August 7, 2012

Preventing An Imperial Exchange Within Yemen's Security Forces

Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi sits with U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein, considered by some Yemenis to be a modern day viceroy.

Yesterday, after 19 months of peaceful revolution in Yemen, President Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi gave a partial bow to the will of his people. Facing protests to dump the remnants of Ali Abdullah Saleh's murderous regime, namely his son and nephew, one of Hadi's latest presidential decrees has finally relieved Ahmed from the command of his father's Republican Guard. The most loyal units will reform under Hadi's authority, acting as the Presidential Protective Forces, while the rest will be reassigned to other regional commands.

Ahmed's temporary liquidation doesn't come without benefits. One of the darkest symbols of Saleh's counterrevolution and his decades of misrule, his delusional son would spout hostile rhetoric towards the revolutionaries as he gunned them down in the streets. Ahmed's violent streak, along with his pharaoh-like presidential ambitions, meant that he had to be removed at all costs. However Hadi's decision remains ambiguously encouraging. After marshaling his influence in anticipation of a showdown with Saleh's son and primary instrument of power (Ahmed had already sparred with Hadi during Saleh's medical leave to Saudi Arabia), the President had little choice except to respond to revolutionary protests in Taiz and other cities. 

A series of meetings with the preparatory representatives of Yemen's newly-formed National Dialogue Committee, including a handful of youth and civil groups, further enticed Hadi to capitalize while the popular iron is hot.

This opportunistic politicking is understandable, but also represents an interconnected dilemma when mixed the other forces acting on Hadi. At one level, extinction means survival for the Salehs; their continual presence in the country hangs a shadow over the degree that his network can actually be pruned. Ahmed could easily resist through subversion tactics and rival General Ali Mohsen's presence won't be accepted lightly. While he may be unable to regain his former position, Ahmed is also speculated as a presidential candidate in 2014's election - a doomsday scenario for Yemen's revolutionaries. In the meantime, he's likely to operate a proxy force until his bank accounts dry up or he's expelled from the country.

Whether Saleh's blood remains in Sana'a when the National Dialogue opens in November will speak louder of Hadi's new government.

At a higher strategic level, Ahmed's destabilizing presence could be filled by another source of chronic instability in Yemen: the U.S. government. For months the Obama administration has tried to uproot Ahmed from his position, viewing his past assistance as a current liability to counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Ahmed's unit benefitted greatly from the U.S. military aid that was misappropriated away from AQAP prior to the revolution, and his Republican Guard would cede southern Yemen in early 2011 to inflate AQAP's threat and theoretically prove Saleh's worth. His Republican Guard then turned its guns and air power on Yemen's revolutionaries and anti-government tribesmen, spearheading his father's bloody crackdown as U.S. officials maintained their praise of U.S.-Yemeni relations.

Unfortunately for Ahmed and Yemenis alike, Washington's tireless search for replacement liaisons has countered the Salehs' use of instability. The Obama administration's strategy has largely succeeded in Yemen after failing in Egypt: bury the Salehs' crimes and any U.S. complicity with UN-approved immunity, then swap them for more obedient and docile replacements. The end result is imperialistic manipulation, not a "democratic transition."

As for Ahmed's particular case, his replacement will surely be approved by and work with Washington as Yemeni forces maintain their offensive against AQAP. Countless rumors from multiple sources claim that Hadi and the Obama administration are organizing a new joint-counterterrorism force to relieve the corrupted Republican Guards. This force, were it to materialize, could be stocked with officers who could receive advanced training in the U.S., seeding future manipulation in the process. Existing units are already headed by friendly officers and knee deep in U.S. combat assistance.

Ahmed's termination is but one piece of the systematic hegemony crafted by Washington, Riyadh and their allies. The appearance of independence conceals the development of real independence, with representatives of the UN Security Council regularly monitoring Yemen's Committee on Military Affairs and Achieving Security and Stability. The sooner Yemen's military is "restructured," the quicker U.S. military aid can increase its flow into the country. More ground activity also supports a permanent use of drone strikes, which now form part of a wider strategy to combat AQAP. U.S. and Saudi influence in a key strategic area is thus maintained whether or not AQAP is defeated in the future.

Although the short-term factors of this strategy improve upon Washington's past relationship with Saleh's tyrannical regime, they fail to end the dangerously authoritarian policy of violating Yemen's sovereignty. Its revolutionaries must calculate the heights of mountains behind mountains and plan accordingly.

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