Asymmetric warfare just crystallized into a raw street performance fitting of New York City. Put up by a global power, Ali Abdullah Saleh had visitors Thursday as the Yemeni-American Coalition for Change (YACC) descended upon Central Park’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Yemen’s besieged “President,” as the Obama administration helped him, is lavishly recuperating from an assassination attempt as he gears up for Yemen’s upcoming “election.”
Already vexed by America’s deaf response to their revolution, Yemeni-Americans have taken Saleh’s presence as an unforgivable sucker-punch.
"We are so disappointed that Saleh is staying in one of New York city's hotels," said Nobel laureate Tawwakel Karman, who led Thursday’s press conference in spirit (through a cell phone) by delivering a defiant message to the White House. "Saleh should be held accountable and referred to the International Criminal Court."
With the U.S. media generally tuned out of Saleh’s visit, YACC is pursuing a combination of political activism and citizen’s journalist to alter Washington’s hardened status quo. No amount of force has been able to generate sufficient leverage in the short term - U.S. policy is currently steamrolling over Yemen’s revolution with relative ease - but the prolonged nature of revolution favors ceaseless asymmetric operations. YACC embodies the force ratio, development and technological drive of netwar, uniting civilian activists and community leaders to confront the actions of multiple governments. These nodes also form around Karman’s hub.
The youngest Nobel laureate has been graciously welcomed - and shamelessly ignored - by many Western leaders since winning her award in October, starting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
YACC directly targets the argument that appeasing Saleh will help stabilize Yemen, including U.S. relations with Yemen’s government and people. The administration and those who lobby its policy have rallied around this false premise, defending his stay as integral to Yemen’s transition of power. The White House indirectly countered through the U.S. media with a sinister line of propaganda, something to the effect that it “doesn't want to be seen as harboring a leader considered by his people to have blood on his hands.” 66% of Americans allegedly support drones strikes in Yemen, a position that inhibits political change, but many Yemenis and Americans alike have refused to bite.
“To provide Saleh with immunity or safe haven after he oversaw countless crimes against Yemenis, and while security forces headed by his sons, nephews and other family members continue to retaliate against the victims’ families and peaceful protesters, is an affront to accountability efforts in Yemen and will be seen by the people of Yemen as making the U.S. a partner in his crimes. Whatever the United States’ intentions may be, the symbolism in Yemen and the Arab world will be crystal clear: the U.S. is siding with repressive rulers rather than with the Arab people in the ongoing struggle for democracy and justice in the Arab world.”
Part of Washington’s meltdown in Yemen is pure image. Having invested 2010 in publicly highlighting its relationship with Saleh, the Obama administration cannot rhetorically escape political reality. Bringing him into America, even for 24 hours, generates an unavoidable “with us or against us” impression that Yemen’s revolution has lost. Although image can become king in asymmetric warfare, the larger half of Washington’s dilemma is policy-centric, as YACC makes clear.
“We also call on the Obama administration and the international community, especially Arab Gulf countries, to respect the Yemeni people’s legitimate calls for justice and democracy and support their right to choose and determine their next leaders, instead of imposing the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) initiative, which gives Saleh immunity for criminal acts, blocks accountability and transparency, and undermines the rightful demands of the Yemeni people.”
Manufactured by Washington and Riyadh, the GCC’s power-sharing agreement has created a false sense of progress and normality that all involved foreign powers are eager to continue. The deal itself took eight months and upwards of 1,000 lives to finalize, with Saleh signing under UN witness in Riyadh to avoid mayhem in Sana’a; the above privileges were internationally legitimized without input from Yemen’s pro-democracy movement. The GCC’s deal is widely opposed in Yemen’s streets, including its provision to transfer Saleh’s executive power to his vice president of 18 years.
This situation presents the exact "false choice" between security and democracy that the Obama administration claims to avoid. Before he left for America (via Oman), Saleh would send himself off by declaring, “We will inaugurate Abdo Rabbo Hadi as head of state after February 21st in the Presidential Palace.” He also told the youth to “return home,” and Saleh will implode the administration's argument if/when he returns to Sana'a.
YACC has deemed this undemocratic process as a “selection” of elite world powers: “As stipulated by the GCC initiative, on February 21st, 2012 elections will be held in Yemen. “Only one man will stand for election, the hand-picked successor of President Saleh, Abdo Rabo Mansour Hadi, a military man who has served as Saleh’s Vice President since 1994. Again, this is a provision accepted by the JMP to end the killing, but it is an embarrassment to the idea of a democratic Yemen. The is a selection, not an election, and will allowing Saleh’s regime to continue its dominance and repression.”
YACC instead advocates a policy of cooperation with Yemen’s people, not Saleh’s regime. Protesters, activists and observers have unsuccessfully attempted to convince the Obama administration of making this change, but giving up isn’t an option during revolution. YACC advises, “The U.S. should see the peaceful uprising in Yemen as a golden opportunity to promote a strong relationship with the Yemeni people and to forge a new relationship with the next generation - the youth of Yemen who make up three quarters of the population.”
Neither the White House nor State Department responded to today’s events or Yemen’s revolution in general, a normal day for U.S. policy. For now America continues to make enemies in the home of al-Qaeda’s fastest-growing branch, a simultaneous failure of diplomacy and counter-terrorism.