December 26, 2011
U.S. Maintains Universal Blackout In Yemen
Western and Gulf organizers leveraged a perfect day for Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign Yemen’s power-sharing agreement. Although foreign powers aimed for maximum international exposure to convince casual observers of their proaction, Yemen’s revolutionaries continue to persevere in Western obscurity. International powers from Washington to Beijing are in too deep with Saleh’s regime to let go completely, generating a media blackout worthy of its own study.
Yemen’s lack of international transparency greases the flip from coincidence to conspiracy.
November 23rd in Riyadh offered an ideal setting for Saleh’s signing ceremony, away from Yemen’s presidential palace and mass of pro-democracy protesters. Despite an international audience that included UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the appropriately-sized press gaggle, Yemen’s “transition” was drifting even further from American minds than usual. Thanksgiving brings shopping, football and more economic related matters to the table, along with a White House statement welcoming Saleh’s signature. A minority of Americans took notice of their government’s support for another dictator.
Blacking out stories through Fridays, weekends and holidays amounts to routine information control. At the same time, November 23rd’s built-in media blanket was nothing more than a favorable counter-revolutionary draw; by stamping the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative on October 20th, the UN Security Council created a rhythmic holiday cycle through monthly reviews. The notion of a holiday blackout resurfaced after Saleh declared his intent to visit America, except the White House released numerous statements over Christmas weekend.
Every day witnesses a blackout in Yemen.
The time between Friday and Monday revealed only what could be gleaned between Washington’s political lines and by translating the unspoken. First the Obama’s administration allowed Saleh’s theoretical December 23rd deadline to pass without clarification, leaving executive power firmly in his hands (instead of Vice President Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi). For now Saleh’s expressed desire to visit America stands as his pledge to transfer power. This development was only briefly covered by U.S. media, but multiple reports confirmed the Obama administration’s reaction: “A U.S. State Department spokesman had no immediate comment on Saleh’s plans. White House spokesman Josh Earnest declined to comment.”
Monday morning unfolded with minimal divergences. CBS reported, “Until now, the White House had not commented on Saleh's assertion Saturday that he would be leaving Yemen and traveling to the U.S.” A senior administration official has since explained that the White House is “considering” Saleh’s request, which will only be approved “for legitimate medical treatment." Although Saleh is notoriously deceitful, Washington’s reaction from Saturday through Monday was geared towards spinning his arrival.
The White House and State Department skipped today’s press briefing.
Armed with diversionary material, White House Deputy spokesman Josh Earnest was able to brief reporters on John Brennan’s conference call with Hadi. Seeking to calm any lingering public anxiety over Yemen, the White House’s counter-terrorism chief insisted that Obama’s administration is a "strong and fervent supporter of the Yemeni people.” He also commented on the recent violence in Sana’a, promising an investigation from Hadi and urging “Yemeni security forces to show maximum restraint when dealing with demonstrations.”
Despite the tough rhetoric against Saleh’s security forces, pushing Brennan back into public diplomacy is no less insensitive than Gerald Feierstein’s recent statements. America’s ambassador to Yemen has come under intense fire for placing the responsibility of violence on Yemen’s protesters, generating local protests and an enormous social mushroom cloud, yet the White House is allowing Feierstein’s story to run out of control. Brennan’s statement offers the only indirect evidence of awareness.
In a letter titled, “The US Ambassador to the Republic of Yemen is an Advocate for a Tyrannical Mob and Must be Removed Immediately,” Yemen’s Coordinating Council of the Youth Revolution of Change (CCYRC) demands, “that the US embassy and State Department issue an official apology and that Mr. Feierstein be immediately dismissed as Ambassador of the United States to Yemen and sent home without any further delay.”
The chances of removing Feierstein appear to sit at 50-50; the ambassador is a good tool but broken tools need replacing. However Feierstein has dug too deep of a hole to climb out, opening the very real possibility that he must be rescued. CCYRC explains how “Mr. Feierstein stated, among other things, without any shred of evidence that the peaceful convoy [Life March] was armed and that the convoy was a violation of the GCC Initiative.” This complaint traces to Feierstein’s warning against marching near Saleh’s presidential palace, where government forces assaulted and killed protesters over the weekend.
The ambassador then warned against collapsing the GCC’s initiative, prompting ridicule from Yemen’s pro-democracy movement: “Mr. Feierstein surely knows that the majority of Yemenis, led by the peaceful youth protesters, oppose and are not in any way represented thereto by any signatory.”
“Almost from the start of his tenure in Yemen, Ambassador Feierstein has never been very cordial with his personal (we certainly would hope that they are not viewed as official US views, accepted by your Administration) disappointing declarations on Yemen and the Yemeni people, and Feierstein's mostly defensive stances with the tyrannical Saleh regime.”
CCYRC is speaking disingenuously to blunt the impact of its message. Protesters know that Feierstein’s microphone is controlled by Washington, and they watch him meet with Saleh’s officials on a regular basis. They witnessed their Life March toil under a media blackout. They accept the temporary reality that foreign powers (led by America and Saudi Arabia) forced the GCC initiative on them, but they cannot afford to permanently sever their U.S. outreach either.
Far from supporting Yemen’s people, the Obama administration remains primarily concerned with perpetuating Saleh’s regime through the GCC initiative. U.S. policy represents the opposite of a proactive strategy - maintain the status quo at all costs. As if to comfort Yemen’s revolutionaries, White House sources told U.S. media that Obama is being kept up to date on Yemen’s developments.
Translation: Obama's National Security Council is monitoring Yemen's media blackout from Hawaii and preparing new spin for Saleh's own vacation.
This outcome is now becoming reality. In a loaded piece of propaganda from the New York Times, U.S. have green-lit Saleh's admittance to New York-Presbyterian Hospital "as soon as the end of this week." If he chooses to accept a temporary visa, Saleh will arrive in Washington under the excuse that U.S. policy is "moving forward" without him. The Obama administration, apparently, doesn't "want to play into Mr. Saleh’s penchant for keeping people off balance," and won't play into his political games.
“The main goal is to remove him physically from Yemen so there’s no way he can meddle in the political process there,” says one official. “Getting him medical treatment seemed a logical way to do this.”
The administration's rhetoric, of course, admits that Saleh is still leading Yemen's government; the "condition" of leaving behind his entourage will ensure that. Nor will many protesters and international activists believe any part of the White House's explanation to "avoid his games," since admitting Saleh will play into his games. His visit cannot be rendered apolitical through politicking, as the White House has attempted to do, but it should provide a revolutionary opportunity.
If Saleh and Obama want to turn themselves into a lightening rod, let them.
[Update: Demonstrating the White House's overall disconnect with Yemen, press secretary Josh Earnest has already denied the NYT's report after consulting with its editors.]