"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Yemeni Dilemma

Oliver Holmes has a smart article on the problem Yemen faces when dealing with Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric targeted for death by the CIA.  The title, "Yemen Dithers..." is a little misleading, but then titles usually are, and generally aren't written by the author.  "Dithering" isn't the right word; it implies a unfocused lack of concern.  It is safe to say that the government of Yemen is very concerned with how to handle this. 

Of course, being concerned isn't the same as knowing what the hell to do.  Not helping with the arrest or assassination of al-Awlaki will make the US very mad, and President Salih is extremely dependent on US aid.  Helping with his death will enrage a good number of his citizens, who aren't exactly thrilled with his leadership.  Arresting al-Awlaki would probably work out, but then he'd face problems from Awlaki's powerful tribe, and even if he could deal with that it would be another set of problems.  There would be a clamor from the US to extradite him so he could face trial over here.  After all, we suspect him of aiding in the Ft. Hood massacre, and anyway don't trust the Yemeni judicial system. 

The problem is many Yemenis don't trust ours either, at least with respect to Yemenis.  Look at Gitmo; look at the trial of Sheik Moayad (kidnapped in Germany for suspected al-Qaeda and convicted in a US court for supporting Hamas, something that is perfectly legal in Yemen.  He was recently released back to Yemen).  As Holmes points out, most people in Yemen were unaware of al-Awlaki and unsure what he has done wrong, if anything.  Holmes quotes Greg's Newsweek article about how it is unsure if al-Awlaki is even in AQAP.  Turning him over in the US would also create controversy, though, to be fair, I imagine far less than a drone taking him out (this is just a guess of course, but have I steered you wrong before? No.)

So this is a perfect summation of the US/Yemeni relationship.  Things are done here that tend to ignore our partner's needs and constraints, and are done in part to satisfy domestic political requirements.   In Yemen, the President tries to balance the requests of his super-power patron with the passion of his people, while keeping a constant eye on his own power (you can reverse those clauses, if you'd like).

There is a lot of talk about the role a superpower needs to play, about how it should use its influence.  There are those who think that anything less than a full-throated military response the nearly everything is the weak and sniveling attitude of potential quislings.  Who cares what the Yemenis want?  We have some drones and a big ol' grievance: use em.   But part of being this power necessitates us downplaying our desires for balance and with an eye toward our long-term needs (in this case, a relatively stable Yemen).  If you think of that as weak, recalibrate your thoughts a touch.  Consider it a form of noblesse oblige.  Sure, I don't actually care what the coolies think about our actions, but if we have to make them happy for a few minutes to advance our interests I'll suck it up.  See, if you just think that way, you can do the right and smart thing and still satisfy your power-cravings.   

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