"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Remember those guys?  This short post is going to be speculative, and based on very little.  But I have to think these democracy movements might also undercut AQAP, who just seem so reactionary and small compared to a genuine drive toward freedom.  In just a matter of weeks they have managed to make huge gains from Salih, while AQAP just makes more enemies.  Who needs a caliphate of the pure when you have rights and the ability to change things?

Of course, AQAP still has an incredibly smart leadership and the flexibility to adapt to new circumstances, and they still remain dangerous.  I am not saying they are collapsing into dust.  But I also think it is silly to pretend that a fallen Salih- under these new circumstances- is automatically a boon for AQAP.  It might help them in the sort-term, but not in the long run.

Which is a main reason why the US can't be satisfied that Salih has made a few moves to maintain the current state of relative stability.  If he renegs, or moves backwards, or really cracks down, that gives another opening to AQAP.  Increased instability will help them in way we've talked about, but it will also give them a propaganda coup.   So the US has to use its leverage so that Salih's words meet actions.  Not only is it the right thing to do, but it is in our strategic interest to do so.

This has to be combined with, as we talked about in the comments, a real outreach to other power centers, specifically the tribes.  Whatever comes after Salih, whether it is in 2013 or a week from Friday, will be weaker.  We now have an opportunity to help stave off collapse, usher in real reform which might fundamentally change Yemen, but also expand our contact with power brokers outside the usual sphere of state relations.   So this is a real opportunity for the states.

I still maintain, though, that is Salih backslides or cracks down we have to be ready to cut him off, and he has to know that we are ready, so that we can push him along, no matter how reluctant he might be.  This is the best way to combat al-Qaeda, both now and in the future.


  1. Excellent points. Thanks for keeping all issues on the radar.

    What do you think about the possibility of Salih using AQAP in a Mubarak-style maneuver against protesters, should the protests pick up steam? To be more specific, could we see a scenario in which the regime allows or encourages terror attacks (real or manufactured) against protesters or the general public in order to both suppress the popular movement and create a clamor for "law and order"? Is this just my typical paranoid fantasy, or do you think Salih's bag of tricks could be that deep and dark?

  2. Good question, Will. I don't think he would use AQAP- I think he knows they are firmly against him, and are not amenable to the kind of deal-making their predecessors used in 1994. Salih would be nervous about empowering them even more. That said, there is, as Greg has said, an "Islamist spectrum" inside Yemen, and it isn't impossible that Salih could use less-radical agents. It wouldn't be unprecedented, that is for sure. But I wouldn't bet on it, were I am gambling man, which I am. Right now he probably feels he has the situation under control, to an extent. Allowing more violence could open up an Egypt-like situation.

    I also think that while there could be a clamor for law-and-order, it would not be directed toward the government. I think more people would retreat to defend themselves, and their tribes. Of course, it would be different in San'a, but I don't think Salih wants to further any ideas about his not being able to control the situation. This is assuming he isn't going to miscalculate, and that isn't a safe bet. So yes, he does have a deep bag of tricks, but I think there would be reluctance to reach too far down. For now. I'll keep saying that as a way to cover myself, but also because it is really hard to say what is going to happen.

    And paranoia is always a useful tool when thinking about any politics.