May 23, 2011

U.S. Passes Yemen’s Future Back to Saleh

A political crisis can take on the attributes of a sword dual, especially a stalemate verging on open war. Hesitation often equals defeat, and a moment’s weakness can result in death. After voicing her “outrage” at Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s actions on Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton immediately retreated from what was a soft line to begin with.

Saleh has probably picked up the scent of blood by now, having assaulted the home of his tribal chief Sheikh Sadiq al-Ahmar. One western diplomat in Sana’a told The Financial Times, “Something is changing and moving now. Since the deadlock of mediation, it’s becoming more personal.”

Although dodging Yemen was no longer possible after Sunday’s assault on the UAE embassy, which temporarily trapped U.S. ambassador Gerald Feierstein, Saleh must have enjoyed what he heard from Clinton’s department. U.S. policy, which isn’t ahead of Yemen’s curve as it is, appears to have slide even further backwards in the process. Asked “how are you planning to deal with President Abdallah Saleh?” State spokesman Mark Toner deferred by repeating Clinton’s rhetoric.

“Certainly, the Secretary issued a very strong statement yesterday expressing our deep disappointment by President Saleh’s – or at President Saleh’s continued refusal to sign the GCC, the Gulf – rather, the Gulf Cooperation Council’s initiative. This isn’t the first time this has happened. The GCC’s efforts to bring a resolution to the situation in Yemen have been tireless, and we’ve seen all sides agree on multiple occasions to sign their initiative. And now it appears that President Saleh is the only party that refuses to match his actions to these words.”

Except Toner adds, “we believe that President Saleh still has the ability and the opportunity to sign this initiative and break this deadlock.”

Apparently Saleh’s orchestrated siege at the UAE Embassy still isn’t enough to break Washington’s trust completely. After acknowledging his duplicity so as not to sound completely ignorant of Saleh’s personality, Yemen’s embattled president will receive further opportunities to prove himself. Toner is then asked pointblank, “Are you going to sanction him if he refuses?”

The question is highly relevant considering the range of sanctions levied on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, along with his relatives that hold equivalent positions in Saleh’s personal security forces. Although the White House released no statement on Monday, it did release four briefings on Iranian sanctions. This double-standard is finally beginning to stand out in Libya and Syria’s spotlight.

However the answer as to how Saleh has dodged sanctions with ease is simple: America has equipped and trained Saleh’s counter-terrorism forces, which deployed against the Yemeni people instead of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. His son and nephews have served as the Pentagon’s military liaisons during this time, and Saleh has also lined up Russia and China’s veto in the UN.

Toner ducks the question entirely: “Well, again, I think we’re looking at a number of different options, but we believe that the GCC has really led the effort to bring a resolution to this crisis, certainly with the active participation and support of our Embassy there and our ambassador. But it’s clearly now in President Saleh’s hands. He has – again, he has done this several times now, and we urge him to take action and to resolve the situation.”

Thus when the White House should be wrestling a power transfer away from Saleh’s influence, it continues to allow him to dictate Yemen’s future. Next time, apparently, he will behave. Reaching this conclusion is possible only by blocking out reality. Toner makes no mention of today’s clashes in Sana’a or how, after tribal forces loyal to al-Ahmar counterattacked Saleh’s forces, government officials are already pinning the blame on al-Ahmar.

The overriding fact also remains that Yemen’s revolutionaries reject the GCC’s proposal as illegitimate. Their trust in Saleh evaporated long ago. Yet after the last four months of chaos and Sunday’s mayhem, the Obama administration put the ball right back in Saleh’s hands - the most dangerous place in Yemen.

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