[Dehai-WN] TheAtlantic.com: What Can the U.S. Really Do for Yemen?

[Dehai-WN] TheAtlantic.com: What Can the U.S. Really Do for Yemen?

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Tue, 27 Sep 2011 13:33:19 +0200

What Can the U.S. Really Do for Yemen?

By J. Dana Stuster

Sep 27 2011, 7:00 AM ET

Balancing counterterrorism, a tense U.S.-Saudi alliance, and Yemen's protest
movement -- the longest of the Arab Spring -- is difficult, but may still be

The Atlantic Home <http://www.theatlantic.com/>

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

 <http://www.theatlantic.com/j-dana-stuster/> J. Dana Stuster - J. Dana
Stuster, a Joseph S. Nye National Security Research Intern at Center for a
New American Security, is a writer living in Washington, DC.

After more than three months in Saudi Arabia, President Ali Abdullah Saleh
returned to Yemen last Friday. The move surprised many Yemenis as well as
U.S. diplomats trying to negotiate a transfer of power agreement that would
see Saleh cede power. Yemen has been the site of the Arab Spring's longest
popular uprising -- protesters have camped in tent cities and attended mass
rallies every Friday for eight months. The movement has been punctuated by
clashes between military forces still loyal to the regime and rebel tribal
militiamen and troops who have defected to the opposition. After a lull in
violence over the summer, the past week has been the bloodiest yet.

With more than
> 140 deaths in the past several days alone, it is difficult to believe that
only a couple weeks ago a peaceful transfer of power seemed nearly at hand.
On September 12, Saleh
transferred to his deputy, Vice President Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi, the
authority to negotiate and sign a transition deal. Despite lingering doubts
over Saleh's sincerity, the State Department last week expressed
<http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2011/09/172511.htm> optimism that the Gulf
Cooperation Council-brokered initiative, first introduced in April, would be
signed, finally, within the week. Three days later, government forces opened
fire on protesters, and by week's end, Saleh had returned to Sanaa.

Even at the time, there were indicators problems lay ahead, according to
Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen expert at Princeton University. "Yemenis have a
finely-tuned sense of the unwritten subtext of political actions, and
Saleh's offer to cede authority to Hadi set off a number of alarms," Johnson
wrote by email. "Certainly as soon as Saleh announced a new proposition many
Yemenis started to worry about the prospect of a new round of fighting."

The greatest hazard in Saleh's authorization of Hadi was that it cut out
other remnants of the regime, including Saleh's son, Ahmed, and his nephews
who command elite units of the military. With Hadi chosen to oversee the
transfer of power, Ahmed and his cousins found themselves at the margins of
a process that, if finalized, would cost them their careers and their
prestige. Their easiest recourse was to use the military force at their
command, which they did, firing at protesters in an apparent effort to
reassert their own political importance.

After the week's bloodshed, it is unlikely that the Yemeni opposition can
support the GCC deal as long as the proposal provides amnesty for Saleh and
members of his regime. Despite
html> advancing the GCC initiative in a
3&_newsyr=2011> speech on Sunday, Saleh's return suggests that it will not
move forward, particularly now that he is more
men> vulnerable to face prosecution. Hadi retains the power to negotiate and
sign the agreement on behalf of Saleh, but whatever limited power Hadi had
on the ground has been displaced by Ahmed and the rest of the military

The amnesty provision is just one of the GCC agreement's many
<http://www.e-ir.info/?p=10292> faults, but in the five months since it was
presented, no one has introduced a viable alternative agreement. From the
beginning of Yemen's uprising, the United States has been careful to work
through Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom has a long and complicated history with
Yemen; Saudi royals have maintained extensive patronage networks to
influence Yemeni sheikhs, and King Abdul Aziz's deathbed admonition to his
sons in 1953 -- "Keep Yemen weak," he's purported to have told them -- makes
it difficult to believe that Saudi diplomacy has Yemen's best interests at
heart. For all their power and influence, the Saudis could not keep Saleh in
their country, let alone deliver his signature on the GCC deal.

