March 17, 2011

How Long Can the White House Hold its Breath in Yemen?

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her plans to visit Egypt and Tunisia last week, she declared America’s intent to be "a partner in the important work that lies ahead as they embark on a transition to a genuine democracy." Step one was grandiosely whitewashing the White House’s belated response to Egypt’s revolution.

“Let me be honest with you,” says Shahira Amin of Nile TV. “Many Egyptians are disappointed. They say the Obama Administration didn’t throw its full weight behind the popular movement right from the start. The U.S. was a bit hesitant before finally extending its support to the opposition activists in Tahrir. And some are calling it “double standards.” They say the U.S. preaches democracy and freedom on the one hand, and supports autocratic regimes when it suits their own interests.”

“Well, first let me say that I don’t think there’s any doubt that the United States, President Obama, all of us stand for democracy and for the values that undergird democracy,” she replied... “So the United States was very clear about its messages, that from the beginning, this needed to be peaceful, nonviolent, respecting the rights of the individual demonstrators and having a reform agenda that would meet those needs.”

Not many Egyptians will forget what really happened though, not when America's insincerity reflects throughout the region.

Soon after being chastised by Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Saudi Arabia deployed troops into neighboring Bahrain in a “stabilization” campaign. Reports quickly surfaced that the Kingdom effectively told the Obama administration to “mind its business,” as Clinton busied herself expressing “alarm” at the government’s wider violence on opposition protesters. Then the government launched a new crackdown and arrested leading oppositional figures. Meanwhile, as Clinton vowed to support Libya’s opposition, serious decay in morale is starting to set in after Muammar Gaddafi’s brutal counterattack.

And most glaringly to The Trench, Clinton made no mention whatsoever to the ongoing government crackdown in Yemen. The “most dangerous threat to the U.S. homeland” has suddenly ceased to exist in Washington - surely just a coincidence! But the only non-existent quality in Yemen is America's message.

Although a double analysis of Yemen’s revolution is nearly complete, ongoing developments require an immediate reaction. U.S. officials last addressed Yemen’s crisis on Monday, practically an eternity in the current environment. The highest level official to go on record in the last week was counter-terrorism chief John Brennan, and his one paragraph touched off a louder U.S. response to negotiate with President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The chief problem - he’s kept beating, shooting, and killing protesters while offering a poisonous olive branch. Fully aware of how Egypt's violence unfolded, the White House continues to call for an "investigation" into Saleh's own security forces, as if they act independently of his orders.

Yemen’s opposition has widely denounced Washington’s coercive “dialogue,” and rejected responsibility for the government’s violence. Did the White House actually expect a different reaction, or is it simply assisting Saleh in his stalling tactics?

For starters, it makes no sense to deliver a political message through a counter-terrorism official. As the White House went silent again, U.S. ambassador Gerald Feierstein hammered this contradictory message home during a skeptical weekend interview with Gulf reporters. Naturally all Yemenis heard is U.S. support for Saleh. After an Embassy statement denied condoning Saleh’s violence, a tacit admission of guilt, it released another statement pointing to condemnation from the White House.

But a brief statement by a former spokesman in the State Department does not count as official U.S. policy. Where else does this happen besides Yemen?

It wasn’t until Monday morning that the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a finally updated its website. Until then Libyan news had dominated (and still is), whereas Libya’s website only addresses Libya’s crisis. Nor have there been any subsequent statements this week. However Yemen’s protests don’t occur only on the weekend, during the White House’s downtime. People have been beaten and killed for the last three days, to the point where Yemen’s government has now graciously promised not to use live bullets.

Then another large-scale crackdown hit Hodeidah. Some random U.S. official may be forced to speak up, yet the White House has defied this logic throughout Yemen's revolution.

The systematic nature of Yemen’s coverup is particular disturbing; silence and duplicity have kept Washington's response "consistent." This policy also appears unsustainable no matter how much Washington needs Saleh to buffer al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), or how many distractions it can hide behind. Feierstein dared the opposition to formulate a plan for Saleh's exit and the opposition is responding to his bluff. Although encasing a multitude of ideologies and objectives, the opposition shares the singular demand for Saleh’s immediate resignation. Nor are the differences afterward that wide, given the circumstances. A divided Egypt found unity through revolution.

Turns out America’s silence has intensified the animosity against Saleh, accelerating his fall and the doomsday scenario Washington fears. As the White House discovered in Egypt and may find out in Libya, failing to support democratic revolutions comes with inescapable consequences.


  1. True colors are being shown.
    They can not back rebels in one country while at the same time backing the Saudi's going into Bahrain.
    IMO they will allow Yemen to go further into the abyss before they act.
    They are making "miscalculated" moves that will cost the West dearly in the long run.

    Perhaps the Saudi's will semi annex Bahrain.
    Thinking that the West will then not enter into the conflict.
    I would not put it past them that the West allows the Saudi's to dig themselves deeper into the sand.
    Then uses this as a justification to enter Saudi Arabia.
    Or they will use Bahrain as a justification to enter Iran.

  2. Saleh and Washington are working off the same plan and they'll play every card before conceding defeat. Inaction in Bahrain surely gives Saleh the impression that he too can act as he pleases. I've read that he still doesn't take the revolution seriously, believing that it will pass. Maybe Washington is thinking the same thing - then they can be wrong together.

  3. IMO This is all another step in the war with out borders.
    The West will try to take advantage of every situation they can.
    How can they back the rebels in Libya? And then say nothing about Saudi Arabia going into Bahrain.

    The no fly zone over Libya has a stipulation of no boots on the ground.
    Lets see how long that lasts.

  4. Personally I don't see the threat of Muslims turning on Western support to Libya, so long as the political and social strategies have been formulated. Gaddafi cannot be allowed to run superior a propaganda campaign. The revolution is a different environment than before, one America must help liberate while listening to the peoples' demands. This could pay big dividends in reversing Muslim opinions of the West.

    I hope to clarify this point in greater detail: the object should be reforming America's military footprint, not necessarily minimizing it. Iraq's blunders were based on a lie and short-sightedness. Libya doesn't have to be this way.

    Now the double standard in Yemen and Bahrain is simply unacceptable and will eventually prove counterproductive. Yemen's expanding footprint especially crushes the arguments against Libyan intervention.