"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Greg Johnsen as Thomas Pynchon

For those of you that miss Greg's blogging- and I count myself firmly in that category- he's quoted in today's long-ish NYTimes article about military aid to Yemen.   We can pretend that counts as micro-blogging, or something.   The article is mostly about the debate surrounding the aid and how it should be used.  I'm kind of torn about this- based on a number of factors, I tend to give this admin the benefit of the doubt, particularly when it comes to the long game.  But I also tend not to give anyone the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Yemen, because I am a smug bastard.  

There have been a couple of signs that they are trying to do the right thing in Yemen, especially when it comes to establishing relationships with the tribes.  This is a good thing to do because not only does it give us some leverage in a post-Salih world, but also because it might help undercut on of AQAP's strengths- namely, their increasing coziness with the tribes.  But in American politics there is always the temptation to say "screw it, let's just throw some guns at them."   I will believe that there is a more long-term strategy when I start to see non-military aid promises fulfilled. 

What I found strange in the Times article actually came at the end, in Greg's quotes.  I will put the three paragraphs here in full.

If the Saleh government was once seen in Washington as too cozy with Islamic militants, that has changed, in part because Al Qaeda has stepped up its attacks. In recent weeks, Yemeni security forces have rousted Qaeda fighters from the southern city of Lawdar. In retaliation, Al Qaeda on Friday published the names of 55 regional security, police and intelligence officers, calling them “legitimate targets.”
“That response shows Al Qaeda sees a real threat from security forces,” said Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen scholar at Princeton. But Mr. Johnsen said the priorities of President Saleh, an autocrat whose family has ruled for three decades, do not coincide with those of the United States.
“If we’re just pouring money and equipment into the Yemeni military in the hopes that it will be used against Al Qaeda,” Mr. Johnsen said, “that hope doesn’t match either with history or current reality.”
I'm not quite sure what is going on here.  I don't want to say what Greg means, but my take is that there should be an "only" before "against Al Qaeda".   I hope Greg will correct me if I am wrong, but I think Salih does want to stop this generation of Qaeda, as they are intent on ruining him- no negotiations.  Our interests in that field at least loosely dovetail.   The fear, to me- and this isn't so much a fear as it is a guarantee- is that Salih will use our aid money against the Houthis and the Southern Movement.  

This is the big paradox, and one the article strangely avoids.  What Salih is facing is a violent crisis of legitimacy.  His right to rule is bought by hardly anyone.  And yet, our goal in Yemen is to maintain at least enough government to fight AQAP and (hopefully) tackle some of the major structural issues.  If our aid money is used by the government to fight their other enemies, that will increasingly delegitimize Salih, and the United States.  Propping up Salih is the least-bad of a number of bad options.  We can't make it worse by doing nothing except giving him new toys.


  1. Greg, you say "The fear, to me- and this isn't so much a fear as it is a guarantee- is that Salih will use our aid money against the Houthis and the Southern Movement." Is this a bad thing? Why interfere with Yemen - Does the US want to stabilize Yemen as a country or stop the threat of AQAP, which happens to be based in Yemen? Would the US still play games if AQAP were still in KSA? Overall stability for Yemen must be achieved by tackling the plight of the SM not AQAP. AQAP is the sexy and economic war but longer term stability must be found by tackling the root cause – the SM. Western power politics and a force for good on the axis of evil (!) must leave a lasting legacy rather than exacerbate the problem then piss off…?

  2. Jim- You make a good point. I think what I meant to say, and this is the fault of sloppy writing- is that he'll use the military aid to try to find a Houthi-style, "Scorched Earth" non-solution to the Southern Movement, using our bombs and guns to slaughter the protesters. Far from helping in the long run, this would further destabilize the country. Using aid money to help create a political solution, even in the form of a cease-fire, would be an excellent thing. We can and should encourage that, and of course demand an equitable distribution of aid money- if it just greases the wheels of patronage, it is as bad as sending no money at all.