Nabeel A. Khoury
Dr. Khoury, a recently retired foreign service officer, was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. embassy in Yemen, 2004-2007. He is currently senior fellow for Middle East and National Security at The Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
The final session of Yemen's National Dialogue Committee concluded on January 25, 2014, with an agreement on a basic constitutional document describing a unified but federated and democratic Yemen. To be sure, there are issues still to be worked out: the number of states to be federated — with some southerners still holding out for two (north and south) and others insisting on four or six — and an arrangement with the Houthi tribe in the north defining their state and the parameters of their local government. U.S. diplomacy has not, to date, contributed to the resolution of these two nagging problems. There will, however, be ample opportunity to help ease the tensions of regionalism with track-two-type ideas and projects to help establish trust among the conflicting regions. Keeping Yemen together is in the U.S. national interest, and spending economic and political resources towards that end is therefore worthwhile.
"The Gulf Cooperation Council initiative must remain a Yemeni-owned process. But we all have a stake in its success."1 With this statement, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns clearly and succinctly distinguished between intervening in the domestic affairs of another country (à la Iraq) and simply admitting that the United States has a vested interest in an initiative undertaken by the regional states and run by Yemenis themselves. Burns went on to clarify that assisting Yemen's democratic transition is not only good for the Yemeni people, but also in line with the U.S. national interest. President Obama has made that point several times, starting with strong pro-democracy statements in his Cairo speech of 2009, well before the early days of the Arab uprisings in 2011. Five years after that speech, however, U.S. policy remains torn between short-term security concerns and the broader view: security through stability and democracy amid a continuing search for a strategy to bridge the gap and get on the right side of history in the Middle East.
To be fair, a Yemen Strategic Plan was initiated as a result of the 2009 review of U.S. policy towards Yemen,2 keeping the focus on the short-term security goal of fighting al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), increasing development assistance and working with an international group of donor countries to achieve a multiplier effect. The problem is that these three laudable goals can be contradictory if run in parallel to one another, yet neither the National Security Council at the White House nor the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs at the State Department have demonstrated much appetite for integrating them. Further, while the United States has been taking direct action in prosecuting the war on AQAP, it has not taken such an approach toward facilitating a smooth political transition in Yemen.
The National Security Strategy for 2010 mentions Yemen in the context of overall security goals:
Deny Safe Havens and Strengthen At-Risk States: Wherever al-Qaida or its terrorist affiliates attempt to establish a safe haven — as they have in Yemen, Somalia, the Maghreb, and the Sahel — we will meet them with growing pressure. We also will strengthen our own network of partners to disable al-Qaida's financial, human, and planning networks; disrupt terrorist operations before they mature; and address potential safe-havens before al-Qaida and its terrorist affiliates can take root. These efforts will focus on information-sharing, law enforcement cooperation, and establishing new practices to counter evolving adversaries. We will also help states avoid becoming terrorist safe havens by helping them build their capacity for responsible governance and security through development and security sector assistance.3
Yemen, in this text, is lumped with Somalia, the Maghreb (no further specification) and the Sahel as areas where pressure will be applied against al-Qaeda affiliates in collaboration with local authorities.4 This collaboration varies, of course, from areas where the United States can rely on a strong and unified country like Morocco to take its own counterterrorism measures, only seeking advice or assistance from the United States, as and when needed, to places like Somalia, where local government is almost nonexistent. Yemen, in 2010, fell somewhere between the two extremes. The central government of Ali Abdallah Saleh still controlled a strong military, albeit one with limited technical skills.
