April 16, 2011

U.S. Opens 30-Day Window For Saleh

The Yemen Post has finally dropped the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) pretense, hopefully the start of a trend. Citing “sources familiar with the matter,” the “U.S.-EU vision was submitted by U.S. and EU envoys to Sana’a,” calling for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to transfer power within 30 days. This demand breaks sharply from the popular opposition’s call for an immediate resignation.

Under Washington's plan Saleh has a week to “pick a new vice president,” either Vice President Abd Rabbo Mansoo Hadi, Prime Minister Ali Mujawar or deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-Alimyat. He must then hand in his resignation within 30 days - 37 days at the minimum.

Replace the EU’s cover as the Saudi hand that it is, and one gets a clear sense of how the Obama administration plans to proceed in Yemen: slow and “orderly.” Welcoming the GCC’s mediation has exercised a display of self-congratulation, a predictable shadow game designed to postpone Saleh’s departure. Far from shifting completely against Saleh, this public posturing was a temporary diversion to create space and buy time for him to maneuver. Washington and Riyadh always planned to salvage Saleh as well, contrary to the wishes of many Yemeni protesters, and are instrumental in securing amnesty/exile for his family.

U.S. counter-terror operations currently run through Saleh’s son Ahmed, commander of the Republican Guard, and nephews Ammar and Yahya, chief of national security and commander of Central Security, respectively. All three units are guilty of crimes against the Yemeni people - and misappropriated U.S. aid with Washington’s tacit consent - partly explaining why the Pentagon wants to spare them from trial.

The White House still refuses to acknowledge that Yemenis possess an intense disdain for Saleh’s mind games. His well-chronicled duplicity drives their immediacy, and the lack of a time-table has hung up GCC negotiations since they began two weeks ago. Pro-government forces continue their assault against the pro-democracy movement with impunity. Protesters justifiably believe that Saleh will corrupt the transition, at the least, and ultimately cancel the transition at worse. Proving their fears as far as they’re concerned, Saleh reaffirmed his constitutional legitimacy on Friday by drawing support from the “silent millions.”

By accusing the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) of sabotaging both oil pipelines and the GCC’s dialogue, his every action paints the image of a man believing he’s weathered the storm.

Washington too realizes this possibility and has gone so far as to play into it; one secondary objective is identifying new officers to run counter-terror programs through. Were the Obama administration serious about removing Saleh and cleansing his regime, it would have sweetened the deal on the opposition side rather than double-down on a collapsing government. The White House cannot be trusted to guarantee Saleh’s resignation after past and current policy.

Understand that Saleh has listened to U.S. defense officials stubbornly support him over the opposition. When Gates warned of Yemen that it cannot fall into “Islamic extremists,” Saleh followed the next day by banning the gathering of men and women. He knows the Pentagon wants to keep him despite his shoddy track record against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) - and that it can override the White House.

After taking Saleh’s speech in the chin and rejecting his propaganda, the JMP still plans to meet GCC officials on Sunday. But the delegation’s objective appears to have shifted from tweaking the proposal to "getting answers." Whatever the case, the delegation cannot return to the streets with a 30 day time-table.

Politically opportunistic as the JMP is, they must know this is exactly what Saleh wants.

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