April 23, 2011

Washington’s Nuclear Option in Yemen

As the U.S. and international media busy themselves prematurely declaring the fall of Ali Abdullah Saleh, two gaps stand out amongst a generally shallow analysis. Though most reports make some mention of his speech to future military officers, a defiant address with no sign of weakness, the depth of his speech has failed to properly register.

“Confront challenge with challenge!” Saleh urged his remaining followers. “Yemen is precious and so is the blood that is being shed, but we will sacrifice our blood for the sake of Yemen, and for the sake of its unity. We will sacrifice for the sake of Yemen and will never accept any custody on our country. The financial aid granted to the elements of sabotage and rebellion in the Joint Meeting Parties is malicious and vile. They are offering money to the Yemeni people, but sooner or later all conspiracies will be destroyed and will be defeated by the will and steadfastness of our people and our the military institution.”

After playing an integral role in creating false perceptions that the White House has “shifted” against Saleh, The New York Times inadvertently stumbled upon a second piece of truth. In its last paragraph, the NYT writes that Saleh’s “skill at duping and dividing his enemies may account for the opposition’s deep concern,” as if something else fostered that distrust. The NYT then mentions, “even as he agreed to the proposal for his exit, he delivered a speech at a military academy in which he accused the Yemeni opposition of ‘dragging the country into civil war.’”

His speech, according to the NYT’s astute observation, “added to the impression among his critics that Mr. Saleh never expected or intended for the transition offer to be accepted.” Naturally this news was placed at the report’s end rather than its beginning.

Trench news literally lands on the bottom, so we try to push back to the surface.

The second information gap is opened by less certain forces, but it’s worth recording in the event that the following occurs. Several Yemeni officials have told Arab and Chinese news sources that Washington and Riyadh hold one last card to stall Saleh’s exit. If the JMP refuses the GCC's (and Washington's) present terms and Saleh rejects any amendments, the U.S. will support a popular referendum on whether he should resign immediately.

This plan sounds irrational as the current agreement hangs on Saleh's immediate resignation, with the popular opposition heaping more and more pressure on the political opposition. However Washington’s final play doesn't lead to Saleh's certain defeat.

A snap election is designed for controlled chaos, to buy time and exploit “Yemen’s majority,” as Saleh refers to his supporters. How can an election be held immediately and under Saleh’s control? How can the polls be safeguarded from government or allied forces? Will Saleh allow international monitors after blaming Washington and Tel Aviv for orchestrating “conspiracies” from their “control rooms?” If the White House’s last card truly calls for a popular referendum, it has desperately chosen a dangerous move that could play into Al-Qaeda’s hands on top of Saleh’s.

A controlled implosion may turn into a nuclear disaster.

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