Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Yemen’s Problems Run Deep

Posted in Middle East and North Africa by Dan on January 11, 2010

With details over the botched Christmas bombing continuing to surface, U.S. intelligence officials are finally beginning to understand the full extent of the Yemeni problem. The only problem is that it took an ambitious assault on a passenger airliner to get Washington’s attention.

With all of the domestic turmoil that Yemen has faced for the past four decades, it would be rational to think that western governments are working long and hard to contain the its explosive civil conflict. After all, with U.S. forces fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan (albeit covertly), the last thing the U.S. Military needs is another committment requiring a substantial troop presence. Yet, despite the history of violence and Islamic radicalism that has persisted for years in the Yemeni countryside, western powers are still reluctant to devote significant resources in order to counteract the tide.

If there is anything to learn from the latest terrorist attempt against the United States (despite improving security coordination), it is the fact that governments around the world must rely on preventive measures. It is once thing to boost airport security after an incident has already happened. It is an entirely different thing to act before plots are executed.

The great part about counterterrorism is its dynamic and innovative nature. As the U.S. and Great Britain has learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting terrorism does not necessarily require a over-dependence on military force. Soft-power is also key to the anti-terrorist crusade. The building of infrastructure, economic reconstruction, and political transparency can be just as vital as tactical drone-strikes on enemy camps. This could be especially successful in Yemen; a country whose population struggles to find the most menial of work.

I am not totally advocating the elimination of military strikes. In many cases, it is absolutely vital for the U.S. Military to launch operations against terrorist organizations when the opportunity arises. Defending the American homeland is often contingent upon successful operations overseas. But just as raids can bludgen a network, so too can civilian aid and a willingness to address the root causes of political violence; poor education, a lack of resources, corruption, joblessness, and drug addiction.

Yemen faces all of these preconditions. No wonder why Al’Qaeda and other jihadists with similar aspirations continue to pour into this country. Surrounding by two insurgencies, the Yemeni Government is virtually powerless to stop them. This will cease to be the reality unless the international community helps the Yemenis in every way possible, both for the short term and for the long-haul.


14 Responses

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  1. SADMAN2901 said, on January 11, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Al-Quaida movement is a Wahabi movement to reconvert the muslims of non arabic speaking muslim countries to their interpreted Islam. They think and feel over the years Islam being followed by muslims in non arabic speaking countries have become diluted. In order to achieve this objective they are using all means including terrorism. These people are not prepared to listen to logic. The muslims all over need to come together to face the monster.

  2. pleva said, on January 11, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    sadman2901 tried but did not give his thoughts clearly — at least not to the rest of us in the West who know little about the Muslim mind and heart.

    Islam and Muslim are two very distinct things. Islam is the entire community of believers in the prophet Muhammad, whether they are concentrated populations or are separated geographically by countries, deserts, tribal affiliation, emigration or whatever else. That kind of unity is a Diaspora where like-minded people find unity in a concept or belief. Therefore, there is a sense of unity in glory as there is in defeat or oppression. This causes Islamic extremism as a way of reasserting a more open oneness. Extremism will move its basis of operations wherever conditions are politically and financially optimal.

    A Muslim is just an individual who believes in Muhammad being the last of the prophets of God. They can be believers who exercise their faith in private or in public. If not allowed to believe and apply their own law as a community, then the feeling of being oppressed Islamists takes over. And this gives rise to militant extremism in which separate Muslims fight in the the name of the Diasporal Islam in whichever manner they can or is possible at any particular time. Today that happens to be through the organized group Al-Qaida, because it provides the training and finances to carry out real acts of self-defense by eliminating the offending enemy. To Islamic extremists this is the real logic because it is adjoined by very visible results.

  3. uru86 said, on January 11, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    I am not so convinced that the two events in Yemen are connected. Firstly, the Shia rebellion is in the North of the country, while the ALQ camps, etc., seem to be in the Sunni South. Secondly, ALQ is notoriously anti-Shia, so if anything there is antagonism between these two actors. Therefore, the problems in Northern Yemen, I think, are distinct from the problems of ALQ in the South. They both point to an inherent instability in the country, but they themselves are not connected.

    The real issue here is that we have a desperately poor country with no real prospects, a government that has little choice but to be corrupt and parasitic and international influences that support one bad actor after another in their game for regional hegemony; just like Afghanistan, we are seeing a country being torn apart by forces that are largely out of its control. Therefore, if we want to deal with the problem with ALQ in Yemen, not the ALQ problem in general, we have to develop Yemen into a modern, stable and prosperous society, not dependent on degrading hand-outs that come with strings attached.

