"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Salih Goes All-In

I'm still muddling through President Salih's endgame in essentially announcing a bid to be President For Life (abolishing term limits).  Greg has all the specifics of the recent election moves.

Obviously, the immediate game is to remain in power.  Let's not overthink this.  But why, exactly?  And don't just say "because power is fucking awesome", even though it is.  I think that might be underthinking it.   What are Salih's goals, and how will this help accomplish them?  Those are the questions we need to ask.

I was initially writing a list of different interpretations- "Cynical" "Idealistic" "Pragmatic" etc, but found that the categories kept sliding into each other.   Salih is neither misguided but benevolent statesman nor is he a bloodlust-filled tyrannical monster.  His biggest achievement in office, what he wanted his legacy to be, was the unification of North and South Yemen.  That was a longtime dream, and in his mind, and to a large extent in truth, he accomplished it.   He absorbed a chaotic and crumbling south, and when the traitorous southern leadership maneuvered to back out, he was the one who saved the country.  Sure, he had to bring in some unsavory elements, and some eggs go broken, but that is what leaders do.  Right?

Lincoln-esque, one might say.  Not me, but someone.

So, then: unity must be preserved.  And if there is an election with his unpopular son or murderous generals against maybe Hamid al-Ahmar and a disorganized crew of Southerners, with boycotts and bombings everywhere, unity doesn't have a chance.  Elections are the end result of democracy, not the beginning.  For Salih, in his mind, he is the only one who can really win decisively- the old master of alliance-building and survival is going to give it one last go.  He is tinkering with the Constitution at the same time there have been a raft of prisoner releases, both in the north and the south.  I think Salih sees an opening to maintain his rule and settle things down over the next term, so that he can pass it on as planned.

Like I said, this is pretty muddled.  But everything is muddled, mixed up.  I've argued before that Salih sees himself as the one man who can deliver peace and unity, no matter the cost.  This is megalomania, but there is an element of sadness and even blinkered decency to it, much like Yoweri Museveni or even old Paul Kagame.   Thinking you are the only one who can hold the country together shows vast egotism, but it also can't exist without the desire to hold the country together.  And, to be fair, unless things change radically, very quickly, I do think elections will be a disaster, a hardening of schisms.

That said, I still don't know exactly what I make of this move, or what I think the US response should be.  I am getting a little tired of saying "well, we can't interfere with everything, perfect enemy of good, etc", but my weariness doesn't make it untrue.  Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

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