Al-Qaeda.

British academics David Miller and Rizwan Sabir have researched a string of UK terror scares and found that here is 'a pattern of misinformation' in official comment about threats. One memorable panic took place day before the massive global demonstrations against that war on 15 February 2003. We in Britain were treated to a terror alert at Heathrow so serious it involved the need for tanks and troops on the runways at Heathrow. Front-page news was made, but no explanation or evidence was ever offered by the government or security services.

Cynicism this time is not surprising and apparently extends to figures within the US government. Some commentators are pointing to the coincidence of high profile ‘successful’ intelligence-led operations against Al-Qaeda affiliates with public support for Edward Snowden. The aim presumably being to justify the mind-boggling scale of illegal snooping by the NSA (with the help of Britain's GCHQ) in the interests of national security.

But whatever is behind the timing of the current scare, its main significance is as an admission that Obama rebrand of the 'war on terror' has been, not just an abject failure, but as deeply counter-productive and almost as brutal as the original.

Since 2010 President Obama has been pursuing a relentless campaign of drone attacks against the organisation that is apparently the main threat to peace in Yemen - Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP). A number of 'leading operatives' have been assassinated by UAVs,  including apparently their deputy leader, Saeed al-Shihri. This war of attrition has escalated recently. According to the US think-tank the New America Foundation, US drone strikes in Yemen have been rising steadily from 18 in 2011 to 53 in 2012. More recently the number appears to have soared.

You don't need to believe the hype about threat levels to see that this policy has backfired. Because of the instability and danger in the country most western journalists have left Yemen, but US/Yemeni activist Rooj Alwazir reports that there are whole areas of the country, particularly in the South, where people are afraid to go out of their houses because of the level of drone attacks. Schools and hospitals are closed, some of them after direct drone strikes. According to her, because of this experience, and the complete failure of the US backed government to provide even basic services, anger against the West is growing fast, and many people are joining 'extremist' organisations.

Despite the dearth of reporting from Yemen itself, Rooj is not alone in her views. Even the BBC's US-friendly defence correspondent Frank Gardner admits dryly, 'In Yemen, the US drones are deeply unpopular, sometimes hitting the wrong targets and wiping out whole extended families' and an expert assessment in US journal Foreign Policy tells a similar story, suggesting that the number of Al-Qaeda operatives has grown from about 300 in 2009 to ‘well over a thousand’ today.

Meanwhile, as Washington's Al-Qaeda scare is reverberating around the world, less well reported news is emerging from another disaster area. It is becoming clear from Syria that Tuesday's 'liberation' from Assad forces by rebels of an airbase in Idlib Province, co-ordinated partly by the US-backed Syrian Military Council, had foreign and Syrian based Al-Qaeda affiliates at its heart. In the words of one US analyst, this is a further sign  that 'Al-Qaeda is dominating anti-Assad forces'.

The leaders of the War on Terror are capable of terrible deceptions, but it is the savage opportunism of their policies that is most frightening.

From the Stop the War Coalition site

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.