If, during this holiday season, America’s political and military leaders were to take the time to contemplate the coming year in terms of our country’s ever-sensitive place in the world, they’d surely focus on the seemingly endless troubles in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
President Obama has promised that in 2014 he’ll bring home nearly all the American troops deployed to Afghanistan, leaving just enough — by his calculations, which we can only hope are correct — to shepherd the Afghans to stable self-reliance. Therefore, 2013 looms as a critical year in American-Afghan relations. Meanwhile, neighboring Pakistan remains a politically unstable and unpredictable ally that just happens to have nuclear weapons.
But there are other countries that don’t draw a great deal of attention here at home, where our national interests face serious challenges in the coming year and Washington must give careful consideration to how the United States is perceived by the people who live in them.
Consider, for example, Yemen. Yes, the Yemeni government is strongly supportive of the United States, but in its zeal to curry favor in Washington it may actually be unwittingly cultivating a new class of anti-American militants who are sympathetic to al-Qaida, which is active there. Consider a recent report published by The Washington Post.
“A rickety Toyota truck packed with 14 people rumbled down a desert road from the town of Radda, which al-Qaida militants once controlled. Suddenly a missile hurtled from the sky and flipped the vehicle over,” the report began. “Chaos. Flames. Corpses. Then, a second missile struck. Within seconds, 11 of the passengers were dead, including a woman and her 7-year-old daughter. A 12-year-old boy also perished that day, and another man later died from his wounds.”
The Yemeni government initially said that the victims were militants and that its own jets had carried out the attack, but later it became clear that it was actually an American attack — the target was thought, mistakenly, to be militants — and that all the victims were civilians, the Post’s report continued.
These deaths bolstered the popularity of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist network’s Yemen affiliate, the newspaper noted. That branch of al-Qaida has tried to stage several attacks on U.S. soil, the report added.
It’s well known that many Afghan and Pakistani civilians have been killed by attacks launched by American drones, and each death contributes to the growing resentment against the United States and fuels the Taliban insurgency in that region.
In Bahrain, where the United States Fifth Fleet is based, the situation is no more encouraging. There the government — run by the Khalifa family for 200 years — treats its critics so badly that it too does great harm to our country’s image. Bahrain’s strategic importance cannot be overlooked, yet Americans should worry about the potential consequences of the ruling family’s behavior.
“At present, the Bahraini government believes it has international immunity,” a local activist wrote in Wednesday’s New York Times. “It commits widespread human rights violations, and business continues as usual: The government continues to buy arms and negotiate lucrative deals, without having to face any real consequences.”
His conclusion: “Until the United States starts to put real pressure on its ally, Bahrain’s government has no incentive to change ... it is an outrage that America continues to back a regime that tramples them.”
There is no easy answer to the questions these situations raise, but if the United States is to boast of its own freedoms, it needs to take care to preserve those of others.
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