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  1. bengalraider

    bengalraider DFI Technocrat Stars and Ambassadors

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    Welcome to Qaedastan

    Yemen's coming explosion will make today's problems seem tame.

    BY GREGORY D. JOHNSEN | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2010

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    In 2010, Yemen will celebrate the 20th anniversary of national unification. But it won't be much of a party: This could well be the year Yemen comes apart.

    Even the brutal 1994 civil war failed to threaten the structural integrity of this country chronically teetering on the verge of disintegration as much as the current crises, all of which may be coming to a head in 2010.

    Yemen has so many dire problems that it's easy to be overwhelmed. Al Qaeda is growing in prominence, a Shiite rebellion is expanding in the north, and the threat of secession is renewed in the south. There's a brewing fight over what comes after President Ali Abdullah Saleh, age 67, who has ruled Yemen for 31 years; the country's elites are locked in a closed-door struggle to take power once he departs. Finally, and perhaps most intractably, Yemen is an environmental and resource catastrophe in the making. The country's water table is nearly depleted from years of agricultural malpractice, and its oil reserves are rapidly dwindling. This comes just when unemployment is soaring and an explosive birthrate promises only more young, jobless citizens in the coming years.

    The overburdened and crisis-ridden government has never felt much urgency in dealing with this last category of concerns. But Yemen's first two troubles, security and governance, are a combustible mix -- and together they might explode in 2010 if al Qaeda consolidates its gains by taking advantage of a government in disarray. The organization, already the most regionally and economically representative of any group in the country, has only grown stronger over the past three years. Once disorganized and on the run, today al Qaeda members are putting down roots by marrying into local tribes and establishing a durable infrastructure that can survive the loss of key commanders. They have also launched a two-track policy of persuasion and intimidation, first by constructing a narrative of jihad that is broadly popular in Yemen, and second by assassinating or executing security officials who prove too aggressive in their pursuit of al Qaeda fighters. So, while U.S. President Barack Obama is busy trying to stamp out terrorist safe havens in Jalalabad and Waziristan, new ones are popping up in Marib, Shabwa, and al-Jawf.

    For much of his career, Saleh has been a master manipulator, surviving three decades in power in a country where his two immediate predecessors were assassinated within a year of each other. He's lasted so long by relying on a coterie of relatives and trusted allies. But now, the style and structure of his rule are beginning to fracture. Yemen's economic straits mean that he has less money to maintain his patronage network or play different factions against one another. Within his own Sanhan tribe, the once-strong bonds of loyalty are starting to show signs of strain as relatives and other powerful figures scramble for position in hopes of eventually seizing the presidency themselves.

    Whoever does take power in the capital of Sanaa may find there's not much of Yemen left to rule. The country continues to dissolve into semiautonomous regions amid various rebellions, all of which feed off one another. The military's inability to put down the insurrection in the north is emboldening calls for independence in the south, while other groups, who sense Saleh's growing weakness, are beginning to press their own demands.

    The United States has not helped matters. Washington's continued insistence on seeing the country only through the prism of counterterrorism has induced exactly the results it is hoping to avoid. By focusing on al Qaeda to the exclusion of nearly every other threat and by linking most of its aid to this single issue, the United States has only ensured that al Qaeda will always exist.

    Instead of imploding, Yemen is going to explode. And when it does, Yemen's problems of today are going to become Saudi Arabia's problems of tomorrow. This is already foreshadowed by Saudi involvement in the northern conflict and al Qaeda strikes from Yemen into the kingdom. By the time Obama and his team cobble together a smarter response, the time for prevention will have passed and their only option will be mopping up the mess.

    Tick, Tock: Yemen's Coming Explosion - By Gregory D. Johnsen | Foreign Policy
     
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  3. bengalraider

    bengalraider DFI Technocrat Stars and Ambassadors

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    No Blank Checks for Yemen
    Yemen's president is no U.S. yes-man -- and U.S. military aid is no panacea.
    BY STACEY PHILBRICK YADAV | JANUARY 11, 2010


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    It would barely be an exaggeration to say that the only Yemeni truly excited by the prospect of expanded U.S. military aid to Yemen is President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

    From the outside, it appears that Yemen could use the military aid, to be sure. Would-be terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab reportedly trained in Yemen, and the country unquestionably suffers from al Qaeda's presence. Concerned about generating a local backlash, Saleh has indicated that he would prefer to crack down selectively, favoring dialogue with some al Qaeda members over the use of force. Fighting between the government and rebels in both the north and the south is intensifying. Given these circumstances, the Pentagon has boosted its aid to the country from $4.6 million in 2006 to $67 million this year. Now, Washington is considering doubling that number, as well as training an elite unit of Yemeni security forces and improving intelligence-sharing.

