Offering peace in one hand and war in the other, the Obama administration has become as untrustworthy as Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Shrouded with the mystique of 9/11, New York City and Washington D.C. turned out in full to “remember” a day that no American has actually forgotten (nor have many non-Americans). High-ranking officials and common citizens joined together in lionizing America’s resilience, in marveling that Americans have overcome the fear of terrorism and “united” with the world. Nothing has changed 10 years later - as if this were a positive development. U.S. officials also rejected claims that al-Qaeda drove a wedge between America and the Muslim world, even though the world as a whole is more divided than the days following 9/11.
“As an international community, we have shown that terrorists are no match for the strength and resilience of our citizens,” President Barack Obama declared from the newly unveiled 9/11 memorial in New York. “I’ve made it clear that the United States is not and never will be at war with Islam. Rather, with allies and partners we are united against al Qaeda, which has attacked dozens of countries and killed tens of thousands of innocent men, women and children—the vast majority of them Muslims.”
24 hours before he would speak behind bulletproof glass - precaution against a suspiciously vague threat - U.S. air support covered the Yemeni military as it assaulted the southern city of Zinjibar. America has never formally declared war on “Islam,” but it is currently at war with the Yemeni people, who are being crushed by internal and external forces. Culminating in today’s announcement that Saleh, Yemen’s president of 33 years, authorized his vice president to negotiate with the opposition, a multi-layered assault has been launched squarely into Yemen’s revolution.
The slogan “9/11 is our 24/7” thrives in southern Yemen, where U.S. military personnel and CIA “trainers” have reinforced Saleh’s regular units against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). U.S. forces find themselves engaged because Saleh’s U.S-trained “counter-terrorism” units are busy suppressing urban demonstrations in the north, killing hundreds of peaceful protesters and anti-government tribesmen in the process. After enabling AQAP’s takeover of Abyan governorate - a relatively simple matter of withdrawing troops and ceding weapons - Saleh’s regular forces spent the last two months “retaking” Abyan’s local capital of Zinjibar.
Local residents and Yemenis across the country accuse Saleh of an insidious double-game, to the point that many believe AQAP is funded by Saleh. The most plausible explanation is that he offers the perfect host for al-Qaeda’s virus. In either case, this is the “ally” that Obama poetically spoke of from Ground Zero.
For months Saleh has manipulated AQAP’s threat in the south to ward off the international community, specifically the U.S. and EU. Having achieved his short-term objective, the latest “victory” in Zinjibar was packaged by Saleh and U.S. officials as a gift on 9/11. Now that cooperation has “improved,” he can be trusted to sign a U.S.-Saudi power transfer sponsored by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Thus the Obama administration first played along with Saleh’s military scheme, then manipulated 9/11 as justification for Yemeni policy, before finally returning to Saleh’s political tactics.
“Out of the darkness of this grief, out of the darkness of this sorrow has come the light of inspiration to serve America, to fight our enemies, to protect the safety and freedom of the American people and to make our country stronger and better for future generations of Americans,” insists Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, an enthusiastic supporter of U.S. military cooperation with Saleh’s regime.
With no comment issued by the White House or State Department (a concrete pattern), U.S. policy in Yemen continues to be dictated by Western and Saudi officials working with Saleh’s representatives. This double-game has jammed Yemen’s revolution from advancing against Saleh’s regime, and could shield him for an indefinite period of months or years. After holding a weekend summit with his party, the General People’s Congress (GPC), Saleh finally approved Vice President Abd al-Rahman Mansur al-Hadi to conduct a “dialogue” with the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).
"Hadi's signature to the GCC initiative should be done after he launched a dialogue with the opposition parties that signed the initiative to set agreed timetable and mechanism to implement the power-transfer deal,” read presidential decree No. 24.
The terms are superficially substantial, designed to make the international community appear involved in a transfer of power. Although Hadi was granted the authority to sign the GCC’s proposal, Saleh retained authority to reject it. Reports are mixed as to whether the GCC remains on a 30-day or 90-day time-table for Saleh’s resignation, and whether “early elections” or a “two-year interim unity government” would follow. Taking into account the situation’s fluidity and honest misreporting, Saleh thrives on misinformation and is most likely sending conflicting messages.
Hadi would also be authorized to draft a new constitution even though Saleh has relied on “constitutional legitimacy” to stall a power transfer. Saleh reportedly complained that the present GCC deal is “unfair,” despite generous terms that would salvage his regime and rescue him from Mubarak or Gaddafi’s fate, and rejected unspecified articles as contradictory to “the spirit of the constitution.” Separately, Hadi would be tasked to enter into “negotiations” with the northern Houthis and Southern Movement during the transitional period. Both of these concessions have been falsely promised before, and distrust is too high for any real progress to occur.
While Hadi has been sold as a southern representative by Saleh’s regime and U.S. officials, he holds no real clout with the opposition or street protesters. Still open to autonomy, the Houthis and SM joined the revolution specifically because Saleh obstructs a “unified Yemen.”
For all of these reasons and many more, every Yemeni that we’ve spoken with believes that Saleh is playing his standard mind games. The majority of pro-democracy protesters continue to reject the GCC’s initiative in any form, viewing it as hostile to their revolution. Miraculously, the normally complicit New York Times led with the headline, “Yemeni Presidential Decree May Change Little,” reporting that the “canny leader... appears to be bidding for time by offering talks on those specifics.” Saleh also “made no mention of delegating control of the armed forces,” leaving his hardliner son free to besiege Yemen’s cities - blocking protesters from reaching Taiz's hospital, for example.
The JMP has similarly rejected Saleh’s “transfer” as another stall tactic, criticizing him for not signing the proposal himself. Mohammed Basendowah, the president of the JMP-sponsored National Council, quickly remarked, “The GCC proposal was on the table for Saleh to sign months ago.” Elsewhere defected General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar told Al-Khaleej, "Without a doubt, Saleh and the remaining elements of the regime want to drag us into a war in a desperate attempt to cling to power.”
However the coalition remains open to dialogue after Saleh resigns immediately, a dangerous stance opposed by Yemen’s popular revolutionaries. Why the JMP would negotiate with the GPC is beyond logic, because they are no closer to obtaining power than street protesters they’re currently obstructing. As usual, GPC chief Sultan Barakani criticized the opposition for “not keeping their word... We call them to dialogue but they insist on having the crisis continue.”
This jumbled politicking has been fully endorsed by Washington, Riyadh and the EU, with the expectation that Yemenis will eventually tire and cave to Saleh’s terms. One Yemeni official defending the move as “clear” explained that, “pressure was also coming from the GCC, the U.S., the EU and the U.N. envoy to come up with a solution to the political impasse in Yemen.” Saleh would add his support for international supervision while the GCC’s initiative implements “a peaceful and democratic power transition,” a phrase identical to the White House’s language.
Nothing has changed after five months of bloodshed and duplicity: the White House continues to welcome Saleh’s “willingness to engage in a peaceful transition of power.” Yemen’s strongman similarly welcomes the international community’s presence - because only Washington and Riyadh can rescue him from the punishment that awaits in Sana’a.