October 15, 2012

Truthful Elements Behind Rumors of Saleh's U.S. Trip

On Sunday the Yemen Post reported that former president Ali Abdullah Saleh is scheduled for new medical procedures in the United States.

Rumors of medical leave and exile crop up from various sources on a regular basis in Yemen, often to placate Western and Arab governments who demand that he stop "meddling" in Yemen's political transition. This one is no different, coming straight from Saleh's camp weeks before President Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi opens his internationally-sponsored "National Dialogue" in early November. Sultan al-Barakani, the Secretary-General of Saleh's General People's Congress (GPC), claims that the displaced tyrant will undergo two surgeries in the unspecified future. His absence would clear a path for Hadi, Saleh's former vice president of 19 years, to assert his independence amid the political battles that are due to be fought by Yemen's numerous parties and revolutionary groups.

This "trip" may be nothing more than disinformation against Saleh's internal opponents and Hadi's foreign guarantors, Washington and Riyadh. The loyal and deceptive al-Barakani is willing to say anything for his boss - as a result, disinformation is also falsely attributed to him. Following the death-by-drone of Fahd Mohammed Ahmed al-Quso, a bit player in the USS Cole bombing, al-Barakani told The Washington Post, "The drone strikes have not helped either the United States or Yemen. Yemen is paying a heavy price, losing its sons. But the Americans are not paying the same price." This argument simply mimics the grievances of Saleh's countless enemies in a futile attempt to blend in with them.

“There is more hostility against America because the attacks have not stopped al-Qaeda, but rather they have expanded, and the tribes feel this is a violation of the country’s sovereignty,” said Anssaf Ali Mayo, who heads the oppositional al-Islah party in Aden. “There is a psychological acceptance of al-Qaeda because of the U.S. strikes.”

Saleh is largely responsible for enabling al-Qaeda in the Peninsula's (AQAP) growth in order to salvage his own corrupt regime. Less than maximum effort was directed towards the influx of "rehabilitated" Saudi and Yemeni militants, a development that many Yemenis link to Saudi hegemony, and he would later approve of U.S. air strikes (selectively) in exchange for political and military support. This aid was then redirected against the north's Houthi sect and secessionist Southern Movement, with U.S. knowledge. Saleh's plan to maintain power would have succeeded if not for Yemen's revolution. However Western, Arab and Eastern powers conspired to replace him with his malleable lieutenant, and Washington continues to expand its military-intelligence network behind Hadi. 

Anything that al-Barakani says about Saleh and AQAP is susceptible to the autocrat's designs, but Washington is motivated to get him out the country before November. The diplomatically-immune Saleh has persistently undermined the same agreement that grants him immunity, and some observers suspect that he's awaiting 2014's presidential election to move through his son, General Ahmed (presently in charge of his Republican Guard units). No foreign supporter of the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) power-sharing agreement wants him to star as the National Dialogue's focus or interrupt their pro-democracy narrative. If no one else takes him - Germany, the UAE or Ethiopia, three U.S. allies, for instance - the Obama administration may assume the negligible domestic risk and bring him in. This situation would replay his February visit to New York City, which coincided with Yemen's UN-sponsored referendum of Hadi and ended with a triumphant return to Sana'a. His GPC also "confirmed" and "denied" this information before he finally landed in New York.

Whether the newest rumor is true or false, its odds remain higher than Saleh's national or international prosecution.

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