Ironically, in Yemen the same factor that makes the use of drones appealing, from an American security point of view, also taints the intelligence that is a critical part of targeting strikes and verifying results. With no operatives on the ground and with the limited mobility of embassy personnel, the United States is dependent on Yemeni security officials for strike assessments. On at least two occasions, local accounts and investigations by Human Rights Watch have pointed to mistaken targeting and to under-reporting of the number of innocent civilians killed by drone and missile strikes. "Five men, killed by a drone strike in south Yemen on August 2012, apparently included two locals, well known in their community, and three others who were strangers." Yemen's ministry of defense described the three strangers as members of AQAP, "killed while meeting with their fellows."5 The two "fellows" included Selim Jaber, a 42-year-old cleric who had denounced al-Qaeda in a local mosque sermon, and his cousin, who had gone along to meet the three strangers, at their request. Selim and his cousin Walid were well-known in their village; the AQAP members were not. The assumption is that they were killed by association, assumed to be guilty because they were meeting with AQAP members. Selim's brother Faisal has been on a campaign in Europe and the United States to publicize the cost, in innocent lives lost, of drone attacks in Yemen.
In addition to "honest" mistakes, Yemen's collaboration against terrorism was also tinged from the start with former President Saleh's personal agenda. Hence, his genuine interest in stopping acts of terrorism against U.S. targets in Yemen ran up against the desire to protect sources and contacts who were of personal use to him. A 2009 case involving the assassination of the deputy governor of Marib, Jabir al-Shabwani, raised questions among some Yemenis as to motive; AQAP operatives he had been tasked by the Yemeni government to negotiate with for their surrender were killed along with him. These men had reportedly been to visit several local government offices earlier in the day and had left "unharmed." They could have been captured, if the Yemeni government had indeed had damning evidence against them.6
The collaboration was on occasion further tainted by Saleh's using U.S. assistance against his own domestic political enemies. Steven Day, addressing the issue of Saleh's foes in the south, writes,
President Saleh likes to portray his local opposition as a foreign-inspired threat to national security. This is the regime's standard playing card, … labeling political opponents as traitors and placing his confrontation with them in the same category as the U.S.-sponsored war on terrorism.7
Saleh's problems with southern leaders like Hassan Ba-Awm and the Bashraheel family (owners of the daily al-Ayam) took on the appearance of a hunt for terrorists when Saleh sent troops — and, at one time, Sanaa's U.S.-trained Counter Terrorism Unit — to surround the Bashraheel home and eventually arrest the father, Hisham Bashraheel, on charges of aiding terrorists. In fact, the paper owner had simply defied Saleh and published columns critical of his policies in south Yemen.
Similarly, in his fight with the northern Houthi tribe, initially an obviously domestic conflict in Saada, Saleh tried repeatedly to paint the conflict to U.S. and European diplomats as a counterterrorism issue. He claimed he was fighting "our" fight because the Houthis had as their main slogan, "Death to Israel, Death to America, and Victory for Islam" — with direct assistance from Iran. Ironically, while he did not have any evidence against Iran at the start of that war, Iran did end up becoming interested and somewhat involved in it towards the latter part of the conflict, 2010-11.8
Using drones for targeted killing when capture by Yemeni troops was a viable option also put in doubt the Saleh regime's motives, or at least cast doubt on the tactical reasons suggested for their use. Gregory Johnsen reports on the case of AQAP leader al-Qadhi, who was killed by a drone strike on November 7, 2012, in a house close to the residence of former President Saleh. "Senator McCain asks in a committee hearing, why, given that al-Qadhi was living openly in his house, did the U.S. not seek to capture him?"9 On the surface, it appears as if drones are used to minimize escape or heavy resistance, which would lead to casualties. In a case like Qadhi's, where the location is known and easy to access, two alternative theories present themselves: either the United States does not trust the local government's ability to execute the arrest, or the local government would genuinely rather not pursue someone who had rendered useful services to the state.
Although President Hadi has not exhibited any of the biases of former President Saleh, in terms of a personal agenda against long-term political opponents and the deliberate use of counterterrorism assets against them, the military leadership is a long way from dissociating itself from its corrupt history. Despite Hadi's best efforts, the pitfalls remain the same in terms of the security collaboration between the United States and Yemen for the foreseeable future. A particular case in point is the quiet rebellion taking place in the Hadramout region of the country, not so much for independence as against the corrupt military generals who are perceived as continuing to exploit the region's resources for their personal gain despite the uprising of 2011 and the political changes it has generated.10 Behind the military campaign, officially described by the Yemeni government and mainstream U.S. media as a counterterrorism operation, lies what is viewed by many in the region as a vendetta by corrupt generals against their Hadrami opponents and those who would expose their corrupt behavior.
