April 4, 2011

White House, NYT Spread Yemen’s Propaganda

Maybe he counts The New York Times as a negotiator between Washington and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Alleging a policy shift against the defiant autocrat, hidden messages are personally coded for Saleh’s eyes: Barack Obama is running out of room to support him. And if he doesn’t change his violent behavior soon, he might end up on the Times’ front-page instead of a sidebar.

Rather than see through the facade, the majority of news organizations and analysts covering Yemen bit on another of the White House’s tactics to prolong Saleh’s time-table - and set up a favorable fall.

Obama and his inner circle are seriously mistaken if they consider the NYT report an equivalent to public diplomacy. This weak message appears most concerned with defending Obama's handling of Saleh, and continues to broadcast ambiguity rather than clarity. The NYT merely opened as the first act of a political play. With Obama once again leaving Yemen’s violence to spokesmen, Press Secretary Jay Carney and State spokesman Mark Toner expressed shock at Saleh’s systematic repression. While they did start with Yemen, a rarity, and claimed to be pushing for a transition since February, they quickly downplayed the NYT account of regime change.
And there’s been quite a bit of talk about the U.S. government having shifted stance on - in its - on Yemen’s President Saleh, and that it’s now quietly decided that he must leave office because he will not - could not be trusted to bring about necessary reforms. Is that in fact the case?

MR. CARNEY: We are obviously concerned about and are monitoring the situation in Yemen. We’ve seen reports of further violence, and that is a concern, and we’ve been very clear about our views on the need that all sides refrain from violence, that there be an open process that addresses the legitimate needs and aspirations of the Yemeni people.

We support a dialogue, a political dialogue, and President Saleh has publicly indicated his willingness to engage in a peaceful transition of power, and we believe the timing and form of that transition should be accomplished through dialogue and negotiation. So we urge that process to continue.
Toner, who remained silent throughout last week, refused to discuss details: “Again, I don’t want to get into the substance of our diplomatic discussions, but we’ve made it clear to President Saleh, both in public as I’m doing now and in private, that violence is not a solution and that an agreement with the opposition needs to be reached as soon as possible.”

So far he hasn’t indicated any sincere willingness to step down peacefully, nor has Washington demonstrated the ability to conduct real diplomacy with Yemen’s opposition. Saleh himself copied and pasted the White House's statements to support his version of dialogue.

The White House and Pentagon may excuse their silence by claiming Saleh would turn even more dangerous in the event of public condemnation. This theory, while logically appealing, accepts Saleh’s violent streak as tolerable. Contrary to those arguing that only Saudi Arabia can influence Yemen’s crisis, pulling U.S. military assistance to Saleh would be a big blow to a depleted arsenal. And he hasn’t applied U.S. assistance enough to be missed against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Until Obama personally calls for Saleh's resignation, the fall of his regime and acknowledges the popular revolution as Yemen's new government, Washington’s policy hasn’t noticeably shifted. The administration may want to see Saleh go, but no one wants to see his regime end.

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