Missing the Boat in Yemen

From the excellent Jane Novak at Armies of Liberation comes this answer to Ambassador Feierstein’s question, “What do the Yemeni protestors want?”

It’s not that difficult, really.  They are asking for the dissolution of the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, for the implementation of a transition plan, which has been drafted and published, and for the establishment of a constitutional convention in order to build a government that safeguards their personal freedoms.

In their request for the dissolution of Saleh’s regime, they seek an end to a dictatorship that has flaunted law and public welfare at every opportunity, and that has raised to an art form the usurpation of public services to private ends.  Unfortunately, the western world has been complicit in this, hoping that financial aid and military hardware would be used by the Saleh regime to combat Al Qaeda and Somali pirates, despite continuous signs that Saleh enjoys a symbiotic relationship with both, and despite the fact that the coast guard vessels provided by the west are openly rented out as escorts by Lotus Maritime Security Services and Gulf of Aden Group Transits Ltd, which are front groups for Saleh’s son and nephew.  According to Abdullah Alasnag, Yemen’s former Foreign Minister, now in exile in Saudi Arabia,

The Coast Guard was also involved in diesel smuggling to Somali pirates in the area. Although the American embassy was involved in the removal of the previous Yemeni Coast Guard commander in 2007, the operation continues today and has expanded to include sales of arms, GPS, and radar equipment.

In addition to being far cozier with pirates than we would like, the Saleh regime has always concealed the true nature of its relationship with Al Qaeda, which it uses as an enforcer against those who resist presidential authority.  The main challenger for Saleh’s job, General Ali Mohsen al Ahmer, recruited Yemenis to fight with Bin Laden in Afghanistan, and then found homes and jobs for them when they returned from the fight.  He used them to support the regime in 1994, when southern Yemen tried to break away to form its own government, and all signs indicate that ties are still strong between them.

Although Saleh skillfully portrays himself as an ally to the west in its war on terror, it is clear that he has no intention of taking any real action against them.  His government steadfastly resisted US efforts to investigate the bombing of the USS Cole, and almost every capture or killing of al Qaeda members by the Yemeni Security Forces is followed closely by an escape, a release, or a miraculous resurrection. 

The bottom line in Yemen is that a dictator with no redeeming qualities is about to go the way of all tyrants.  He is opposed, not by merely 1,000 rebels as recent reports indicate may be the case in Libya, but by the population of Houthis in the north, with whom he has waged war for the last six years, and by the population of the south, which has long chafed under his punishing rule.   Members of his government and his military leaders have abandoned him, and even his tribe, which has long been enriched by his presidency, has called for his departure. 

Yemen, then, especially compared with Libya, provides a very clear picture of a regime about to cease.  We know who the rebels are, and, also unlike in Libya, we know they are not aligned with Al Qaeda.  They are not asking for arms.  They are not asking for no fly zones.  They are asking for a peaceful transition from the Saleh regime to a transitional government.  Perversely, according to Yemen’s former Foreign Minister, in recent negotiations regarding that transition, is has been the Americans who

…insisted that key figures including Ahmed Ali Saleh, the President’s son, as well as Yahya Mohammed Saleh and Amar Mohammed Saleh, his nephews who are currently heading the CSF/CTU and the National security agency respectively, are not relieved of duty.  This American insistence seemed bewildering to the attendees, specially considering that the record of these commanders and Saleh in fighting terrorism is full of failures, corruption, and misleading intelligence which has yielded little if any results to show for compared to the aid Saleh has received over the years.  In this regard, there has been no approach by the west towards the opposition or the youth with respect to security matters which is wrong since it seems that Saleh is well on his way out of power.

We seem to have jumped into Libya without knowing who we were supporting, and without examining closely their chances for succeeding.  In Yemen, can it be that we’re making exactly the opposite mistake?