As far as the security of Americans is concerned, U.S. policy in Yemen has certainly not brought more security to American diplomats in Yemen. The U.S. embassy in Sanaa, which had relaxed travel restrictions in 2008, is now again classified as an unaccompanied post, too dangerous for diplomats' families. Further, diplomats, who until recently tended to live on the local economy in rented houses and apartments all over the capital, were moved to a well-guarded hotel near the embassy compound in 2011 and subsequently into crowded quarters on the compound itself. With enhanced security, some U.S. diplomats have gone back to the hotel across the street, but those wishing to go off compound to meet with Yemenis have to use heavy security escorts and are discouraged from non-essential meetings. In terms of security of the homeland, one can only guess. True, there hasn't been an attempt on the U.S. mainland since the failed Christmas bombing of 2009, but the number of estimated AQAP operatives has risen over recent years from several hundred in 2008 to several thousand today. The reported "chatter" continues to involve the plotting of acts of revenge against U.S. interests. AQAP members have held anti-U.S. rallies in the open, hoisting their black flags and brandishing weapons and slogans. Traveling outside of Sanaa is a virtual impossibility for all foreign diplomats nowadays. In all respects, the security situation today is a far cry from the 2004-07 period.
Yemen's uprising took place in 2011, bringing down Ali Abdallah Saleh after 30 years as president. The upheaval had nothing to do with either AQAP or U.S. foreign policy. Yemeni fighters returning from Iraq and Afghanistan had decided, as early as 2005, to make Yemen both a refuge and a place in which to build a powerful regional base for their operations. The preoccupation on the part of the U.S. government with AQAP has made our policy makers all but oblivious to one of the most significant movements in Yemen's modern history and, so far at least, the most successful uprising in the region, save for the Tunisian experience, given the squashing of the Bahrain uprising, the bloody implosion of Syria, the instability of Libya and the turning south of the Egyptian revolution.
The Economic Challenge
On the positive side, the U.S. government has supported the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) plan for transition in Yemen right from the start. When the transition moved from the election of a president and the appointment of a transitional cabinet to the launching of a wide-ranging national dialogue, through the establishment of the National Dialogue Committee (NDC), Washington offered both political and financial support: $10 million for the process itself and a commitment to post-dialogue funding for training and institution building afterward. A package of $356,000 was dedicated to Yemen for 2012; roughly half of it was spent by USAID and other civilian agencies. This is more than 10 times the U.S. assistance to Yemen during the 2004-07 period.
USAID's 2012 Yemen budget was allocated to projects supporting good governance, participation, and women and youth issues — all meant to support the country's democratic-transition efforts. This focus is also in line with President Obama's vision that in the long term, Yemen's stability, unity and democratic development will improve security and guard against the spread of AQAP. Yemen, however, has major economic and political-development challenges ahead, as it tries to implement a democratic transition. The assistance that may have been adequate for Yemen's more modest goals in the past will likely not be sufficient to meet the monumental tasks ahead.
The international donor community has pledged $8.1 billion since 2011. Despite these pledges (less than half of which have been disbursed), and despite prior annual bilateral assistance (albeit at lower levels) from all donor countries, Yemen, according to a 2012 Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report, remains "the poorest country in the Arab world, … suffering from extreme water scarcity, soaring food prices and a growing population."11 According to the same report and other international agencies, nearly 10 million people do not have enough to eat. "Yemen's malnutrition levels are among the world's highest: in some parts of the country, one in three children is malnourished."12 Given the severity of its problems, in the midst of a security upheaval and a political transition, a business-as-usual approach to foreign aid will not suffice. After all, the same donor countries pledged approximately $4.7 billion for 2007-10 at the fourth Consultative Group meeting of donors for Yemen, held in London November 15-16, 2006, with no discernible impact on Yemen's development.13 Only part of the funds were disbursed, and bilateral aid has a history of being dissipated by corruption and inefficient bureaucracies. Added to these problems, multilayered international aid agencies have not focused their assistance on the highest priorities or coordinated effectively with one another.
