October 28, 2011

U.S. policy in Yemen a Bad Joke

One week has elapsed since the UN Security Council decided to further antagonize Yemen’s revolutionaries. U.S. and Western officials are exerting limited pressure on Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative, as stipulated by UN resolution 2014, and refuse to clarify the GCC’s immunity clause. Instead Saleh summoned U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein to relay his latest “promise,” and the State Department reciprocated with cordial encouragement.

Meanwhile Saleh’s security forces and loyalists continue their green-light assault against pro-democracy protesters.

Those few Western officials willing (or forced) to discuss the GCC’s initiative cling to the false notion that it supports Yemen’s revolutionaries. Two State Department officials, Mark Toner and Victoria Nuland, issued such statements on Friday and again on Tuesday in response to Feierstein’s meeting. Western diplomats also attempted to flip their support of the GCC into supporting the revolutionaries, when Yemen’s pro-democracy movement rejects the initiative as hostile. One source deceptively told local journalist Tom Finn that “we maintain our line" on Saleh despite his assistance with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Another diplomat argued, "It's hard to accept, but we're not going to get closure with a political deal." And another added, "Neither side can win and we have told them this, but we can't force them to do anything, we just have to keep talking and convince them the only way forward is a deal." Clearly the West has no intention of sanctioning or diplomatically isolating Saleh’s regime, only simulating a blockade that favors his interests and foreign hegemony. Western and Gulf officials refuse to treat Yemen’s revolution as such, consistently watering down the conflict into a “political crisis.”

Speaking on Thursday, Jennifer Rasamimanana defended U.S. policy and the GCC initiative with a particularly egregious claim: "We believe that this agreement or initiative has been checked carefully and approved by all parties in Yemen, and so we should be able to move forward. And should be able to sign it.” The State Department's spokesman for the Mideast Affairs also told the Khaleej Times, “The real problem is the President Saleh and the continued refusal to sign the agreement.”

Yemen’s real problem (in terms of the international community) is the GCC’s initiative, not Saleh’s refusal to sign it. Feierstein similarly defended his latest meeting during an interview with the local “Awakening:” "There is no doubt that Ali Abdullah Saleh in the end is alone responsible for resolving the crisis.” This back-room strategy, employed since the GCC was introduced in April, places Yemen’s revolution in Saleh’s murderous hands, where he can stall indefinitely. Feierstein also praised the UN’s illegitimate resolution and its immunity clause, declared a violation of international law by the UN Human Rights Office.

Of wider significance, Washington and other guilty parties such as London and Moscow granted themselves immunity through the UN and GCC. UN resolution 2014, a flagrant abuse of international power, is being hailed by the West as positive action.

That leaves Yemen’s Tawakel Karman to shout even louder. After unsuccessfully protesting the UN’s resolution throughout last week, the Nobel laureate shifted her venue to Washington in hopes of breaching the White House. Wielding her newfound access, Karman met with House Speaker John Boehner and Tamara Wittes, deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, among a host of other officials. Karman also wrangled a sit-down with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday. Yemen’s leading activist considered Clinton to be something of a hero before she abandoned Yemen’s revolutionaries.

Whether Karman can move Clinton, who stands firmly behind the GCC initiative, remains doubtful. She has, however, highlighted the Obama administration's disconnect with Yemen's overall policy. While the administration praised her award and claimed to support Yemen’s revolutionaries, Karman questioned (and eventually condemned) U.S. policy since she began protesting in mid-January. She perceived through the White House’s soft pressure and never trusted the GCC to oversee genuine regime change. As the Obama administration and anonymous Western officials continue to advocate the GCC initiative, Karman is single-handedly spearheading the revolution's counter-offensive.

Yemen’s people don’t support the GCC initiative because it doesn’t support their cause.

“In Yemen it has been nine months that people have been camped in the squares,” she said. “Until now we didn’t see that Obama came to value the sacrifice of the Yemeni people. Instead the American administration is giving guarantees to Saleh.”

Karman has juggled a diplomatic tone with blunt omens to extend the reach of her visit. “There is no accountability for Saleh in the U.N.-backed plan, which was developed by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC),” she cautions. As for Western attempts to deflate Yemen’s revolution, Karman specifically warns that “the GCC treats the revolt as a crisis of the regime, not as a revolution.” The Nobel laureate seeks a major divergence from the GCC’s immunity clause: “supporting the strongman’s referral to the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges and freezing his personal assets and those of his family.”

UN resolution 2014 called for neither action. The local Marib press observed that the UN Security Council chose “about the opposite of what options should be adopted.”

Washington has also botched Abdulrahman al-Awlaki’s killing by denying confirmation of his death, an incident that has proven more unpopular than his father’s termination. This issue is mushrooming without any damage control from the administration. Not that it has many options, but the White House is standing on the flimsiest of platforms: hail Anwar al-Awlaki’s death as a major foreign policy achievement, deny his son’s death, continue framing Yemen around counter-terrorism, and falsely support the GCC initiative in the name of Yemen’s revolutionaries.

For these reasons, Karman warns, Yemenis believe that Washington stands against their revolution.

As for Saleh’s plot in the south, Yemeni forces and AQAP militants remain locked in combat for territory and urban centers. Saleh and Feierstein declared joint victory in Zinjibar on 9/11’s 10th anniversary, but the local capital of Abyan governorate and its surrounding area have yet to be cleared. Many Yemenis accuse Saleh of intentionally destabilizing the region by withdrawing his U.S.-trained counter-terrorism units, an allegation confirmed by a steadfast general who faced down AQAP’s cadres. U.S. officials deny that Saleh bought himself any time, yet he remains comfortably seated in Sana’a.

Ahmad Mohammed, a 21-year old who fled Zinjibar after his home was destroyed, rhetorically asked, "A five-month war by the Yemeni army, backed by America, against what, some 500 militants? Does that sound right?"

"What's happening is a joke.”

The sum of U.S. foreign policy in Yemen.

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