On Monday night, with the White House nearing its heated July deadline, PBS’s Charlie Rose hosted a relatively shallow debate on the war in Afghanistan. For 20 minutes Martha Raddatz of ABC News and Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post glossed over options for July’s withdrawal, belying their insider credentials. A taste of things to come in the U.S. media.
Only when Raddatz added her personal take on President Barack Obama did the interview assume new meaning. Something to the effect that authorizing Osama bin Laden’s execution made Obama into a foreign policy man.
Raddatz isn’t the first pundit to make such a claim; she carries no significance herself. This widely disseminated notion that Obama suddenly grew into an experienced commander, however, must be countered with a dose of reality. Consumed with the months-long effort to pinpoint bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout, the Obama administration responded sluggishly to every uprising during the Arab Spring, and chose the wrong side of multiple revolutions. His leadership void hampers what could be a more successful operation in Libya. His “Moment of Opportunity,” delivered under rising Muslim opposition, became an immediate afterthought as Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, hijacked the U.S. Congress. Syrian troops haven’t stopped firing on peaceful protesters. Bahrain remains in limbo.
And then there’s Yemen, where the White House has undermined the youth’s revolution while simultaneously escalating military operations. Because Obama knows so much about national security now - as if national security is equivalent to foreign policy.
Our next report on Yemen’s revolution (coming later today) factored in U.S. military escalation before The Wall Street Journal revealed the CIA's latest drone activity. Secrecy is impossible regardless of the U.S. media’s actions; most Yemenis are acutely aware of foreign military operations inside their country. Such is the predictable nature of U.S. policy, and many protesters opposed to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime believe America is intentionally destabilizing Yemen to justify military intervention. Many more believe that Saleh manipulates al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to secure political protection and military aid from the West.
The CIA’s new drone program set embattled Saleh at the helm - an overt lapse in judgment - and will “coordinate with Yemen’s government.” As if this assurance is a sign of confidence.
The Obama administration’s response to Yemen lacks any semblance of good judgment. Rather than learn from Egypt and back the popular movement, Washington has negotiated with Riyadh to maintain the status quo at the cost of the youth’s revolution. The Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) proposal is condemned by the popular opposition - now organizing protests against the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) and Obama himself - and poses a danger to the country. 10 days have passed since Saleh’s assassination attempt and the administration acts as though power transferred to Vice President al-Hadi, when real power remains in Saleh’s family. These are the same relatives that the CIA will supposedly "cooperate" with.
Saudi intelligence, another despised foreign influence, will also play a role in the operation. Evidently one unpopular security agency isn’t enough to inflame Yemen’s populace.
Supporting Saleh has and will continue to boost AQAP. U.S. policy has intensified Yemen’s political crisis, necessitating drone strikes which are then spun to the U.S. public as “taking advantage of the security vacuum.” Launching a new military campaign isn’t a sign of knowing what to do, but not knowing what to do. Although counterinsurgency implies a long, expensive ground campaign, it necessitates full-spectrum warfare with an emphasis on non-military operations. Not all COIN requires nation-building, and America doesn’t need to build Yemen so much as support its people over a tyrant.
Yet U.S. policy has sacrificed the political, economic and social spheres, a counterproductive equation that trades COIN for militarily-monolithic counterterrorism. Killing bin Laden didn’t accomplish anything in Yemen and neither will unilateral drone strikes. The only real casualty is U.S. foreign policy.