Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"...Any starring role for the US in Yemen, would turn this drama toward farce, or even toward tragedy"

CSIS's Alterman in WPR/ here
"... The reality is messier than that, though. From a Yemeni perspective, the common threats are few. For Yemen's long-serving president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, al-Qaida in the Ara­bian Peninsula is a third-order issue, far less troubling than boiling insurgencies in the north and south of the country, swiftly dwindling oil rev­enues, a plummeting water table and massive unemployment. In fact, to many among Yemeni's leadership, al-Qaida's 200 to 300 followers in the country must seem to be less a threat than an opportunity. An increased U.S. military commitment to Ye­men would pump weapons and training into the country that can be employed against a wide range of threats that have nothing to do with al-Qaida. A flood of money would create opportunities not only for contracting, but for graft, corruption and ex­tortion.
This would not be the first time that the government of Yemen has tried to turn hardship into opportunity. In the past, rather than try to tamp out religious radical­ism in the country, the government of Yemen has tried to co-opt its leaders and employ them in fighting the country's northern rebellion.
Yemen has a whole
host of problems, and while none of them are insoluble, virtually all of them are insoluble in the short term. U.S. allies -- and especially Arab allies from the Gulf Cooperation Council -- will have to do much of the lifting here, because the United States' instinct in this and other conflicts is to make a difference quickly and then move on. There are too many troubled nations, and too many emerging challenges, for the United States to devote decades to development in any one country in the post-Cold War world.
The biggest challenge for the United States in Yemen, then, is not to act, but rather to act in ways that have the intended effect. The United States has expertise with systems in which merit and logic reign supreme, but the resulting expectations can be a distorting prism through which to view tasks in Yemen. By contrast, the United States' GCC allies understand the tribal politics that the U.S. recoils from, and are equally comfortable coercing and co-opting recalcitrant participants. They are far-better positioned to work Yemeni politics skillfully than is the United States. ..."

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