Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why "Making Nice" Matters

The investigation of the bombs sent on air cargo jets, and possibly carried by passenger planes, has once again focused our attention on radical Islamists in the Middle East.  In this case the bombs started their journey in Yemen.  Yemen is a small nation on the southern border of Saudi Arabia. The CIA Factbook and Wikipedia can bring you up to date on the details.

Online bloggers of a more politically conservative mind than me tend to see this as validation that Mr. Obama is not taking the right approach with our Middle Eastern cousins.  They see him as being too nice to regimes that they believe harbor, if not outright support, terrorists.  After all, they will tell you, the bombs started their journey in Yemen.  This is an understandable point of view because it reflects a short sighted, and poorly informed, grasp of what is going on.

It is important to draw a distinction between governmental and non-governmental entities.  Al Qaeda, which is not a governmental entity and is the chief suspect, operates in the shadows wherever it can.  Right now it can operate in Yemen.  Yemen is a nation that was not unified until the 1990s and engaged in a civil war during that period.  It is struggling, and its focus is on its own domestic concerns, not on engaging in jihad with a cell of terrorists.  Yet we learned about the bombs because the Yemenis caught wind of the plot and notified the Germans, who notified the British, who notified us.  The notification chain reflects the way information was developed and the steps taken to intercept the plane that was finally held in Britain for a search.  The Yemenis did not know what to look for.  News reports include statements that existing technology and sniffer dogs were unable to identify the suspect packages.  That the bombs were found at all seems a minor miracle.  

That the Yemenis were able to learn about the plot and act on that knowledge is important.  Its shared border with Saudi Arabia, while demarcated, is not entirely secure.  One of the suspects, a Saudi, is believed to be living in Yemen but they don't know that for a certainty and they don't know where in Yemen he  might be.  The fact that the Yemenis have relationships with other nations is also important.  They notified a target of the threat, and apparently are willing to accept some help from our own FBI in identifying security holes in their handling of air cargo, and mitigating those risks.  Evidently they think having a good relationship with us is important for them.

Whether or not Mr. Obama has gone too far with his efforts to maintain positive relationships with Middle Eastern governments will be decided by the historians.  What is evident today is that his efforts certainly have not hurt us in this instance.  We live on a small, blue marble that spins in space.  It's the only home we have.  We all have to share it, and its resources, with everyone else.  We either do that peaceably, or risk destroying ourselves just to prove we can smack down the opposition.  You can't live peaceably without developing constructive relationships with your neighbors, so we will continue with diplomacy.  In this case, there is clearly a constructive relationship with Yemen on the matter of terrorism.  Yemen is not responsible for Al Qaeda's actions but they clearly understand the threat.  To the extent that they are able, they are doing what they can to be helpful.  Without their vigilance and willingness to act we might be having a very different discussion about those bombs.

Snide, snarky comments that use this event to criticize Mr. Obama do little more than demonstrate the need of the authors for a 'feel good' moment while at the same time calling attention to their ignorance about how the world works. Yemen's willingness to work with us and other nations on this investigation is proof that "making nice" via diplomacy can work and that Mr. Obama is on the right track.

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