Since 1990, Yemen has suffered from labor-migration problems. Saudi markets, which boomed from 1970 to 1980 due to economic growth, looked on the surface like pure gain for Yemen: migration of its excess labor demand and revenue from remittances sent back home. But, as Nora Ann Colton writes, "The migration boom of the 1970s and 1980s gave rise to a number of structural changes in the Yemeni economy. For example, Yemen's service/informal sector grew at a rapid rate, while its industrial sector remained stagnant."14 This is partly due to the fact that labor migration contributes to brain drain, luring away the skilled labor required for industrial growth and leaving the unskilled behind. The remittances sent back to their countries are mostly spent on consumer goods, boosting the service sector but contributing nothing to industrial growth.
In 1990, when Saleh cast his UN vote on the losing side of the first Gulf war, Saudi Arabia expelled close to a million Yemenis, ending the boom in consumer spending and further burdening the local economy with unemployed workers. When foreign assistance, cut off in 1990, returned to Yemen, along with oil revenues from Yemen's own small fields, Saleh tended to keep much of this revenue in the hands of the central government and his own family and cronies, rather than spending it on developing Yemen's economy. Poverty and unemployment continued to increase, leading up to the 2011 uprising, which expressed the frustration of youth in the lack of democracy, lack of jobs, and lack of any leadership that cared. In 2010, Yemen recorded an unemployment rate of 40 percent and, according to the CIA's country report for Yemen, a per capita GDP of $2,500; roughly half of Yemenis were living on under $2.00 a day.15
Foreign assistance, from donor countries as well as international agencies, has also run into the twin problems of corruption and the lack of a proper investment policy. International organizations, especially the International Monetary Fund, tend to require fiscal restructuring in return for their loans. This entails liberating the economy from government controls — fine in principle, though in a country like Yemen, it means fewer subsidies but not necessarily wiser investments. Such stipulations assume the government will spend the savings on projects that spur industrial/economic growth. In a country where corruption has been rampant, this is a problematic assumption.16
Bilateral aid has also faltered, often sacrificed at the altar of expediency. Saudi Arabia, though investing more wisely of late, has often given assistance directly into the pockets of the Yemeni president, as well as those of favored tribal leaders. Such funds, even when used for political patronage and not for personal extravagance, have helped retain the loyalty of tribes and political parties but have done little to get the economy to take off. At the London donors' conference in 2006, the donor countries approached, rather half-heartedly, the prospect of pooling money into a development fund but gave in to the Yemeni preference for direct deposit into the state budget. The other problem is that monies pledged are not equal to those actually delivered. It is estimated that, of the $8.1 billion promised in 2011, only $1.8 billion has so far been disbursed, with most of that coming from a Saudi loan guarantee pledged before the September 2012 Friends of Yemen meeting.
This is not an uncommon problem with foreign assistance. World Bank data show that monies disbursed to Yemen from 2006 to 2010 quadrupled what was given annually before 2006, raising the amount from $300 million to $1.2 billion. On the positive side, this means that the $4.7 billion pledged at the 2006 London donors' conference was actually disbursed. On the negative side, it took four years for that to happen, and it was done piecemeal on a bilateral basis. There was also no accounting mechanism in place to verify what projects were accomplished during the period.
A 2012 U.S. aid package of $356 million, of which roughly $100 million went to humanitarian, civil-society and democracy-building programs, was many times larger than USAID's budget for the years 2004-08. This reflects a realization in Washington of the importance of a peaceful transition to democracy in Yemen. It is a good first step towards the implementation of the concept that long-term security comes from democracy and stability. The channel for such aid remains, however, a traditional one; USAID dispenses the funds through independent contractors and appropriate Yemeni government ministries. In addition, the money is simply not enough in and of itself to put Yemen's economy on the right development path. The roughly $8 billion pledged by the donor community between 2011 and 2013 would, as far as volume goes, be quite adequate to launch Yemen's economic take-off. The problem once again, however, is a matter of pooling the resources and using them according to a master plan that directs investments towards much-needed industrial development and job-creating projects.
