27 January 2010

The Yemen File: Promising Beginnings for 2010

Abdul Mutallab thrust Yemen into the lime light, thus increasing the media's coverage of our attempt at a collective solution in 2010. It is important enough for Secretary Hillary Clinton to be in London tonight, instead of attending the State of the Union address. Jeffrey Feltman, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in late January to provide the State Department's way forward. Feltman outlined a two front strategy that focuses on strengthening the government's ability to provide security, and address the economic crisis. Surprisingly, there is more information about our counter terror efforts than our economic efforts.

The Washington Post sheds some rare light on the counter terror partnership between Yemen and the United States, here. Yemen will most likely be a successful template for future terror hot spots. The US footprint on the ground is minuscule, which allows the host nation government a degree of deniability. This should prevent a mass appeal for disenfranchised Yemenis to attack Ali Abdullah Saleh's government due to having Western soldiers on their land. The soldiers and civilians who are supporting Ali Abdullah Saleh's CT efforts are second to none. In addition to man power, our government will pony up $63 million solely for increased security efforts. We will continue to see success by enabling Yemen's lethal targeting against AQAP, here, here, here, and here. Where I am most concerned is the economic front, Jeffrey Feltman's second front.

The Yemeni government quantifies their economic needs as $50 Billion of aid over the next 10 years. The Yemeni calculus behind this figure is what they believe is needed to raise their rank on the list of the least developed countries. Today in London, World leaders are meeting to discus ways and areas that the collective community can pull Yemen from the brink of economic collapse. The United States is pressuring Saleh's government to follow a 10 point plan to improve economic and government accountability. This is a crucial aspect. The reason being, Europe and the West pledged over $5 billion in aid, but only 20% ever made it to Yemen. The corruption in Yemen is so great that it basically equates to lining Yemeni pockets with aid money. If the US and other world leaders fail to fix the corruption aspect, we will never be able to stop the inevitable disaster heading for us when Yemen runs out of oil, in 2017. Secretary Clinton is also making the cease fire for the Houthi Rebel conflict a top priority. The conflict with the Houthi Rebels alone soaked up over 10 million dollars in aid from the USAID and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

I tittled this post "Promising Beginnings" because I believe Yemen may be the first true holistic governmental approach to foreign policy from the United States. The right military foot print is in place and the State Department can effectively act in Yemen due to the size of the problem. Iraq and Afghanistan were just too big for the State Department's budget and personnel size to effectively handle. Al Sahwa will continue to follow Yemen closely, stay tuned.


  1. I'd suggest that we remember to view this calmly. Despite what Saleh/Salih (president of Yemen) says, Al Qaeda, the separatists, and the Houthis/Huthis probably have at most vague ties to each other. Also it seems to me that this article is very positive without noting that some of the main reasons for the fighting have been caused by his government.

  2. I concur with Gyre, and might add that while the connections between AQ, separatists and Houthis are vague at best, there has been a very real and tangible connection between Saleh's administration at jihadist militants in Yemen. This is something we need to keep in mind.

    It also highlights the greater issue of what may happen if we fail to address some of the baseline problems facing the country (economic turmoil, corruption, poverty etc). Not only do these problems cause insecurity, they fuel the strategic narrative crafted by AQAP. Without addressing these problems we cannot hope to eradicate the AQAP presence.

  3. I have no issues with either comment, they both have merit. I apologize for my failed attempt to land my point. My enthusiasm is directed toward the US approach to this particular foreign policy problem set. I think they, (DOD/DOS) have the correct ratio of involvement. Gyre, you are correct that much of our success will hinge on how President Saleh improves his double handed involvement. Anonymous, you're right too, our CT efforts will be for naught if we don't correct the pending economic disaster.

  4. Not a bad follow up, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/8482265.stm

  5. @JD: Sorry if I seemed overly critical. I'm also something of an advocate for supportive efforts in Yemen, I'm simply worried that people will start assuming that it can be handled simply. I don't what it was like before the 80s and 90s, but I see a tendency in news reporting to state what should be done as though the writer is an expert at the subject. Gushing praise of Gant in the Washington Post and Op Eds about tribalism in Afghanistan have done nothing to erase this.