I didn't have a problem with most of it, on the surface. It is an insanely corrupt government, and that is just killing Yemen. She does an excellent job of highlighting how corruption is destroying any chance of rebuilding an imploding infrastructure. And there is no doubt that Salih has made some criminally bad decisions, and indecisions.
But there are some strange things going on, outside of factual errors (such as saying Salih led the 1962 coup- he fought on the side of the Republicans, but was decidedly not a leader). For one thing, the decisions are presented outside of context. This blog always argues, at the risk of being a bore, that long-term thinking almost always has to be sacrificed to the alter of the immediate. This isn't good, but it also isn't terribly immoral- it is probably amoral. Considerations of the day are key, and the chaos the create down the road will be dealt with down the road. Obviously, this heightens the shuddering violence and instability of the country, but to present this as something unique to Salih is misleading.
A good example of it is this:
When it comes to short-sightedness regarding Yemen's best interests, Saleh and his ruling family circle have demonstrated a near unerring propensity to err since he assumed the presidency in 1978, after leading a military coup in 1962. Since then, Saleh has built a power system based heavily on buying the goodwill of Yemen's tribal leaders, allegedly paying them to deliver the votes of their people in election after election.
There is the coup part in there, but that has been covered (and I do like the phrase "unerring propensity to err".). It is the second sentence which weirds me out. This is presented as if it is something that Salih does because he is corrupt, and because he cares more about power than governance, rather than an inevitable feature of ruling Yemen. The tribes have always needed to be propitiated, and not just to get votes. Assuming another president could avoid this is unrealistic.
What gets me in the conclusion.
But if Saleh continues to refuse and delay reforms, the United States and its allies should do something inconceivable in the can-do war on terror: back off and let Saleh feel the pain of his sucked-dry economy and thwarted people. Rather than trying to prop up another wobbly tyrant, as in Afghanistan, the United States would help most by allowing Yemen's citizens, and potentially better Yemeni leaders, to finally have a say.This reminds me of one of my favorite lines in literature, the last line in The Sun Also Rises. Brett wistfully and probably unrealistically says to Jake that they good have had such a damn good time together, to which he replies yes, "Isn't it pretty to think so?" There is a devastating mix of romanticism, weariness, cynicism and a touch of hope in it. But it never happened, it never was going to, and it being pretty is as far as the thought would go.
It is pretty to think that cutting back aid would allow a good government to spring into place, that backing off would do anything other than accelerate the chaos. But it won't- there isn't anyone with a power base to really run Yemen, and that is how we are forced to think. I am not saying that Yemenis inherently need a strongman or that Arabs just want someone to rule them or any of that claptrap, but that Yemen right now, with its hideous conditions, isn't able to transition from Salih to a competent bureaucrat with an efficient civil service humming beneath him. A lot of this is Salih's fault; a lot of it is in the system. No one wants to support him forever. I'd love it if it were possible to replace him with someone better who could keep things together. But we don't choose the countries we are involved in, and can't choose the conditions we find them in. What we can choose is how to deal with them smartly and with long-term planning. In the short-term we need Ali Abdullah. We can't dreamily turn our back and wait until there is a more comfortable leader with whom to deal. Our policy has to know this, but also to help ease into the next five, ten or twenty years. Anything else is an exercise in feeling good at the expense of our security and those we are ostensibly helping.
As always, the policy of AJG is to allow the person I've needlessly attacked to respond, in full and unedited, with as many attacks at my learning, character or grooming as desired. Ellen Knickmeyer, if by some chance you are reading this, please feel free to drop me a line and open a debate.