In an attempt to move things in this direction this time around and to rationalize the foreign-assistance process, an executive bureau (EB) has been created to help the appropriate Yemeni ministries spend the funds donated according to a list of projects, though it is not clear at this point if the list has been developed in a coherent manner that would enable all funds to be directed toward the fulfillment of one unified plan, or if the list is simply a compilation of individual projects.17 On the positive side, the EB's creation indicates willingness on the part of the donor community to coordinate and track how international aid is used. At its inception, however, the international community caved in to objections by the Yemeni government to restrictions imposed by the donors, the intent of which was to guard against corruption and lack of capacity on the part of Yemeni government ministries. Among the restrictions was the suggestion that individual ministries needed to report progress to a group made up of cabinet members and donors:
[T]he ministers of development and finance … lobbied against the oversight, … arguing that it would weaken government capacity — a point upheld by the IMF. Eventually, the donors capitulated. Politics came out ahead of Yemen's legitimate needs, with members of the coalition government prioritizing political control of donor funds over the successful implementation of projects.18
The Political Front
In a speech before the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), John Brennan — then assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism — strongly defended the administration against the charge by U.S. academics of being too single-minded in its pursuit of the war on terror in Yemen, arguing that "at the White House, we have always taken a broader view."19 Brennan goes on to posit four pillars of American policy towards Yemen: supporting the political transition, strengthening governance and institutions, providing humanitarian relief, and improving security and combatting AQAP.
The high priority given to assisting the transition, however, at least in Brennan's speech, seemed limited to calling on President Saleh to step down, advocating a peaceful transition of power, and supporting good governance through USAID projects. Saleh's stepping down, as important a step as that was, came about as a result of the Yemeni people's brave and persistent demand and the support of the GCC and the international community. In addition, Saleh's leaving office was but the first step on a long and arduous journey, the burden of which has fallen on the Yemeni participants in the National Dialogue process and the tireless efforts of Jamal Benomar, the UN envoy to Yemen. The National Dialogue has, among other challenges, struggled to represent the interests of three main geographic regions, Sanaa, Saada and south Yemen — putting aside the potentially complicating issue of southeast Yemen, the Hadramout.
An essential element of the transition is to keep the country together and prevent a destabilizing civil war. Yemen, having avoided a major clash between the Saleh clan and the al-Ahmars (to include the conflict between the two main factions of the military, one led by Ahmed Saleh and the other by Mohsen al-Ahmar), immediately faced the prospect of a southern secession and a war in the north between the Houthi clan and a coalition of Sunni Salafis, including the mainstream Islah party and extremists from AQAP. These two major fissures did not receive any mention in Brennan's speech, nor have they been addressed in any major policy paper or listed as challenges worthy of U.S. diplomatic efforts. There is also no evidence that American diplomacy has engaged on these two fronts, beyond offering lip service to the mantra of Yemeni unity. There has, in fact, been a disdain in Washington for getting involved in internal Yemeni squabbles, given their tribal complexities and a fear of being trapped into supporting one side or the other. Given the Houthi distrust of the West, and the verbal expression of this in their slogans, it was easy enough for the United States to avoid even talking to an otherwise major force in north Yemen.
On the southern issue, and despite sporadic contacts with southern leaders in exile and meetings with some of the political leaders in south Yemen, American diplomats shied away from getting involved in reconciling southern leaders with Sanaa or unifying the southern front under moderate leadership that could represent them at the National Dialogue in Sanaa. This was the case, despite a steady string of meetings in Cairo between leaders of the southern movement, in exile as well as from Aden, and the many opportunities to engage them. Yet, unless these two major schisms are addressed, the only transition possible in Yemen would be to a divided country ruled by rival clans and unknown and untested leaders of rebellious regional movements.