Despite this, President Obama seems committed to working through the Saudis
and the GCC initiative. "We must work with Yemen's neighbors and our
partners around the world to seek a path that allows for a peaceful
transition of power from President Saleh," he
ma-address-united-nations-general-assembly> said at the United Nations last
week. This was a reasonable approach closer to the beginning of the
uprising, when the U.S. was using its political capital to urge Saudi Arabia
to show restraint in Bahrain; at the time, Yemen's domestic crisis was a
lower priority. The United States could still pursue its counterterrorism
efforts; on September 13, CIA director David Petraeus
G720110913> reported, "counterterrorism cooperation with Yemen has, in fact,
improved in the past few months." Tensions are still
high between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. is still promoting the
GCC proposal, an almost certain diplomatic dead-end. The deal is unlikely to
be signed or instituted in a way that will resolve the crisis, but the U.S.,
it seems, doesn't want to abandon a plan, however flawed, into which it has
sunk so much time and political capital. The U.S., in other words, is
wasting time.

"The United States and the international community have to stop delegating
the lead role in mediation to Saudi Arabia and the GCC," Marc Lynch,
director of the Institute for Middle East Studies at the George Washington
University, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/p00k39gv> told the BBC
last week. "I think it's time for the United States and the UN and the
international community to step in much more forcefully and insist on a

Joshua Foust, a fellow at the American Security Project and correspondent
for TheAtlantic.com, told me he agrees that the U.S. should be getting out
front. "I think that Obama needs to be vocal, insistent, consistent, and on
Arabic TV stations condemning Saleh's behavior, his regime, and the
massacres," he wrote in an email. "And I think Obama needs to be calling for
his resignation and for the creation of a constitutional convention that
includes [the various and divided political and tribal] groups."

Because the U.S. is still indirectly financing some of the elite Yemeni
military units now cracking down on protesters, launching drone strikes in
Yemen's south, and working through the GCC, the United States may not have
enough credibility within Yemen to write its own proposal. Even with the aid
of an international body like the UN, the window of opportunity to bring all
the different actors in Yemen to the same table may be closing.

With all the focus on the unrest in Sanaa, Yemen has been fragmenting at its
periphery. Saleh's government was never particularly effective at
controlling the entire country. Wide swaths of the interior were subject to
tribal law and custom, and Saleh relied heavily on a network of patronage
and allegiance among Yemeni sheikhs. Beyond the limits of the government's
reach, northern Houthi tribesmen and southern secessionists organized
rebellions, and al-Qaeda's Gulf franchise found shelter in the mountainous
regions of several provinces. Now perhaps more than ever before, the Saleh
regime is turned inward, leaving non-state actors to consolidate power for
themselves. This includes Ansar al Sharia, an Islamist militia that may have
ties to al-Qaeda. Ansar forces have battled government forces and defected
military forces since late May, when they
yan-zinjibar-al-qaeda-the-arabian-peninsula-aqap-saleh> seized the southern
town of Zinjibar.

As the Saleh regime fights to reassert control, the extent of the
government's sovereignty over Yemen is shrinking by the day. Johnsen notes
that the Houthis are "consolidating power in the north" and Islamists and
secessionists are mounting efforts in the south. "The Yemen that emerges
from this conflict may very well look a lot different than the Yemen that
entered it," he told me.

This could create a whole new set of problems. The Saudi leadership, after
supporting the Yemeni government's six-year effort to suppress the Houthis,
would react poorly -- possibly violently -- if Yemen's Houthis managed to
create a functionally autonomous province along its southern border. Ansar
al Sharia's campaign in the south has coincided with an
one-strikes/2011/09/16/gIQAB2SXYK_story.html> increase in the frequency of
drone strikes against al-Qaeda targets there. Analysts such as Johnsen and
Foust criticize what they consider a U.S. overemphasis on counterterrorism.
Ansar al Sharia and al-Qaeda are symptoms of Yemen's larger problems, a
central cause of which is the country's ineffective state. Addressing this
problem starts with a transition to a new government, and soon, before Yemen
falls apart completely.


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