"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Monday, November 29, 2010

AQAP v Huthi: This time, its personal

This might be a largely reactive day or two on the blog- I am waiting for Greg to release his rebuttal to Thomas Hegghammer's answer to the al-Awlaki debate.   I am not sure if I'll have anything interesting to add to it.  I know- since when has that stopped me?  Right now I am enjoying two top analysts duking it out.   Clint has also been doing excellent work on this over at Selected Wisdom.   This is much better than the old days, when we basically only had Jane Novak to argue with.

As for the probable AQAP attack on the Huthis, Will at the Yemen Peace Project has the statement and some good analysis.   I think he is right when he says that this probably isn't going to play particularly well among Yemenis.   As has been mentioned, there isn't exactly a deep theological divide between Zaydi Shi'ism and Sunni philosophy.  The difference is largely political, though it has been wrapped with more of a schismatic cloth in the war years- but that is still just the wrapping.  

I'm not sure if this attack is a push for more volunteers or a reaction to their arrival.  Foreign fighters generally don't have much respect for the lay of the land, and can push movements in more extreme directions.  After all, I didn't bust my hump across the Eurasian wilds just to take out some damned police officer.  That is for chumps and local teens.  Let's go after the real apostates.  It could also be a combination of the two, of course.

It is also possible that the attack is a result of a steeply-increasing sense of destiny.  AQAP hasn't been flawless, but it is human nature to look back on success with the feeling of inevitability- especially if you've convinced yourself you have a divine mandate.  This would be out of character for AQAP, where caution has been the rule, but it wouldn't be totally out of character for any successful revolutionary group.  You begin to believe your own clippings.   I am not yet ready to say this is probably the case; this is the smallest possible sample-size to analyze.

The most clever thing about this attack is how it undercuts propaganda.  What the hell is Salih going to say?  Stop attacking innocent Huthis?  Even US condemnation rings hollow; we haven't lifted a finger to stop scorched earth.   There is an opportunity here to slide into the role of honest broker, but it is a very small window and would require a lot more nuance than our strategy has provided.   I don't doubt all of this crossed the mind of the leadership, if not before the attack than shortly thereafter (they are excellent retroactive propagandists), but I still think this might be a case of bloody over-reach, the kind they have heretofore avoided.


  1. I'm very curious to find out who the actual martyrs in these operations were; foreigners or Yemenis? The answer will bear on our predictions of how successful/well-received an anti-Shi'ah campaign might be, and it will determine, in part, how the victims' people approach the matter of retribution and the rhetorical framing thereof. Will we, for example, see attacks by "Huthi" operatives against AQAP operatives, or attacks by members of bereaved families against other families?

  2. I don't think the Yemenis care about these people, the Southerners hate the north and want independence and the North actually believe that the Houthis kill innocent Sunni Yemenis (Yemen gov. propoganda and al-Qaeda). Besides, their attack was targetting the Houthis, and not Zaydis in general.