Being for the political transition is not enough if one does not engage in, or at least encourage others to engage in, the mending necessary to keep the country together. To be sure, the United States did encourage the GCC on its diplomatic path in Yemen, but that group did not go beyond sponsoring a broad transition plan. Individual states made some attempts at internal fence-mending, Qatar and Saudi Arabia being traditionally the most interventionist. In his speech to the CFR, Brennan stressed the closeness between the United States and Saudi Arabia when it comes to Yemeni affairs, emphasizing that "no one has done more for Yemen than Saudi Arabia" and that it has to be a "team approach."20 There's the rub: Brennan could equally have said that no one has done more "in" Yemen as well. It is precisely the closeness of Saudi Arabia to Yemen that has enabled it historically to become too involved; it has a vested interest, after all. This taints Saudi mediation efforts. The Saudis are, for example, too involved in the conflict in northern Yemen to be fair mediators between Sanaa and Saada.
Saudi involvement in Yemen goes back to the early part of the twentieth century, when King Abdul Aziz unified the Hijaz and Najd regions of the Arabian Peninsula; he tried to extend his realm southward but failed to conquer Yemen. That left a contested border region, where sporadic clashes only subsided with the definitive demarcation in 2000 of the permanent line between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Yemen. This put an end to territorial claims and counterclaims, though recently Saudi Arabia has built a fence to stop infiltration by terrorists and smugglers.
Military encounters in Yemen occurred again in 2009-10, when the war between the Saleh regime in Sanaa and the Houthis in the north spilled over into Saudi territory. The Saudis accused the Houthis of having invaded their territory; the Houthis claimed the Saudis had facilitated the Yemeni army's crossing the border from the Saudi side in order to help them encircle the Houthis. Saudi Arabia then launched aerial attacks on the north of Yemen, in collaboration with Yemeni government forces, putting them squarely in the middle of the conflict. The Saudi military role ended in a truce with the Houthi forces; the Houthis were not subdued, nor was the Sanaa-Saada conflict brought to an end.
Qatar, having neither a common border with Yemen nor a history of conflict in the country, has been better able to deploy its diplomacy to help, for example, in settling the dispute between the central government in Sanaa and the Houthi tribe, intervening in 2007 to help settle the fourth round of the war and again in 2011. A final agreement, however, remained elusive, as Saleh continued to seek military victory in the north and refused to allow European and American assistance to rebuild the area. Complicating all mediation efforts is the sectarian factor, which pits a small group of Sunni Salafis (mostly located inside the Damaj school and surrounding community), supported with funds from Saudi Arabia, against the predominantly Zaidi tribes in the north. Under the interim presidency of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, a combination of mediation and renewed military initiative on the part of the Houthis has driven the Salafis from the Damaj area. The Houthis, however, emboldened by their successes, have continued to push against Islah and AQAP and are now advancing their war effort to the outskirts of Sanaa. Implementing a federalist agreement that keeps the Houthis within the Yemeni fold is now more urgent than ever.
U.S. policy in the region has long been tied to Saudi interests and views. Dating back to 1990, when then President Saleh sided with Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia cut off aid and repatriated close to a million Yemeni workers who had lived in the country for decades. The United States also cut off its aid; Secretary of State James Baker told Yemen's UN representative that the vote Yemen cast against the U.S.-sponsored resolution on Iraq would be the most costly vote he would ever cast. The close U.S. identification with Saudi interests in Yemen was only strengthened with the advent of al-Qaeda and the later formation of AQAP. Collaboration between Washington and Riyadh on counterterrorism was, and still is, a natural and quite understandable phenomenon.
Scott Shane wrote in 2010, "Saudi authorities have been monitoring conversations of Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen very closely, and whereas before the attack they were hearing relaxed 20-minute phone conversations over cellphones, after the attack the phones went virtually silent."21 Saudi interest in monitoring jihadists in Yemen is an obvious national-security concern given the involvement of Saudi citizens in AQAP and the threat the group poses to the kingdom. The Saudi warning to the United States about the parcel-bomb plot in 2010 was widely reported. Given common counterterrorism interests, Saudi support for U.S. tracking and killing of AQAP members in Yemen is, again, a natural consequence. After all, Saudi Arabia had gone through a campaign of its own against terrorism just a few years before.
