Don’t blame a video for foreign policy shortcomings

Widespread anti-US protests have broken out all across the muslim world, with fatal consequences in Libya. Check out this Google Maps page to see how wide the protests are. If you believe the press reports, a video on youtube is the reason. That in turn has brought out bizarre responses from all over the political spectrum. Some are claiming this just proves that we need to increase our presence in the War on Terror. Others are lambasting the video makers and treating them as if they are the ones that killed the ambassador in Libya.

All of that is missing the underlying reality. If the US were seen as a benevolent, freedom loving, peaceful nation, a video on youtube would have little effect. That video is a rallying point for a sentiment that keeps growing across the muslim world, it isn’t the cause of the sentiment. It isn’t as though this hatred has come out of nowhere, that everything was fine until that video was made. Yes, protesting and killing people over a shoddy youtube video is stupid but that is the point. The video was simply the match that started the fire. The conditions have been ripe for a conflagration for a while.

The violence should be a wakeup call. Our war on terror has not made us a lot of friends. Nor has our current and former support of terrible rulers been forgotten. It’s rare that people from all political stripes misjudge an event like this. Our ever expanding war on what amounts to Afghan, Pakistani, Yemeni, and Somali rednecks keeps upping the anger. Between our now 11 year(!) war in Afghanistan and our ever increasing drone strikes in the hinterlands of distant countries, outrage is easy to come by.

There was a time when Americans were upset by war enough to take to the streets. The Yemenis I knew took comfort in knowing that a lot of Americans didn’t like what the government was doing. Now nobody seems to care over here. What used to be considered evil is now tolerated. Why? 

We crossed a line a long time ago between “defending the US” and killing people that don’t like us. I never once worried about being an American in Yemen, I would now. Not only has the US government gone on a killing spree, there is no longer any hint of Americans caring. I wasn’t surprised at the violence and and protesting, only that it has taken this long to happen.

My unexpected Yemen bonuses

I had been working at Penn camera off and on for almost 7 years when I decided to move out of the country. I had learned a lot at Penn. My sales technique was honed there and I learned how to deal with people, both customers and employees. I thought it was time for a change, so I decided to move.
I eventually decided to move to Yemen. The decisions leading up to that are a whole other story. By the time the date for me leaving came up, I had saved up over 20 grand for the trip. Believe me, I thought long and hard if spending  that money was the best thing I could do. Ultimately, I spent my mid-life crisis  over there, you can read my blog on my time over there if you want.
I could have invested that money, or I could have put it down on a house. All the while I would still be working at Penn. While I was in Yemen, the stock market tanked and I lost about half of my investments. I would have undoubtedly have invested that 20 thousand the same way, so I would have probably lost 10 grand. I felt pretty good about that, my experiences in Yemen were certainly worth that! Of course, I could have bought a house. We all saw what happened to housing prices…
So, looking back, I cannot believe how lucky I am to have spent my money on that experience. Looking back, it was the very best thing I could have done. May be the only time I’ve done that…
When I came back, I needed a job. Ramona was more than happy to hire me again. I really wanted something different though, so I stayed unemployed for a while longer while I looked around. After I got diagnosed, I was even more in need of a job. I had finally gotten through to the company I had wanted to work for, and they offered me a job, at  little more than half of what Penn had been paying me. Ugh. That was a tough decision. Ultimately, I couldn’t shake the feeling that Penn was on shaky ground going into the future. Photography just wasn’t what it once was, and it’s all Penn really did. So I took the hit in pay in the short term.
It has payed off. Penn Camera declared bankruptcy the other day. The company I work for is incredibly stable and I now make what I used to. Plus, the benefits are quite a bit better. I was about 50/50 at the time I made my decision, thank God I did what I did. I also think that my trip to Yemen helped with this as well. If I had been working at Penn all along, it would have been much more difficult, maybe even impossible to take that hit in pay to work somewhere else. Starting from scratch, I didn’t have the baggage of a rent or lifestyle maintenance to worry about. I had gotten used to being poor, I even lived in a third world country!
So maybe my trip to Yemen was divine providence. It was the best use of my money, it was an amazing experience, it was the very last time I could do something like that, and I think it helped me start a new career. If I had stayed put, done the safe thing, at best I would now be on disability. I certainly would be a lot poorer in spirit.
 
My heart goes out to the folks that were still working at Penn. Starting over is tough, believe me I know.
I’ll miss Penn Camera, and I’m thanking God I made the decisions that I did. Who would have ever thought that Yemen would be the best thing to happen to me?:)

Say it ain’t so

US doubt intelligence that led to Yemen strike. That’s the name of an article in the Wall Street Journal that describes what sounds like a Yemeni official fingering a political rival as Al Queda so the US could kill him. I’ve been beating this drum for a long time. The Yemeni government has long used the bogeyman of Queda to eliminate rivals. It was commonly understood over there that when the Yemeni government claimed to have killed Queda operatives, it was probably killing political rivals. When there was tribal violence, it was usually ascribed to Queda.

All forms of intelligence in Yemen are untrustworthy. There are too many local power struggles and not enough transparency to accurately understand what motivates most of the violence over there. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that US military force is used as a convenient way of solving local disagreements. If we give them the power to direct force, it will be used in ways that best suit them.

I’m still not convinced that Queda in Yemen poses any threat to the US. They were the picture of incompetence in Yemen, and their attempts outside of the US have been laughable. Even if they are a threat, Yemeni sources are about the least trustworthy you can find. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that we get clear intelligence before we kill someone. Is that really too weird a suggestion?