March 1, 2011

Clinton Tunes Out Yemen's Revolution, Saleh's Threats

Anyone needing a good laugh and quick cry may want to peruse Hillary Clinton’s remarks to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Secretary of State has some interesting thoughts on Afghanistan, where “integrated military and civilian surges have helped set the stage for our diplomatic surge to support Afghan-led reconciliation that can end the conflict.” Sounds perfect. Describing the benefits of non-military aid, Clinton claims that it “focuses on these same goals in Somalia,” although she glosses over the minimal and interrupted flow of Western aid. She even takes credit for Egypt's revolution, explaining of U.S. military assistance, “over the years, these funds have created valuable ties with foreign militaries and trained, in Egypt, a generation of officers who refused to fire on their own people.”

Then Clinton got extra greedy: “even as our civilians help bring today’s wars to a close, we are working to prevent tomorrow’s. This budget devotes over $4 billion to sustaining a strong U.S. presence in volatile places where our security and interests are at stake. In Yemen, it provides security, development, and humanitarian assistance to deny al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula a safe haven and to promote the kind of stability that can lead to a better outcome than what might otherwise occur.”

So concerned is America with Yemen’s democracy that Clinton’s brief remarks broke a three week silence over the country’s aspiring revolution. Now she’s paying a karmic price, choosing the most timely opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of U.S. policy. As Clinton busied herself stumping for Yemen, embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh had already blamed his country’s unrest on America and Israel.

"What happened in the Arab world is plotted by Israel and run by the White House through manipulating international media," Saleh announced at a press conference at Sana’a University, where tens of thousands gather to protest his 32-year rule... "There is an operation room in Tel Aviv with the aim of destabilizing the Arab world. It is all run by the White House."

Turns out the White House did address Yemen’s conflict on Tuesday. State spokesman Philip Crowley Tweeted, “The protests in Yemen are not the product of external conspiracies. President Saleh knows better. His people deserve a better response.”

Needing no help in falsifying her statements, Clinton’s remarks on Yemen would still rot away in isolation. Washington concentrated almost solely on military aid until 2010, a delay that currently cripples U.S. policy. Furthermore, with 2011 military aid set at $250 million, Washington is boosting humanitarian aid as a direct reaction to international and local criticism. And of the $4 billion spread out globally, only several hundred million is allocated to Yemen’s non-military needs, a problem compounded by government corruption and misappropriation.

Yemen’s urban youth and rural tribes now build their numbers to critical mass because U.S. aid failed to reach them, because it’s too late to deliver sincere economic reform and development. Being tied together, Yemenis believe in America’s economic reform as little as they do in Saleh’s.

As economic development proved ineffective in Yemenis’ lives and in countering al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), one cannot legitimately argue that U.S. policy generates security in Yemen. Saleh’s inattentiveness and hostility towards rural tribes, the northern Houthis, and Southern Movement brought the country to its present and potentially violent stalemate. Material support of certain tribes ripened the conditions for a mass tribal backlash rather than resolve their local needs. And in the south, as Saleh threatens the SM for fomenting division, Yemeni security forces continue to crack down on protesters in the southern port of Aden.

In turn, SM official Nasser al-Khabji, told the Reuters news agency, "More separatist supporters are moving into the area, the situation is tense.”

Though this course of action falls into Saleh’s trap of preaching “unity” to crush the SM, it also negates Clinton’s sunny perspective in Yemen. Her remarks represent a dream world to those protesters trying to topple the regime. Behind the revolution lies a unilateral U.S. backdrop. All segments of the opposition hold grievances against Washington, either for supporting Saleh’s crackdown in the name of AQAP or for relegating marginalized Yemenis to a secondary priority.

The fact that Clinton spoke after Yemen’s besieged president crystallizes the impression that she didn’t even watch the news, another disturbingly belated reaction from the White House. Saleh’s accusations take her remarks to an unthinkable level. To tacitly praise him as he’s accusing America highlights Saleh’s rogue nature towards America. Many Yemenis believe he uses U.S. influence to solidify his own rule, extending the fight against AQAP as he pushes back against Washington’s orders, only to later scapegoat the White House anyway.

As Clinton defends U.S. policy in Yemen, Saleh has denounced U.S. policy as the source of instability in "his" country. He’s right in his own way, too. A strong U.S. presence contributes to the volatility of Yemen, rather than alleviating it. AQAP has increased in strength and profile since U.S. policy escalated in December 2009, and will continue to rise without a primary emphasis on non-military operations. Which means changing the way Washington handles Saleh.

The Secretary’s irony sinks to the deepest depths. Beyond competing with “Colonel” Gaddafi to make the craziest statements, Saleh allegedly funds Hezbollah out of their Shia ties. While U.S. policy isolates Iran because of its animosity towards Israel, one of Jerusalem’s leading boosters declares her support for another of Israel’s enemies. Yemenis can actually agree with Saleh - they do believe Washington and Israel are destabilizing their country.

And they deserve a better response from America than this hazardous spill of propaganda.

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