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The US as a great warrior tribe
'War on terror' transformed Middle East's political landscape into tribal warfare.
Last Modified: 11 Jan 2010 14:19

Has the US become a 'ruling warrior tribe'? [GALLO/GETTY]

According to tribal Yemeni tradition, if a dispute has been resolved peacefully, any dagger that has been drawn cannot go back into its scabbard unless it tastes blood. Traditionally, an animal is slaughtered to satisfy its thirst and restore its holder's honour.

Since the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact without a single shot, let alone nuclear warheads, being fired, the 'Greater Middle East' region has been turned into a real theatre of war.

From the Gulf war in 1991 through to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, from Somalia in 1993 to Yemen in 2010, and through Afghanistan and Pakistan, the US military has gone to great lengths to demonstrate its strategic capacity to act in faraway places and to prove its ability to guard and advance US and Western interests.
 
In no time, military means and out-right war and occupation replaced diplomacy and international law.

In return, the Pentagon's budget has almost doubled from the level it was before 9/11 to surpass the combined military expenditures of all the countries of the world, all under the guise of the 'global war against terror'.

Alas, the costly failures in Iraq and Afghanistan and other countries have demonstrated that the Muslim world is far too stubborn to be offered as a sacrifice in the pursuit of global leadership.

Tribal vs. state identities

Since then, the devastating wars of terror that have taken place in the shadows of accelerated globalisation have weakened state structures and institutions and reinforced tribal and sectarian identities. Regimes not directly affected, took preventative measures by strengthening their grip on power through increased security and tribal alliances.

The US and its regional allies have empowered and financed tribal leaders, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, to defeat unrelenting Islamist opposition or nationalist insurgencies, just as America's enemies have tried to gain the support of tribes for their cause against the "foreigners".
 
Washington followed in the footsteps of the UK, which boasts extensive experience of tribal politics in its former colonies, to arm and finance tribal leaders to fight its war in Iraq under the guise of "The Awakening" or ''The Sons of Iraq".

Likewise in Afghanistan, where the US built on its long experience with the northern tribes in the 1980s to regain the initiative against the Soviet supported regime in Kabul.

In the process, salient - and not so salient - tribal power has been empowered in all the areas of conflict in the 'Greater Middle East' by undemocratic leaders. Yemen, Libya, Jordan, Palestine and, even failed states like Afghanistan and Somalia, have witnessed the emergence of tribal loyalties and power.

But the failure of the US and its allies to attain stability - let alone to declare victory - has slowly but surely transformed the political landscape into a coalition of tribes or 'a warrior ruling tribe' over many.

'Sons of America'

This transformation was not limited to the Middle East. Compromised by globalisation and market diktats, the most modern countries, such as the US, just like the least modern, such as Yemen, are increasingly acting in primordial ways and means.

As their sovereignty is compromised by multinational corporate decisions, capital, labour and investment movements, as well as communication and cultural globalisation, many states make up for their diminishing role over their economy and culture through alternative means of collective identities such as rallying their people around the flag.

With the advent of 9/11 and the 'war on terror', anger, humiliation and fear nudged the US into wars of 'shock and awe', revenge, torture, and rendition - stripping their 'enemy-combatants' of their very humanity in far away prisons.

The politics of fear engineered by cynical racism and nationalism drove wars that have compromised traditional republican values and civil liberties just as its wars of choice undermined its 'social contract' and whipped US citizens into a collective frenzy.
 
In short, the United States of America, the most powerful and advanced liberal democracy, began acting as the most aggressive of all the world's tribes. And although much of this change was engineered by the Bush administration under the fog of the 'war on terror', Barack Obama's election has defused war criticism, diminished the 'peace movement' and once again united the country under the flags of war.
 
In the process, tribal loyalty replaced patriotism, revenge superseded legality, and "you're either with US or against us" wrecked international solidarity and even sympathy with the US after the 9/11 attacks.
 
War without end

As asymmetrical warfare takes up the fight from conventional wars, battles are replaced by bombings and massacres, military bases by hideouts and remote control rooms, population control and policing by propaganda and terror, and national borders are surpassed by new fault lines passing through every minor Middle Eastern state and every major Western city.
 
As Afghans, Pakistanis, Yemenis and Somalis volunteer to fight and even die on behalf of their cause and collective identities, against corrupt autocratic regimes, demoralised soldiers and private contractors with fancy gear, who do you think wins at the end of the day?
 
Before you answer, consider two important lessons of asymmetrical war that have been ignored in the sweeping post-9/11 transformation.
 
Firstly, in the long term, loyalty, kinship, sacrifice and a sense of justice and belonging is more potent than firepower.

Secondly, "he who fights terrorists for any period of time is likely to become one himself".
 
All of which begs for a change in the whole paradigm of the ongoing 'global war on terror' that holds entire populations hostage to fear and war.
 
To be continued ...

Source:
Al Jazeera
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