February 8, 2013

Foreign Insensitivity Showers Yemen's Crisis

Despite being publicized on several occasions during its multi-year operations, America's "secret" drone base in Saudi Arabia has flooded the international media cycle with recycled news and non-revelations. All that is being reported is the base's leading "architect," John Brennan, and the rationale behind concealing U.S. drones in Saudi Arabia. The location of the drone base itself - the only missing link - remains a mystery and doesn't alter the story greatly.

U.S. imperialism in the Gulf is no secret, and neither is the cycle of warfare perpetuated by U.S. and Saudi policies in the region.

Whether or not Washington accepts al-Qaeda's creation as a response to U.S. troops in the Holy Land, this grievance connects a loop of propaganda and violence that won't broke so long as U.S. troops and war machines remain inside Saudi Arabia. The Obama administration, at least on the surface, even acknowledges this dilemma while pursuing an uncompromising course of action on the Arabian Peninsula. Karen DeYoung, who covers national security for The Washington Post, told NPR's All Things Considered that the administration kept the base off record "because of sensitivities in Saudi Arabia itself." False sensitivity is the result - knowing something is offensive but doing it anyway.

"Because of their internal politics and because of what they see as their position in the Islamic world, they didn't want it published that they were allowing the CIA to actually occupy real estate inside Saudi Arabia."

Equally disturbing is the notion that Riyadh's interests, and not the average Yemeni's, dictates the information surrounding U.S. drone operations inside Yemen. Being bombed and monitored without recourse is frightening enough - opposing U.S.-Saudi air strikes and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) isn't mutually exclusive - without the internal threat. Flying drones out of Saudi Arabia, a popular enemy in Yemen, simply adds fuel to a long-standing fire and runs contrary to the essence of counterinsurgency. The base offers one example of why true COIN isn't being pursued in Yemen, as imperialism interferes with relating to the population.

Another insensitive act has also emerged on the horizon and, at this point, is less certain than the aforementioned injustice. On the positive side, Yemeni state media finally announced the participants and starting date for the country's National Dialogue after a four-month delay. The necessity of a conference is beyond doubt, but the same cannot be said for its prospects, and a tense situation could escalate further now that a new date has been assigned: March 18th.

This pivotal day rests at the heart of Yemen's ongoing revolution. Two years ago Saleh's security forces (including snipers) opened fire on Freedom Square in Sana'a, killing at least 52 protesters and wounding over a hundred. The massacre would bring the wealthy al-Ahmar brothers and their tribal militia into the streets, trigger the defection of Saleh's northern commander, General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, and squeeze the first statements out of President Barack Obama after two months of demonstrations. However no one was held accountable due to Yemen's gridlocked politics and the U.S.-sponsored GCC initiative, which granted Saleh and his family immunity from human rights abuses.

Now Yemen's National Dialogue is scheduled to open without any resolution to Saleh's crimes or restitution for the martyrs' families. While Ali Mohsen and Saleh's son, Ahmed, were reassigned by Transitional President Abd Rabbo Mansur Hadi in early January, they will also remain in their positions for up to six months and stand a good chance of receiving new commands. Thus the National Dialogue will unfold in the presence of Yemen's counterrevolutionary powers, reinforcing the obstructive influence that Saleh maintains in Sana'a. 

His General People's Congress (GPC) has even threatened to not participate in response to the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), which in turn accuses the GPC of interfering with the Dialogue's formation.

"We say yes to Yemen National Dialogue but within the right framework, not as a parody," GPC member Ibrahim Sharaf was quoted as saying on Wednesday, despite the fact that Saleh's party received the most seats of any political bloc.

It's possible that the GCC and UNSC - meaning Riyadh and Washington - want more time to arrange a vacation for Saleh, as they did for Hadi's UN referendum in February 2012 (he returned to swear his VP in). However the likelihood of Saleh presiding over the National Dialogue's shadows remains too high for comfort. Only an exceedingly reckless move will turn UNSC threats of sanctions into reality, and sanctions aren't designed for accountability so much as control. As for the March 18th start date, The Trench is inquiring into the motivation behind this choice and hopes to obtain an answer soon.

One theory: Hadi intends to contrast the positives of his government with the negatives of Saleh's regime, possibly through a grand gesture to recognize Yemen's martyrs. However anything less than accountability lacks the power to satisfy revolutionaries who remain leery of the National Dialogue, and outright distrustful of the international community for favoring Saleh's regime.

“He has a lot of money that he uses to destroy Yemen, harm the political process and execute vengeance,” Nobel Laureate Tawwakol Karman recently told The Associated Press. “The political transition process is not going according to the mechanism set in the Gulf initiative, which was imposed on us and we accepted it only on the condition that it will be fully implemented."

She has suspended her participation in the National Dialogue until further notice.

The positions of various networks towards Yemen's dialogue underlines the geopolitical forces at work. Revolutionaries and tribal authorities disapprove of drones, believing that the immediate benefits of al-Qaeda casualties aren't worth the long-term risks to their sovereignty. They want the opportunity to combat AQAP themselves and have been marginalized instead due to their independence. The northern-based Houthis also want to join in theory but treat the process with entrenched skepticism. For years the sect waged an insurgency against Saleh's regime and Saudi forces (with U.S. assistance), pushing them to a stalemate, and Houthi leadership has trained their eyes on autonomy. Riyadh and Washington, however, reject this position and are extremely unpopular as a result.

The Southern Movement is idling in a similar position as the Houthis, looking to enter a dialogue with the central government as another state rather than a political party. UNSC powers also rejects this act of self-determination in favor of "unity" - the same word used by Saleh to justify his oppression of the south - to protect their own interests. The U.S. stands to lose control of its assets in South Yemen, including the drones parked at Al-Anad Air Base in Lahij province and the Special Forces training Yemeni personnel in the south, so unity is the only option available to the Southern Movement.

Washington and Riyadh prefer to stick a thorn in their side rather than aid their cause.

The U.S. media attention generated from civilian casualties misses the wider political interference transmitted by drones and their logistics in Yemen. Keeping drones operational and maintaining U.S. hegemony entails the alienation of the same populations that the Obama administration claims to support in their fight against AQAP.

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