"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Killing al-Awlaki

Greg has an article in Newsweek regarding the limited utility, and possibly self-defeating nature, of assassinating Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.   He points out what we've discussed here- that al-Awlaki is at best small potatoes in AQAP, and that focusing on him distracts us from the real leaders.  Of course, he goes into more detail than my flat assertions.   This is the must-read of the day.

Of course, San'a is not happy about  the idea of strikes.  It is one thing for everyone to know the US is helping Yemen take out AQAP- it is another thing altogether for us to announce our plans to kill someone, specifically. San'a is trying to get al-Awlaki to turn himself in and avoid what Kissinger would call "a real international higgedly-piggedly".

Al-Awlaki's father has announced that his wayward son would stop his US-bashing if he is taken off the list.   The man is a former minister of agriculture, so he has some sway with the government as well.  In theory, this would be an ideal way to end the situation.  A little pressure causes junior to back off and get himself back to the straight-and-narrow.   Of course, as much credit as I give the Obama administration for subtle slow-plays, I wouldn't think that this was their goal.

Because here is the thing- on this blog and Waq al-Waq we've downplayed al-Awlaki to the level I feel he deserves.   But what we have right now is a pretty perfect encapsulation of the problems that the US has had in dealing with Yemen, and vice-versa.  Say the father's offer is legit (and as of now no one knows if the son is playing ball): that seems to be a perfect solution to the problem.  No blood, no more ranting, everyone walks away happy.  But you know that is impossible.  The admin backed themselves into a corner here.  Everyone "knows" this guy was behind the Ft. Hood slaughter and the Christmas attempt.   Everyone wants to see him taken out- bam: a gratifying drone-strike right between the eyes.

And so here's the mess: even if it could be proven that he isn't AQAP and really didn't have a role in either assault, there is no way that the admin can back down.  The press would go bonkers; talk-radio would have a fit; even more congressmen would be yelling seditious garbage about aiding and abetting enemies.   The father is in theory (for the sake of argument accept it as true) offering us a perfect Yemeni solution to the problem: the family guarantee.  It might not be ideal if he is indeed a criminal, but it works.  It takes a problem off our hands and allows us the chance to back down without doing anything reckless or self-defeating.  But can you imagine the US taking that offer?  Me neither.    Our domestic politics and lack of understanding- spanning both administrations- almost automatically negate the possibility of allowing a solution that appeals to Yemen.

This administration has been better and more nuanced.  But it still has the same restraints, both imposed and self-inflicted, that keep us from coming to a true resolution.

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