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In case you weren’t sick of hearing me talk about Yemen

Well, Yemen seems to be slowly fading from the forefront of public consciousness in the past ten days or so, but nevertheless, I feel it pertinent to continue talking about some of issues related to American foreign policy and response in that particular corner of the world.

Last week, the US Senate foreign relations committee held a hearing on Yemen and heard testimony from a number of Yemen “experts.”  Among them were former US Ambassador Hull and Princeton PhD candidate Gregory Johnsen (and thank goodness for that because these two were able to squash some of the fear-mongering and inflammatory rhetoric being bounced about).   Get Johnsen’s (and anyone else’s) testimony from that hearing here.

As policymakers decide the best way to handle Yemen, bombing attacks have been suggested numerous times.  This has been a standard US response for almost half a century.  This is a tactic which gives us the sensation that we have responded appropriately to our enemies, but almost always requires follow up.  Read more on this over at the New Atlanticist.  With so many of our security forces and resources committed elsewhere, putting troops on the ground in Yemen is both infeasible but more importantly the  wrong choice.  The Yemeni government has repeatedly asked the US not to send troops and insists it can handle AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) on its own.  To be sure, American presence in any way, shape, or form will not win us friends among the Yemeni people.  Mohammed Vall at Al Jazeera reported last week on the Yemeni government’s bombing activities in the north and how these attacks have been in fact turning civilians caught in the crossfire towards AQAP rather than against it.

Its important in this country of all places, I believe, not to throw our unconditional support behind the government.  More than anything, the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh is focused on self-preservation.  The government in Sana’a is attempting to lure Western military aid and funding by portraying itself as attacked on all sides.  Its important to remember though that of the three enemies to the Yemeni government (AQAP, the Houthis, and the secessionists of the south), only one is AQAP.  The government is not distinguishing between the three and truly only seeks to exert its power over the entire territory.  At the upper echelons of government, a succession crisis is underway behind closed curtains as Saleh tries to position his son as heir to the “throne,” while other members of the ruling al-ahmar clan are vying for power as well.

So, what is the best way to respond? As I mentioned in a previous post, massive development aid is essential, but not a cure to Yemen’s problems.  We should aid Saleh in tackling AQAP by providing intelligence, but I believe providing arms or drones to Saleh’s government will only come back to haunt us.  The government could easily use those newly acquired toys against its Houthi rebels or the secessionists, and both of these are conflicts that the United States has no place in getting involved.

**UPDATE**

A Few hours after I wrote this post yesterday, the Washington Post published an article about the US intelligence agencies and JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) planning anti-AQAP raids in Yemen.  It seems the administration has taken a similar approach to the one prescribed here yesterday.  It seems that the bit to take away is this:

The operations, approved by President Obama and begun six weeks ago, involve several dozen troops from the U.S. military’s clandestine Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), whose main mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists. The American advisers do not take part in raids in Yemen, but help plan missions, develop tactics and provide weapons and munitions. Highly sensitive intelligence is being shared with the Yemeni forces, including electronic and video surveillance, as well as three-dimensional terrain maps and detailed analysis of the al-Qaeda network.

Dispelling Yemen’s Myths

With Yemen on everybody’s minds these days, a lot of not so accurate information is being presented in the press.  The statistics about Yemen’s huge number of guns per capita, the extent to which the Saleh government has control over the country, and many other facts and stats have been badly distorted.  To help all of us, I’ve found two great links that address this issue specifically and help to clarify any less than accurate information.

First off, Former US Ambassador Edmund Hull wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times this week.

And, Gregory Johnsen over at the blog called Waq Al-Waq, a PhD candidate at Princeton, did a bloggingheads video interview with Mark Goldberg, who has a blog at the American Prospect.

Both address similar issues, but Johnsen goes into much greater detail.  If you have the time to watch the whole thing, I found it to be very informative.