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[Dehai-WN] Foreignpolicy.com: Nation-Building in the Yemen

From: Berhane Habtemariam <Berhane.Habtemariam_at_gmx.de_at_dehai.org>
Date: Sun, 20 May 2012 23:58:13 +0200

en> Nation-Building in the Yemen

Drones alone won't be enough to stop Yemen from falling into the failed
state abyss.


Last week, I
emen> wrote about the growing drone-ification of U.S. policy toward Yemen,
and questioned the faith that drone strikes would not provoke the kind of
backlash caused by less "targeted" forms of military intervention. At best,
drones are an instrument of policy, not a policy in and of itself. Critics
of the Obama administration's emerging counterterrorism strategy in Yemen
and elsewhere argue that the United States needs fewer drones, and more of
something else. The question for this week is: What's the "something else"?

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It's a very urgent question as Yemen is now the front line of the war
against terrorism. John Brennan, the White House counter-terrorism advisor,
erous-yemen/> said that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in
Yemen, has over 1,000 members, and is "the most active operational
franchise" of al Qaeda. The 2010 underwear bomb plot originated in Yemen, as
did the effort last month, foiled by a Saudi double agent, to plant an
undetectable bomb on a plane. In recent months, AQAP has routed government
troops to establish a statelet in southern Yemen, providing it far more
operational space than it now has on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

One of the attractions of drones is that most of the time they do what
they're supposed to do -- kill terrorists. And they do it very quickly. And
that is precisely the point that the administration's critics make. Gregory
Johnsen, a Yemen scholar who blogs at the website
<file:///C:\Documents%20and%20Settings\paukerb\Desktop\Waq%20al-Waq> Waq
al-Waq, complains that the administration has been relying on "very quick
and very simple solutions for Yemen" rather than the ones that take time and
effort. Johnsen and others argue that the administration must give much more
priority to the slow and tedious work of economic development and diplomatic
engagement, including with the Yemeni opposition. "The U.S. has to focus
more on the root causes of terrorism than the effects," as Barak Barfi, a
research fellow at the New America Foundation, recently
<http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WushKPW9CR8> said on CNN.

The "root causes" of terrorism are not so self-evident, but what is clear is
that terrorists seek to exploit the empty spaces created by weak and
ineffective governments. Thus the long-term solution to the growth of
terrorism in places like Yemen is to help the state become more effective,
and more legitimate. American presidents since 9/11 have accepted this
premise. In his <http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres67.html> second inaugural
address, George W. Bush declared that the democratization of the Islamic
world was in America's deepest national security interest. As a candidate,
Barak Obama
974> argued that the United States needed to focus less on elections in
fragile states, and more on boosting economic development and government
capacity. The counterinsurgency strategy he adopted in Afghanistan had a
large civilian component designed to do just that. It is fair to say that
the Obama administration has not demonstrated its commitment to
nation-building in Yemen. U.S. civilian assistance this year amounts to a
very modest $112 million, of which $73 million will go to humanitarian aid.
That leaves only $39 million for development, or a little over $1.50 for
each of Yemen's 24 million people. This is a country which ranks 154th on
the U.N. human development index, where households desperately need access
to clean drinking water, electricity, and fuel oil, among other basic goods.
Where's the long-term solution?

The experience of Afghanistan -- and Haiti, and plenty of other such places
-- has shown how hard it is to spend large amounts effectively in states
where the government has very little presence beyond a few major cities.
After years of effort and billions of dollars, the Afghan government remains
very corrupt, very weak, and not very legitimate. Yemen is a more advanced
country than Afghanistan, but 33 years of the personalized and deeply
corrupt rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh enfeebled state institutions
and turned much of the economy into a patronage network. The marginal value
of additional dollars might drop off quickly.

What about democratic legitimacy? A recent
_s_second_choice> article in FP claimed that by spurning advances from the
youth movement -- which took to the streets in Yemen's version of the Arab
Spring -- the White House ended "any hopes of an authentic democratic
revolution," and thus of "a more tolerant and stable Yemen." The author
predicted that more embittered young men will be driven into the arms of the
AQAP. It's possible; but the same argument has been made about the drone
strikes, and so far there's very little evidence on either front. There seem
to be far fewer Yemenis who identify with the foreign fighters of al Qaeda
than there are Pakistanis who identify with the Taliban, who are sons of the

Again, it's easy to claim that the Obama administration's actions in Yemen
belie its rhetorical commitment to democracy in the Arab world. Obama
supported the plan advanced by Saudi Arabia -- no great friend of democracy
-- to ease Saleh out of power in favor of his vice-president, Abdu Rabbu
Mansour Hadi, a longtime Saleh loyalist. And yet staunch support for Hadi
has proved to be the single greatest success of American policy in Yemen --
far more important than, say, a decision to double development aid, or to
halve drone strikes, would have been. I've heard again and again that the
White House doesn't have "a strategy" in Yemen, but in fact the strategy is
to support President Hadi through all means possible -- a resumption of aid,
high-level visits, public statements of support, and last week's
announcement of a White House executive order freezing the assets of anyone
who seeks to "obstruct the implementation" of the deal that transferred
power to him -- a shot across the bow to Saleh and his circle.

So far, Hadi has exceeded all expectations, and certainly those of Saleh,
who counted on his compliance. He has sacked two Saleh family members who
occupied senior military posts; both at first refused to go, and needed
additional threats from Jamal Ben Omar, the U.N. emissary, who has worked
closely with American officials. "He has really been able to consolidate the
political center," according to James Fallon of the Eurasia Group. "Inside
the GPC" -- Saleh's party -- "there's been a gradual isolation of Saleh and
the closest of his circle." Checkpoints have come down from the main streets
of the capital, Sanaa, and youth activists have not challenged his
authority. In recent days, Hadi has also sent the army back into the south
in the hopes of retaking the towns and villages now held by AQAP. The
fighting is reported to be fierce, if so far inconclusive.

Hadi enjoys support in part because he is an interim figure whose writ runs
out in 18 months. And Saleh, who remains in Sanaa, could upend the deal at
any time. But he would have to pay a very serious cost, both with the United
States and with the U.N. Security Council. Right now, U.S. policy in Yemen
is looking better than it's reputed to be. Les Campbell, Middle East
director of the National Democratic Institute and a veteran of Yemeni
politics, says, "The U.S. has to a great extent handled Yemen very, very
well. They're working very closely with the president, but they haven't
really alienated the protestors. That's a pretty good feat."

Yemen is still a disaster area. There is an indigenous rebellion in the
south, as well as a sectarian war in the north. Rebels regularly attack the
electric grid as well as oil and gas pipelines. Jamal Benomar recently
l> said that as many as 700,000 children could die this year from
malnutrition. Yemen seems to be running out of everything -- above all, oil,
its chief export, and water. But the ultimate source of its problems, as a
recent <http://carnegieendowment.org/2012/04/03/building-better-yemen>
report notes, is not scarcity but political failure. What Yemen needs most
is a political system which all factions are prepared to buy into. America's
vast investment in Afghanistan has failed because Afghan politics has
failed. There's very little Washington can do about, or around or against, a
feckless and corrupt regime. If the White House is pushing all its chips on
Hadi, it's because right now he represents Yemen's best chance to survive
its current crisis, and for it to begin to rebuild. President Hadi may not
be much of a democrat, or even a liberal; but he may be just good enough.


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Received on Sun May 20 2012 - 17:58:49 EDT
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