"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Thursday, September 2, 2010


The big US-Yemen story of the day, of course, is the Journal's piece about pumping military aid into Yemen. 

WASHINGTON—The U.S. military's Central Command has proposed pumping as much as $1.2 billion over five years into building up Yemen's security forces, a major investment in a shaky government, in a sign of Washington's fears of al Qaeda's growing foothold on the Arabian Peninsula.
The timing and the final funding amount will depend on how supporters of the effort overcome resistance from some officials at the State Department and the Pentagon, who have doubts about Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the ability of his government, seen by many as corrupt, to effectively use a flood of American-taxpayer money.

"Seen by many" is journalistic lingo for "is".

This seems on the face to be exactly what many are warning against- pumping in a flood of money to enhance the security services while leaving the massive underpinning structural issues untouched.  Non-military aid, promised with a heap of pronouncements this year, has been terribly slow, and essential food supplies are, at best, trickling in.  There is also the fear- which is polite blogger lingo for "near goddamn certainty"- that the aid will be used for Salih's other wars in the north and the south, and send the country into further chaos.  

These are legitimate concerns and fears.  As has been hammered home nearly ad nauseum, mere military aid might staunch the bleeding, but won't save the patient.  It's like House- the treatment is worse than the disease! 

But the Journal article adds a little more nuance to that picture.

Special Operations teams run several rural development programs in Yemen's tribal areas.They are doing the type of work the State Department's Provincial Reconstruction Teams have done to understand local needs in regions of Iraq and Afghanistan, a congressional official said. Officials said the teams' aid role in Yemen has grown in part because of the U.S. Embassy's stricter travel restrictions for civilian employees. In some cases, USAID officers haven't been out to visit their projects in years.

This isn't laziness; Yemen is a dangerous place.  There is good that the military can do, where aid groups fear to tread.   This, then, is the frustrating paradox of nation-building policies- you can't build a well while being shot, and the shooting won't stop until there's a well.

What this really boils down to is a question to which no one has an answer, and really what no one wants to ask: is it worth billions of dollars and years of blood and treasure to protect, say, one or two planes of citizens, or even a few thousand?   What we've learned over the last decade is what should have always been obvious: America doesn't have infinite power and resources; all wars have to be paid for.  So do you bog yourself down in yet another maddening country to stop a threat which, in the end, shouldn't prove to be existential?   Instinctively, you say yes- lives are worth it.  I know that is my gut.  But what I want to do in over the next couple of weeks is explore that question a little more in-depth.   Any insights or suggested readings are welcomed. 


  1. Good to have you back Brian! I feel that billions of dollars of aid isn’t always the answer especially as the western agenda is to stem future terrorist attacks. While regionally stability is key in needs to be remembered that AQAP’s capability in Yemen has been severely reduced hence a shift in Modus Operandi. The focus should be on internal stability rather than a threat of an external export of terror. What’s happening in the south is Saleh’s biggest issue. Over reaction militarily to Al Hirak/AQAP attacks in the south (another big debate – who is responsible?) will further exacerbate the dwindling support for a central Yemen government.

    In Yemen the tribes rule. Saleh needs to concentrate on the southern issue as his main effort. Although not a direct threat, Al Awlaki’s pop star status has attracted a lot of media attention promoting AQAP – not necessarily a bad thing for both sides. The increased perceived threat results in financial support for the Yemen Government and gives a reason for western intelligence/military to operate. These issues are still sideshows to the south which has the
    potential to reignite the North/South divide.

    Lots of discussion topics but I need to get them in case you disappear again!

  2. Thanks, Jim- and you are right. Institutions like the DoD- even under someone like Gates- tend to get stuck into doing what they know, to the exclusion of everything else. We (kind of) know how to take out terrorists, and since that is the path of least resistance, that is what we will do. It doesn't exclude everything else, but it certainly relegates less-explosive tools to the shadows.