    On Jan. 6, NBC News correspondent Richard Engel reported from Sanaa that Yemenis welcome increased aid. But in this context, "Yemenis" does not mean the Yemeni people: It means Saleh and a small number of his closest associates. The president came to power in a military coup and has installed cronies and family members throughout the government. In Yemen, aid means aid to Saleh.



    Saleh was president of North Yemen from 1977 to 1990 and has been president of the unified country since then. Since the introduction of multiparty elections following unification, he has channeled political competition to his benefit, pitting Yemen's Islamists against its socialists to maintain power. In the past decade, his grasp has weakened somewhat, as he has fought an armed insurgency in the northern Saada province since 2004 and a regional opposition movement in the south since 2007. Moreover, Saleh must cope with an increasingly independent media, despite his attempts to quash it. Still, pervasive corruption and the suppression of civil liberties have kept Saleh comfortably in charge.

    An increase in aid and intelligence will provide him with more fungible resources to use as he sees fit. In contrast, the democrats struggling to challenge him stand to suffer irrevocable damage. "What [Washington] doesn't understand is that Yemen doesn't need more arms or equipment to monitor the telephone lines and Internet connections," one senior official critical of Saleh explained via email. "Saleh sucked hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget to buy arms that were [only] used for internal purposes to secure his rule and his family. We need a better government and more real democracy."
    Simply put, providing more aid to Yemen will make the situation worse. The war on terrorism has already provided Saleh with a pretext for the surveillance and persecution of journalists and opposition activists. Plus, he has cultivated ties with radical clerics despite paying lip service to working with the United States.

    For instance, Saleh has developed a close relationship with Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani, the rector of al-Iman University, a documented al Qaeda recruiting ground. (The U.S. Treasury Department has for years listed Zindani as a financier of terrorism.) In the early part of this decade, Zindani's political party started moving to the center, eventually forming an opposition alliance with the Yemeni Socialist Party. In a bid to maintain his own relevance, Zindani reached out to Saleh. The president supported his creation of an organization to "enjoin the good and forbid the evil": promoting extreme interpretations of religious law, self-censorship by the press, vigilantism against moderate critics, and limits on women's freedom.


    This willingness to cozy up with people committed to radicalizing Yemeni youth and encouraging violence suggests that Saleh will do little to help the United States fight terrorism. Rather, Saleh will use U.S. funds to continue to monitor and repress his domestic opponents.

    There are committed democrats in Yemen, from a variety of ideological backgrounds, from inside the regime and the opposition. And there are people ready to tackle Yemen's development challenges and promote a climate of moderation. I've been traveling regularly to Yemen since 2004, conducting research on the relationship between Islamists and leftists in Yemen's opposition parties. Throughout this time, I have maintained correspondence with Yemeni journalists and political activists from a wide range of ideological positions. They are united in their concern about expanding U.S. involvement in Yemen, understanding just how badly it is likely to turn out for them and their country.

    In part, Yemeni reformers are wary because such assistance has already contributed to radicalization. The use of unmanned drones, for example, goes back to 2002 at least. The combination of the perceived infringement on Yemeni sovereignty and high civilian death tolls caused by drone strikes has unquestionably helped fuel anti-American sentiment. Now, my Yemeni sources worry the Saleh regime will use additional military funds to crack down on legitimate political dissent and pad its coffers, rather than fighting actual terrorists and providing desperately needed services and infrastructure.

    "Saleh is worried about his own survival, along with his family," writes one embittered politician. "The Yemeni people have never been a worry for him." Instead, they worry that Saleh will continue to fuel radicalism even while "fighting" it, thereby creating the very threat that keeps U.S. dollars flowing.
    The United States' interest in Yemen has clearly been piqued. But information and analysis lag far behind this interest. As a Yemeni official told me, "The guys in D.C. aren't creative"; they throw money at the problem rather than working to solve it. In Yemen, Saleh is part of the problem. Clear policy alternatives might not be available yet -- but writing a blank check will certainly do nothing but fuel the radicalization the United States seeks to fight.

    Marcel Mettelsiefen/Getty Images

    Stacey Philbrick Yadav is an assistant professor of political science at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and a former research fellow at the American Institute for Yemeni Studies.

    No Blank Checks for Yemen | Foreign Policy
     

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