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4/25/2011
YEMEN FALLING

My latest is up at FrontPage.com where I tackle the rapidly deteriorating situation in Yemen.

A sample:

The Saudis have a direct stake in finding a peaceful outcome in Yemen. But America’s interest in guiding Yemen out of this morass toward stability is no less urgent. For 15 years, President Saleh has successfully parlayed America’s desire to fight terrorism into aid for his regime and a hammer that he could use against the opposition. Many in Yemen wonder just how serious the al-Qaeda threat truly is, as Saleh has used terrorism as an excuse to undertake several crackdowns on those wanting democratic change. And while Saleh is considered a strong ally in the war on terror, a debate has raged in Washington for years about his real value, given his autocratic nature and his less than persistent efforts to attack the terrorists ensconced in the mountainous Northern provinces.

Nevertheless, Saleh has allowed our drones to attack al-Qaeda targets, given permission for special forces to train Yemeni counterterrorism units, and gone over to the offense in the battle against AQAP. All of this is now by the boards as Saleh has retrenched and withdrawn his army and the counterterror forces, concentrating them around the capitol of Sanaa. He has also forbidden drone strikes. This has given AQAP the opening it needed and the terrorists have now moved into towns and villages, filling the void left by the army and police.

AQAP has reportedly taken over a town in Abyan province and declared an “Islamic Emirate.” Most observers scoff at the idea of an independent al-Qaeda emirate, but the AQAP move demonstrates that the chaos roiling the streets and provinces of Yemen is benefiting the terrorists as Saleh’s control of the country continues to shrink to Sanaa and a few other urban centers.

In addition to AQAP in the north, there is another insurgency in the formerly independent south. Separatists there have also taken advantage of the chaos to push into areas formerly controlled by the central government. It would appear that the longer the political crisis goes on in Sanaa, the more advantageous the situation will be for AQAP and the Iranian backed Houthi rebellion in the north, and the separatists in the south.

What has the Obama administration done about the situation? As in Egypt, they have abandoned a long-time ally, while pushing for “reforms.” On April 5, the White House released a statement condemning the violence in Yemen and calling on President Saleh to step down. Privately, they were hoping that Saleh could broker a deal that would have him remain in power in some capacity. Richard Fontaine of Foreign Policy Magazine believes that a “best case scenario” would see a situation where “Yemeni politics could reach a more stable footing and, through a new openness, undermine the appeal of extremism.” Fontaine also hopes that “Washington might pursue a broad relationship that extends beyond security cooperation and aid to active support of a budding democracy.” Out of this relationship might be forged a new counterterrorism dynamic based on a more stable foundation than the mercurial Saleh.

But the collapse of the GCC agreement makes that scenario a remote possibility. Hundreds of thousands of protestors were in the street on Sunday calling for Saleh’s immediate departure. Meanwhile, the GCC announced that it would conduct no more negotiations; the two sides must accept the agreed framework.

I think there’s still a possibility that Saleh will drop the most objectionable particulars in the GCC agreement and will leave peacefully - as long as he gets immunity from murdering his own citizens. Opposition politicians seem willing to do this, but the youth in the streets utterly reject the idea. They are also rightly suspicious that a government made up of former Saleh loyalists and a few opposition politicians will hardly be representative of the Yemeni people.

One can sympathize with the kids but also realize that what they are asking is probably beyond the ability of Yemen’s political culture to enact. Politics is the art of the possible, and if the goal is to get Saleh and his cronies out of power, the best way to do it is to compromise on the immunity question. No doubt Saleh deserves a war criminal’s death — but at the expense of peace and the avoidance of civil war in Yemen? It’s a tough call but you have to ask yourself what kind of government would emerge from a civil war? Would it be better than the one that would emerge as a result of the GCC agreement?

It may all be a moot point anyway. Saleh may very well try to ride out the storm and stay afloat despite the leaky, rickety boat he will be using to attempt such a feat. He is trying to reverse a hurricane using a Japanese hand fan and his efforts can only end badly — not only for himself but for American interests as well.

By: Rick Moran at 10:19 am

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