Losing Yemen

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While fighting in Libya has been dominating the news, Yemen, a Middle Eastern country extremely critical to American strategic interests, is emerging as the next domino in the  wave of protests engulfing the region. Unfortunately, the prospect of Yemen’s collapse carries devastating implications for world security, as the country stands a great likelihood of becoming a lawless incubator of terrorism.

The poorest and most unstable of all Middle Eastern countries, Yemen occupies a strategic position in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, straddling one side of the 20-mile wide Mandab Strait, through which all shipping from the Indian Ocean must go to reach the Suez Canal. While Yemen borders a vital shipping lane, equally important for world commerce are the oil fields located in adjacent Saudi Arabia. Most importantly, Yemen is also a well-known haven for al Qaeda.

For these strategically important reasons, the White House has been paying close attention to Yemen’s inner turmoil over the last few weeks. A tribal society like Afghanistan, Yemen has always had a weak central government. Widespread protests calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ouster are making that government even weaker. Six of the country’s 18 provinces, it is reported, are no longer even under the government’s control.

And it is this unravelling of Yemen that has, according to the New York Times, caused the Obama administration to withdraw its previous support for Saleh, and to begin negotiating the president’s departure after 32 years of rule. The final straw that stirred the White House to action was the killing of more than 50 anti-government protesters on March 18 by Saleh’s security forces.

However, the White House is deceiving itself if it believes that Saleh’s departure, like Mubarak’s in Egypt, will improve an increasingly chaotic situation. Problems that existed before the current unrest are becoming worse, and new ones are sure to develop. In Yemen, the West may soon be faced with another Somalia or Afghanistan, countries with weak or no central governments, in whose chaotic environments anti-Western terrorist organizations thrive.

“Groups of various stripes – Al Qaeda, Houthis, tribal elements and secessionists – are exploiting the current political turbulence and emerging fissures within the military and security services for their own gain,” a Yemeni official told the Times.

Before the outbreak of the anti-Saleh unrest, Yemen’s government had been battling internal enemies on three fronts with different degrees of success. Federal security forces had been hunting al Qaeda terrorists with American help. But with the recent breakdown in security and splits in the Yemeni army, the terrorist situation has worsened. Al Qaeda is reported to have captured a town in South Yemen’s Abyan province, where it is strongest and where it receives tribal support. With the government’s collapse, al Qaeda’s cancerous growth and new attacks are assured.

Besides turning Yemen into a terrorist base for Islamic extremists like North Waziristan, a stronger al Qaeda presence in Yemen represents another disturbing danger for American and Western interests. Even before the current unrest, the terrorist organization had called upon its fighters in Yemen to close the strategic Mandab Strait.

Such a development is not beyond the realm of possibility. In 2002, the French tanker Limburg was rammed by a small suicide boat in Yemeni waters that saw one sailor killed and 90,000 barrels of oil pour into the sea in an attack similar to the one on the USS Cole in Aden, a Yemeni port, in 2000. This single suicide attack on the Limburg led to a “short-term collapse” in shipping traffic in the Gulf of Aden. The effect on world shipping of several such attacks in the narrow Mandab Strait can only be imagined.

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  • Ali Othman

    As Yemeni American living in Yemen I am sure that U.S will lose Yemen this because of the many faces U.S have.
    Oppositions is making a lot of lies those so called peaceful demonstrators carry weapons they destroy shops they attack solders.
    As many analysts say democracy alone in YEMEN not enough to make country stable and happy.
    At this current situation in Yemen security and stability is more important for the people and millions went out for this and to support Saleh but no external media shows this they only show oppositions
    The opposition are very much corrupted and bad
    Saleh opponent just want to be on the spot light but in the ground they are no help too for the Yemeni people as a matter of fact they are much more worse .
    Saleh is still loved by many people
    Yemen and U.S is safe and stable because of Saleh this is a fact on the ground
    That does not mean that Yemen does not need change, Yemen needs change but planned and organized
    As American Yemeni citizens I urges the U.S to stand and fully back and support Ali Saleh to prevent a deadly civil war and disturbance to the entire Arabian peninsula.
    It is simple U.S must say clear to everyone in Yemen and specially the oppositions (who is running crazily to govern Yemen “destroy Yemen”) U.S must say we will not allow Yemen to go in chaos.
    Finally and again millions of Yemeni people want peace and stability in the country and this at this time of crisis in Yemen Saleh is the best to handle.
    4 governates already and totally separated and out of reach of the government those governates are in a state of chaos and many may follow.
    Again U.S making a big mistake by not supporting Saleh.

    • Al Hadrami

      Shut your mouth You smelly Zaidi. You Zaidis and Ali Abdullah Saleh wants to keep Yemen backwards and control Yemenis with your tribalism. We need intellectuals and progressive thinking not your retarded, illiterate,barefoot clansmen running the country. Yemen has been getting worse year after year since that drunken dictator took power. He ruined the Unity experiment between North and South when he began killing everyone; not to mention he killed his own wife! He backed Iraq when they invaded Kuwait and ruined the lives of millions of Yemenis who were expelled.

    • Al Hadrami

      You Zaidis and Ali Abdullah Saleh wants to keep Yemen backwards and control Yemenis with your tribalism. We need intellectuals and progressive thinking not your retarded, illiterate,barefoot clansmen running the country. Yemen has been getting worse year after year since that drunken dictator took power. He ruined the Unity experiment between North and South when he began killing everyone; not to mention he killed his own wife! He backed Iraq when they invaded Kuwait and ruined the lives of millions of Yemenis who were expelled.

    • Fred Dawes

      you are not anything like a real American, if you are a muslims if you are a christian fight evil.

