An American World of War: What to Watch for in 2010

5. What will the New Year mean for the Pentagon’s base-building plans in our war zones?

As the U.S. war in Afghanistan ramps up, look for American bases there to continue along last year’s path, becoming bigger, harder, more numerous, and more permanent-looking. As estimates of the time it will take to get the president’s extra boots on the ground in Afghanistan increase, look as well for the construction of more helipads, fuel pits, taxiways, and tarmac space on the forward operating bases sprouting especially across the southern parts of that country. These will be meant to speed the movement of surge troops into rural battle zones, while eschewing increasingly dangerous ground routes.

In Iraq, expect the further consolidation of a small number of U.S. mega-bases as American troops pull back to ever fewer sites offering an ever lower profile in that country. Keep your eyes, in particular, on giant Balad Air Base and on Camp Victory outside Baghdad. These were built for the long term. If Washington doesn’t begin preparing to turn them over to the Iraqis, then start thinking 2012 and beyond. Elsewhere in the Persian Gulf region, look for the U.S. military to continue upgrading its many bases, while militarily working to strengthen the security forces of country after autocratic country, from Saudi Arabia to Qatar, in part to continue to rattle Iran’s cage. If those bases keep growing, don’t imagine us drawing down in the region any time soon.

6. Will the U.S. and Israel thwart the Iranian insurgency?

Iran has long been under siege. A founding member of George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” the Islamic Republic was long on his administration’s hit list. It also found itself in the unenviable position of watching the American military occupy and garrison two bordering countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, while also building or bolstering bases in nearby Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. The Obama administration is now poised to increase key military aid to Iran’s nemesis, Israel, and the Pentagon has flooded allied regimes in the region with advanced weaponry. Years of saber-rattling and sanctions, encirclement and threats nonetheless seemed to have little palpable effect. In 2009, however, a disputed election brought Iranians into the streets and, months later, they’re still there.
What foreign militarism couldn’t do, ordinary Iranians themselves now threaten to accomplish. In earlier street protests, young middle-class activists in Tehran chanting “Where is our vote?” were beaten and martyred by security forces. Today, the protests continue and oppositional Iranians from all social strata are refusing to retreat while, when provoked, sometimes fighting back against the police or the regime’s fearsome Basiji militia, even inducing some of them to step aside or switch sides.

A continuing cycle of ever-spreading arrests, protests, and violence in 2010 threatens to further destabilize the regime.

How Washington reacts could, however, deeply affect what happens. The memory of the CIA’s toppling of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 is still alive in Iran. Any perceived U.S. interference could have grave results for the Iranian insurgency, as could Israeli actions. Recently, President Obama, evidently trying to bring the Chinese into line on the question of imposing fiercer sanctions, reportedly told China’s president that the United States could not restrain Israel from attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities much longer. Such an Israeli attack would certainly strengthen the current Iranian regime; so, undoubtedly, would pressure to increase potentially crippling sanctions on that country over its nuclear program. Either or both would help further cement the current tumultuous status quo in the Middle East.

7. Will Yemen become the fourth major front in Washington’s global war?

George W. Bush unabashedly proclaimed himself a “war president.” President Obama seems to be taking up the same mantle. Right now, the Obama administration’s war fronts include the inherited wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a not-so-covert war in Pakistan, and a potential new war in Yemen.
(There are also rarely commented upon ongoing military actions in the Philippines and a U.S.-aided drug war in Colombia, as well as periodic strikes in Somalia.) Though the surge in Afghanistan and Pakistan was supposed to contain al-Qaeda there, the U.S. now finds itself focusing on yet another country and another of that organization’s morphing offspring.

In 2002, a USA Today article about a targeted assassination in Yemen began: “Opening up a visible new front in the war on terror, U.S. forces launched a pinpoint missile strike in Yemen…” Just over seven years later, following multiple U.S. cruise missiles launched into the country and targeted air strikes by the air force of the U.S.-aided Yemeni regime against “suspected hide-outs of Al Qaeda,” the New York Times announced, “In the midst of two unfinished major wars, the United States has quietly opened a third, largely covert front against Al Qaeda in Yemen.” In the wake of a botched airplane terror attack by a single young Nigerian Muslim, and credit-taking by a group calling itself al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the usual cheery crew of U.S. war advocates are lining up behind the next potential front in the war on terror. (Senator Joseph Lieberman: “Iraq was yesterday’s war. Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war.”) What began as a one-off Bush assassination effort now threatens to become another of Obama’s wars.

The U.S. has not only sent Special Forces teams into the country, but is now pouring tens of millions of dollars into Yemen’s security forces in a dramatic move to significantly arm yet another Middle Eastern country. At the same time, U.S.-backed Saudi Arabia — whose alliance with Washington ignited the current war with al-Qaeda — is aiding the Yemeni forces in a war against Houthi rebels there.

This is a witch’s brew of trouble. Keep your eye on Yemen (with an occasional side glance at Somalia, the failed state across the Gulf of Aden). Expect more funding, more trainers, more proxy warfare, and possibly a whole new conflict for 2010.

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