Robert Ford and Gerald Feierstein could be worthy of Plutarch’s “Parallel Lives.” Operating from different beginnings towards the same end, America’s ambassadors to Syria and Yemen have worked diligently to manage “peaceful and orderly transitions” from the current regimes. Neither has succeeded. In Syria, U.S. policy requires Ford to meet openly with popular revolutionaries and defy the regime’s orders, even though the Obama administration initially supported “dialogue” and has yet to cut President Bashar al-Assad’s final strings.
In Yemen, America’s “national security interests” necessitate total subservience to the regime, superficial meetings with youth representatives, unfulfilled promises and denial of human rights abuses.
All in a day’s work for Feierstein.
With reports of Ford’s Friday departure hanging over the State Department’s press corp, spokesman Mark Toner was asked point-blank, “Did the Administration give any thought to not sending Ambassador Ford back?” Toner replies that “his presence there in Syria is in our national interest,” a true statement. The reporter had asked because of a House letter opposing his trip on the grounds of legitimizing al-Assad’s regime: “So that means no, there was no consideration given despite the calls from the Hill?”
“I thought I answered it pretty directly,” Toner repeats, “saying we continue to believe his presence in Syria is in our national security interest.”
While U.S. policy and Syria’s opposition are both advanced further with Ford on the ground, at least Congress is applying some pressure on the Obama administration’s neurotic response. In Yemen, supposedly of great national security interest, Feierstein continues to toil in anonymity. Standing side by side with Ali Abdullah Saleh during every failed attempt to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) biased initiative, Feierstein’s activities rarely pop up on U.S. media due to the wider blackout over Yemen’s revolution. The ambassador, sadly, is no more than a government official in the eyes of protesters.
Feierstein expended the last two months lauding Vice President Ali Abd Rabo Mansour Hadi as Saleh’s crackdown continued (and still continues) on protesters and anti-government tribesmen. Regularly meeting with ruling party officials and military commanders, the ambassador has entertained a singular policy almost universally opposed in the streets. Most of these meetings are only covered by state and local media, magnifying the government’s spin. The ambassador has yet to alter his cue card in any perceivable way despite the fact that Saleh is openly resisting his resignation.
Now, as Ford gets back to isolating Syria’s regime, Feierstein has denied supporting Saleh before reaffirming U.S. support for the GCC’s “power transfer.” His explanation? Yemen “isn’t as bad as Syria.”
Responding to a question on why Syria is different than Yemen, Feierstein twists logic through the warped prism of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Eastern hegemony. Syria's regime, “unlike” Yemen’s, practices oppression and commits atrocities against the people. In Syria, unlike Yemen, more than 2,000 people have been killed, over 150 in a day. No, “only” 1,000 Yemenis are estimated to have paid the ultimate price of revolution. Not enough thousands have been wounded. Not enough people are suffering from a humanitarian crisis and a basic lack of necessities.
Syria’s regime is now offering “free” parliamentary elections, likely to be opposed by the White House on the advice of Syria’s opposition. Yemen, on the other hand, must adhere to “dialogue” through the GCC’s initiative, which stipulates a government-supervised election in 60 days. Thus one regime must be overturned and the other must be preserved - how devoid of freedom and compassion.
The scene and numbers out of Syria are certainly horrific, but Yemen’s atrocities are no less dreadful or severe because of external suffering. To diminish the 50 Yemenis who died from a hail of sniper bullets because 100 weren’t killed is shockingly cruel. To distinguish between protesters and anti-government “tribesmen” is prejudice; many Yemenis belong to a tribe. Nor does Feierstein factor in the government’s manufactured humanitarian crisis or Saleh’s unflinching duplicity. Why Syria is different from Yemen is simple: Washington has equipped Saleh’s private security forces and trained them with U.S. Special Forces and CIA operatives.
UN sanctions in Yemen aren’t a matter of getting Russia and China on board, but of spilling U.S. complicity to Saleh’s host of crimes. Of compromising “secret” military bases, a flotilla in the Gulf of Aden, strategic waterways and Saudi Arabia's border. The difference between Ford’s hero status and Feierstein’s villainous role is elementary: the Obama administration has decided to support Syria’s revolutionaries and suppress Yemenis.
However both policies are united in their desire for perpetual control of the Middle East.