Monday, November 15, 2010

They hate us for our freedoms? Yemen edition

We're not just firing rockets in Yemen. From Alice Fordham, Yemen: wrong lesson from Iraq Prospect (UK) 10/08/2010:

... the US military has reportedly proposed investing more than $1bn in Yemen’s security forces over the next five years. But what are they investing in? Yemen's government may technically be democratically elected, but most analysts say it wields no power. Influence lies with President Ali Abdullah Saleh and his cronies, vastly rich men, much of whose money is said to come from siphoning oil revenues, while a third of Yemen’s population starves. Saleh once said that ruling Yemen was like "dancing on the heads of snakes," keeping the various conflicting factions — tribes, secessionists, Islamists, the elite — subdued with a mixture of money and force. This has kept him in power for over 30 years, and many believe that losing him would plunge the country into chaos. Yet this system is only capable of maintaining the status quo, not enacting reforms. Without reform, Yemen — with its nosediving economy, dwindling oil reserves, demographic explosion and conflicts with northern rebels and southern secessionists — is only a few steps away from chaos.
This also doesn't sound good:

A senior US diplomat told me that Yemen is, in effect, the new testing ground for counterterrorism on the cheap. The interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, had ruined America and would be the single biggest factor in its declining influence in the coming decades.

The Yemen strategy is closer to historical US and British policies of supporting known, if suspect, regimes in Latin America, the middle east and southeast Asia. Such an approach has yielded mixed, sometimes awful, results. The problem with this solution in Yemen is that it delegitimises the government in the eyes of many Yemenis, who are already deeply anti-western. Supporting the military without feeding the people of the world's third-hungriest country sends a clear message that America cares only about its own security. And while imposing democracy by force is a terrible way to help a country, as long as Saleh's ineffectual regime is kept on life-support, Yemen will continue to collapse around it.
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