  • Chezwick_mac

    Events in the Muslim realm will continue to run their course. Our (America's) capacity to alter that course is constricted by our limitations, financial, geo-political, and otherwise. Our dilemma is particularly acute at this moment in time because of rudderless, vision-less Administration currently occupies the White House.

    But let's make no mistake, Obama may be misreading the tide of history, but he is in no way its instigator. What's happening now throughout the Muslim realm is that the anomalous era of colonialism and post-colonialism is finally coming to a close, and the region is rediscovering its roots. The process has been going on since the 70s, first culturally and religiously, and now – finally – politically.

    As these governments crumble and are replaced by clerical regimes, it is clear that the post-colonial "hang-over" of secularism was just that, an imported construct, and the re-emergence of religion (Islam) into the political life of these countries should be seen as a return to what could be described as the "natural order of things".

    And what should we in the West DO? What CAN we do? The only real plausible response to this challenge is one that could never occur except under a conservative US Administration: Make the appropriate geo-political and ideological adjustments to meet the challenge.

    Geo-politically, align ourselves with non-Muslim entities like India and Israel. Ideologically, make the case for secular freedoms and gender equality. Accentuate and then advertise to the world our differences with Islam. STOP our obsequious validation of Islam as a "religion of peace"…and rise to the challenge by speaking in ethical absolutes, the way Reagan did when he confronted the "evil empire". Trumpet the rich intellectual diversity and the moral imperative of human freedom…and then contrast it with the stultifying conformity of being a "slave to Allah" (i.e., a good Muslim).

    This IS a war of civilizations, but there has been sufficient cultural and human cross-fertilization between them that it is less about geography than it is about ideas.

  • Mahmoud Alsultan

    President Ali abdulleh Saleh is ruling Yemen for more than 32 year . Although Yemen has many resources like Oil but he could not make use of these resources to build strong Yemen He only cares for his and his family interests. He is good at granting them the top positions in ministries although they don’t have qualifications. How could Yemen be managed with those who don’t have even experience . Yemen cannot be stand on its own legs and go forward if he continues ruling Yemen that way. If there is any investors come to Yemen, anyone of the top government take their commission exploit the privileges they have been given from the people . They are only good at filling their own pocket with money . All these lead to bad education, health problems , and increase the unemployment and poverty to 43% .

  • Mahmoud Alsultan

    Yemen does deserve more than that. We need real democracy . we need someone rule us and pay his attention to build Yemen from all fields, education, health, justice, …etc. Many countries do not have resources but they were able to take their counties form third world to first world because they are simply have good management our government which have qualifications and experience . Unlike Yemen, once the sons of the top government graduate from high school, they granted scholarship to any European , American , or Canadian countries although they are not the top marks students and they end up in managing top positions in government . But any average students graduate and they got the top marks students , they didn’t got these kinds of scholarships. They hardly get scholarship to any Arabian countries. Same with those who have doctorate or Mister degree with good experience .All on all , they do not have equity . They don’t put the right man at the right place.

  • Mahmoud Alsultan

    Now during his rule in Yemen, Yemen has been divided into 3 parts: the separatist in the south, Alhouthy in the north,and alQaida . all these groups has joined the youth revolution demanding Saleh’s ouster. And the question to be asked “would Yemen is able to stand up with Civil Government and deal with all these groups to calm down and join together to build the NEW YEMEN?

  • Raed Saif

    To Ali Othman,

    You are a big liar, protesters do not carry any weapons with them and we have not heard about any sabotage though we march most of the streets. On the contrary, shops are open and many help protesters by giving them cold water free.

    If they carry weapons as you allege, the situation will be so different and tell me, have you heard about any of the pro-saleh killed by protester? 90% of saleh supporters are thugs and earn money in exchange of attacking the peaceful demonstrations.

  • Jon

    "But let's make no mistake, Obama may be misreading the tide of history, but he is in no way its instigator."

    Obama may not be leading the explosion of events in the Middle East but the posture of weakness and confusion has done much to inspire it. Obama's actions in Libya, while feebly attempting to reverse the notion, has also failed miserable.

    • Wesley69

      Jon, is it a posture of weakness and confusion, or is it done intentionally??

    • Fred Dawes

      Obama is our Enemy he is total evil in all ares, obama is total evil and is owned by our enemies he is owned by big world banks he is a total pig. our Government is the Enemy of the People, All of the middle east are against the people who made the ideals of human and civil rights and are the enemy of God. it is up to each AMERICAN to fight AND remove evil In the name of God.

  • Wesley69

    Once again, this administration is practicing appeasement. Sacrifice our allies, though they be despots, for the HOPE, that we may have some influence in that country after a new government comes to power.

    Hey, Obama. Ask Jimmy Carter how that worked in Iran. How has APPEASEMENT worked the last two years??? Do we have the respect of the world yet?? Have you not learned, you can never appease those who are determined to kill you!

    As Stephen Brown points out, both Yemen and Egypt are strategic to the flow of oil to the West due to the Bab-el-Mandeb and the Suez Canal. Add in the Straits of Hormuz, which could easily be closed by Iran and it seems the Radical Islamists would have us. Is anyone in the administration aware of this? Does anyone in the administration believe it will be business as usual if Radical Islamists take control of all these choke points the Mideast and its oil??

    Libya does not have the strategic importance that Yemen and the Bab-el-Mandeb do. Do we intervene? No, but we should support President Saleh. What aid he needs, the US should supply. If he falls, Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates are surrounded by hostile regimes.

    Will anything be done to prevent the lose of Yemen?? Probably not, but it will be out our peril. And people condemned Carter for pulling the rug out from under the Shah.

  • Fred Dawes

    Ok, the muslims have the government and on the first day 1000 people all blacks all christian got beheaded, what don't you get about muslims and evil?