Yemen’s Chess Game

Our new partner in Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh is one great guy.  While it is fortunate that the US will not be sending troops to Yemen, President Obama (who apparently does not control the US foreign policy) needs to rely on President Saleh to fight Al Qaeda in his country.  Just three weeks ago people paid little attention to Yemen, now President Saleh seems to be a household name (Waq al-Waq has noticed a difference).  In fact, just this last week, Saleh was parodied on Saturday Night Live.  I have already written about the perils that face Yemen as well as the limited role the US must play in the country and, now those downfalls of Yemen and especially of President Saleh are being clearly seen.

I as noted in a previous post, Yemen has several internal security problems: the Houthi rebellion in the north, the separatist movement in the south and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  Saleh has tried reasoning with AQAP before and is ready to try again in a strategy similar to that of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq (stop fighting and get paid).  Seems like a good strategy until you figure in the special treatment Saleh gives AQAP.

The Houthi rebels get the death sentence; the southern separatists (who are more often than not nonviolent) get arrested and shot; AQAP gets paid.  Additionally, it has come out that Saleh released AQAP fighters in exchange fo their support against the southern movement.

Recently, the Yemeni daily Al Ayyam – based in the south – has been shut down and its editor arrested.  In another stir, protesters outside of Al Ayyam were shot at by the Yemeni military.  Though it is doubtful, the government claims that over 40 Al Qaeda operatives were active in the paper. Clashes between the protesters and the police left one police officer and one protester dead while several people were arrested.  Suppression of a paper that just happened to be more neutral in the north-south conflict than Saleh liked forces one to wonder if Saleh is using the AQAP problem and America’s support to clamp down on all opposition in the country.  Jane Novak, who has covered Yemen extensively, seems to think so.

If Saleh really is using AQAP as an excuse to suppress the other opposition movements in the country, the US must be careful of Saleh’s balancing act.  If the president is playing the left hand against right, President Obama better be aware of his role as a pawn in internal Yemeni politics.  A misstep by Saleh couls easily result in a stronger than desired opposition (the Houthis, the southern separatists or AQAP) or mud in the face of the US and an increased sense of anti-Americanism in the country.


4 thoughts on “Yemen’s Chess Game

  1. ….”President Obama better be aware of his role as a pawn in internal Yemeni politics…..”


    It should be noted as well that Yemen seems to be only the most recent country to hit the media, among just about all the major players in the Central and West Asian land mass, which are trying for greater access to our young American lives and Treasury Department. (…that will be vigorously denied…)

    If we Americans cut off the cash printing presses, and limited our military’s efforts to be mainly from offshore and using remotely controlled attacks, removing our massed troops from Asia altogether, then those two shifts would be a real attitude adjusting ball-bat for all those playing us for as much as they can.

    I don’t see why America has the moral obligation to solve this vast area’s troubles which go back centuries. What can we be expected to accomplish against this record of barbarism?

    I’m certainly not the only one who thinks this way, so why do we allow ourselves to be at the center of all of this unending and very bloody tension?

    We must not let the argument of “defending the United States” entangle us into deeper committments in Asia.

    1. Saito,

      I agree that international commitments tend to take on a life of their own, usually entangling the US. However, it cannot be denied that the US has significant interests in the Middle East. While the amount of oil imported by the US from the Middle East is often exaggerated, there is a lot of oil being brought west. If the US were to limit itself to offshore attacks and drone attacks (both of which inevitably result in an unnecessary loss of civilian lives) the amount of anti-Americanism in the world would certainly increase.

      If you advocated a complete withdrawal from the region (including the drop of all US interests), ok. But if the US were to get involved in conflicts in the Middle East, it would require feet on the ground. Any operation in the Middle East that avoided soldiers would inevitably fail. Unfortunately, this means the death of American lives.

      As for your last point, the US seems to be in a violent circle, dancing with those who want the US out of the region. Our interests keep us there, by being there we are creating threats to the US, thus we must combat these threats, which in turn cause more. A full review and revision of our policies in the region must take place.

  2. Extremism in Yemen is just a by-product of the country’s social and development problems. It’s widespread poverty and an incapable government that make it such a breeding ground for Al-Qaeda.

    Luckily it does appear that the US administration realises this time that direct military action will only make matters worse. Let’s keep our fingers crossed it stays that way.

    We should learn our lessons from the Dhofar rebellion just across the border in Oman during the 60s and 70s. The solution was a hearts and minds campaign with a large amount of development support for the region. If the international community help Yemen provide its people with a decent infrastructure outside the capital, chances are good that support for Al-Qaeda will diminish and as our friends over at the Independent put it this morning, the tribes will kick them out.

    1. Cstrack,

      I completely agree here. With luck, the US government will understand that it must stay out of Yemen (while providing support). Any soldiers or even drone attacks could easily augment the levels of extremism there. Government and religious officials in Yemen have blatantly said as much. Now we must listen.

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