Der Spiegel, in a 2010 article, offered that "Yemen is becoming an important refuge for al-Qaida terrorists, but authorities in the country are more interested in pursuing its war against Shiite rebels in the north. American weapons are used in the fight — and the US secretly pursues terrorists on their own."22 The article goes on to suggest that a large amount of the matériel provided by the United States has actually been deployed for the war in Saada. This may well have been true during the tenure of President Saleh, but the new Hadi government has been much more focused on the growing AQAP problem. Therefore, it is collaborating much more closely in U.S. efforts, allowing and indeed inviting a sizable number of drone strikes against AQAP fighters and members in the south. President Hadi and members of the National Dialogue Committee (NDC) are to be given due credit for the skillful diplomacy they have applied recently in an attempt to resolve that longstanding conflict in the north. For the first time since the start of the Houthi wars in 2004, Yemen's military has been dispatched to mediate between combatants in an attempt to end the strife, rather than to fight the Houthis and attempt to suppress their movement by force.
On December 16, 2013, Yemen's parliament, in a non-binding vote, asked the government to halt the use of drones by the United States over Yemeni territory. The NDC has also voted in favor of halting drone attacks. In an age of dwindling resources, it makes little sense to spend money on a very unpopular program in Yemen that does not even promote the short-term security it purports to serve. The more difficult path to security in Yemen is through the restructuring of the military, an effort that is already underway, and a major initiative to combat corruption in the overall security establishment — a goal towards which U.S. technical assistance could go a long way.
The challenge for the United States is to focus on a whole-of-Yemen strategy, devoting the needed diplomatic and economic resources towards that end. Priority should be given to promoting the political transition by directly supporting the efforts of the UN mediation team. Economically, the United States should be leading the effort to convince the donor countries to pool their assistance and commit to a development master plan that treats all the regions of the country equally. This would truly show the Yemeni population what international assistance can do for them.
1 Remarks by Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns at the Friends of Yemen Ministerial, September 25, 2013.
2 Jeremy M. Sharp, "Yemen: Background and U.S. Relations," CRS Report, November 1, 2012.
4 In his 2014 State of the Union address, the president repeated this, again linking Yemen with Somalia, while substituting Iraq for the Maghreb nations.
5 Letta Tayler, "The Price of War," Foreign Policy, October 22, 2013, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/10/22/the_price_of_war_hrw_u….
6 Shuaib Almosawa, "Teenagers Are Droned, and A Family Cries Out," Foreign Policy, November 4, 2013.
7 Stephen Day, "Updating Yemeni National Unity: Could Lingering Regional Divisions Bring Down the Regime?" in Middle East Journal 62, no. 3 (Summer 2008).
8 The author was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa during the early years of the Saada war, 2004-07.
9 Gregory Johnsen, Waq al-Waq Blog, February 9, 2012.
14 Nora Ann Colton, "Yemen: A Collapsed Economy," Middle East Journal 64, no. 3 (Summer 2010): 411.
15 Ibid, p. 418.
16 The author recalls, when he was deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa during the subsidy riots of 2006, sending a message through Yemeni media to rioters and government alike, to the effect that the government, in reducing subsidies, was responding correctly to international pressures, but that the real challenge lay in using savings made to invest wisely in job-creating enterprises.
17 The Executive Bureau's newly appointed director, Amat al-Alim al-Soswa, told the author that "the EB's role as defined by the republican decree is not to pool the money or make the decisions on project allocations, but rather to SUPPORT the government in accelerating project allocation and implementation, monitor the progress of aid pledge allocation and disbursement, and provide technical support for policy reforms agreed to in The Mutual Accountability Framework (MAF). However, there have been increased acceptance from the President, GCC countries, and western donors for the need to have the EB play a bigger role in project selection, preparation, and monitoring of implementation. The coming weeks and months will bring more clarity as to the exact role of the EB in this regard."
18 Chatham House Report, "Yemen Corruption, Capital Flight and Global Drivers of Conflict," 39.
19 Council on Foreign Relations, August 8, 2012.
21 Scott Shane, New York Times, December 3, 2010.