January 3, 2010


Wartime challenges of the new year: An al-Qaeda threat is strong in Yemen - but it offers the U.S. some opportunities. (Mark Bowden, 1/03/09, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Saleh has problems galore, so it is little wonder that he's decided to ask for help. His government, one of the only republics in the Arab world, has come under increasing stress from a combination of social, economic, natural, and political factors, all intertwined. He faces declining oil production, a growing youth population, and increasing water shortages. The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Somalia, whose northern coastline is directly opposite Yemen across the Gulf of Aden, has brought with it that country's substantial arms trade and smuggling network.

While elected, Saleh's leadership long predates Yemen's embrace of democracy, and that embrace is diffident at best. Saleh's regime is notoriously corrupt and has a grudging hold on power that is decidedly undemocratic. He is fighting a civil war against the Houthis, a radical Shiite sect, in the north, and a secessionist movement in the south. Al-Qaeda has begun targeting members of Saleh's inner circle for suicide attacks. The president managed in the spring to postpone elections for two years, which gives him a little breathing room - ordinarily he relies on tribal backing, which makes it harder for him to cooperate with Western nations.

As bad as things seem for Saleh, his predicament has afforded the United States an opportunity. Just as the full cooperation of the Filipino government has helped rout the Islamist extremist organization Abu Sayyaf in its southernmost islands with minimal but effective American involvement, the full cooperation of the Yemeni government spells trouble for al-Qaeda there.

It enables Yemeni authorities to do what they do best, which is to infiltrate and identify the violent radicals in their midst. And it enables the U.S. military to do what it does best, which is to provide surveillance, weaponry, and tactical guidance. Ideally, the American presence will remain resolutely low key, a posture that benefits both us and Saleh. With any luck it will, as in the Philippines, be less about the United States' going to war in another country than about Yemen's dealing with the threat al-Qaeda poses to its own government.

In Yemen, as in the Philippines, their fight is also our own.

Hopefully the President will stand firm in the face of all the peace marchers and accusations from opponents over his unilaterally widening the war, eh?

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 3, 2010 7:51 AM
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