President Obama has finally made a direct statement on Yemen, the by-now infamous, “We won’t put US boots on the ground.” General David Petraeus and Admiral Michael Mullen quickly echoed, “no US boots on the ground.”
Meet the new phrase of 2010, defined as everything except US combat troops.
Petraeus deployed a good line, that America would rather have a host country solve its own problems. Obviously. Mullen also spent his efforts on downplaying intervention, but America isn’t one to relax if said host country isn’t meeting expectations. Their choreographed denial seems all the more proof of the opposite.
America wants into Yemen and nothing Obama can say can disguise the reality unfolding.
Large cracks are visible in the facade despite US officials raving about Yemen’s cooperation and resolve. President Saleh, whose militant rehabilitation program is often criticized, is open to talking with al-Qaeda, and he also opposes US “boots,” fearing their impression. Others in the government aren’t so pro-American, nor are the streets.
Saleh puts up with so much now for the aid and military hardware, and the US pokes its nose in as far as Yemen will allow. It’s a use-use relationship.
And now, as Obama touts non-action on the ground, another non-action comes to the fore. While the spotlight falls Umaru Abdul Mutallab, father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the father of Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical cleric, decided it's also his time to speak out.
Nasser al-Awlaki is an accomplished academic who's held several positions within the Yemeni government, including minister of agriculture. As a father he isn’t an impartial account of al-Awlaki, but Nasser isn’t here just to save his son. He’s here to warn us too.
Nasser explains that he doesn’t agree with every line of his sons sermons, though clearly he feels sympathy for the overall message. Referring to the Fort Hood attacks, “I don't think that's right what he said about Maj. Hasan's actions, but my son has been very upset by the violence against Muslims.”
No, Nasser’s main concern is America probing for another pretext to start a war.
“If they give me time I can have some contact with my son, but the problem is they are not giving me time," he said. “I will do my best to convince my son to do this [surrender], to come back, but they are not giving me time, they want to kill my son. How can the American government kill one of their own citizens? This is a legal issue that needs to be answered.”
So why isn’t it being answered? Because America is busy trying to kill al-Awlaki, or "bring him to justice" for Fort Hood, and sneak into Yemen. Better to ignore Nasser.
"He's dead wrong,” Nasser said of provincial governor Al Hasan al-Ahmad, who accused al-Awlaki of hiding with al-Qaeda. “What do you expect my son to do? There are missiles raining down on the village. He has to hide. But he is not hiding with al Qaeda; our tribe is protecting him right now... He has been wrongly accused, it's unbelievable.”
Which means killing him would provoke a tribe, not al-Qaeda. Though conceding that al-Qaeda’s operations in Yemen have become a global concern, his true feelings seem clear: "I don't want those American cowboys to destroy Yemen."
If only someone in Washington would listen.