    What should not be done by the US is to attack Yemen or invade it, because that feeds the very same resentment that creates the terrorists in the first place. The problem with ALQ is that it is no longer an institution, but has materialized into a idea and that idea is now put into praxis by these individuals. ALQ has not been shy as to giving its reasons why it is attacking the US, and it has nothing to do with ´freedom´, it has to do with America´s foreign policy in the Muslim world. America should not be bullied into chaging its policies, but it should reconsider how it goes about doing things.

    Read more of my thoughts at:


  4. Sylvain Allard said, on January 11, 2010 at 7:59 pm

    When you take out al-Qaeda from the equation everything looks more clear. Don’t forget these guys have to get arms somewhere and these are not falling from the sky.

  5. boontee said, on January 11, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    While the world may want to be rallied to strive for a better new year for all, it should be prepared to tackle the next two extra-hot spots in 2010 — Yemen and Somalia.

  6. StMnJ9q7wN said, on January 11, 2010 at 8:00 pm

    The big question will be: will the U.S. and the Obama administration continue to invoke the “Bush Doctrine”, i.e., military action when it appears there is an imminent threat to the U.S.? If there is a catastrophic incident on an airline or in the U.S. which is tied to al Qaeda in Yemen, will this lead to another Afghanistan? The U.S. cannot continue to exhaust itself in tracking down and defeating al Qaeda on their own turf.

  7. Rousillon said, on January 11, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    The United States is meddling in the Yemen in much the same way that they meddle in Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. During the Cold War the USA backed anti-communist governments around the world, often with the consequence of the insurgency getting worse rather than better. The current so called war on terror is a continuation of this same approach by the United States. It will be Washington’s hope that like the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Al Qaeda movement falls apart from within as it is unlikely much will be achieved by American meddling other than making the conflict in countries such as the Yemen worse.

  8. Antiviral said, on January 11, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    The rest of the world, the rest of NATO (yes, the U.K., also), and even a good part of the U.S. itself does not believe that al-Qaeda is a threat. Most of the world thinks that the U.S. is the threat, even though the U.S. did not cause the creation of failed states Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen. If the U.S. withdraws from the fight, expect more “failed” states overrun by al-Qaeda as well as more and constant 9/11-style attacks on Europe.

  9. NB12 said, on January 11, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Yemen is a hopeless basket case with an exploding population of already more than 20 millions. Unless the Saudis and other neighbors are ready to spend billions bailing Yemen out, nobody can achieve a thing there. Yemen’s sectarian-tribal structure is such that any attempt to introduce democracy, even in the form of very limited reforms, will make the country disintegrate

  10. Melmerby said, on January 11, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    If these tribal areas want to host al Qaeda lets give them financial incentives not to like increased development and encourage Yemen to give them semi-autonomy.

    After that, if they are complicit in hosting Osama and his ilk lets pave it and make it a Wal-Mart.

    Obama himself said that he is “unclenching” the American fist. Lets give them their chance because Bush, for all his faults was right when he said “You are either with us or against us”.

    These tribesmen are poor, treated unfairly by Yemen but I doubt they are stupid so lets spell out the fact that they will have to pick sides eventually.

  11. Volttair said, on January 11, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Clarity:- the Houthi rebellion in the north is not based on sectarian line. reducing it simply to a ‘shia’ rebellion demonstrates an incomprehension of the dynamics of Yemeni society, politics and the conflict itself
    I’m sure the government would like to play up the ‘shia’ factor and by association -Iran’s possible role within the conflict in order to get western support to press force on Saada and the many thousands innocent which have maimed, killed and displaced as a result of the ferocity in the conflict from both the Yemeni and Saudi govt.

    It must be noted, that zaydism is a Muslim sect which is closest to sunnism and is not recognized by the mainstream shiaa theology (the twelvers) and therefore the notion of Iran coming to the aid of the zaydis is a little far fetched given the whole administration is zaydi, as is the majority of Yemeni’s!

    The issue with Yemen, like most Arab states, it suffers from a endemic corruption, lack of accountability, and a tyrant regime which has compromised the aspirations for democracy, a free press and squandered what little oil money came in the 1990’s.
    it also has a northern neighbour (SAK) who has meddled in Yemeni affairs since the 1930’s, and continues to do so through the wahabbaisation of Yemenis through free ‘educational’ programs, and constant interference with various internal players which ensures Yemen’s instability. The al qaeda- connection stems from these ventures in its poorer and more fragile neighbour.

  12. Ghalib said, on January 11, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Wow ! We, in the US, can barely handle the problems we created in Iraq and Afghanistan.So, naturally we create other situations that we will be wually unable to manage. Sounds like what we would do ! Aren’t we culturally related to the British and they did the same sort of things? Runs in the family, I guess.

  13. Layne Cieszynski said, on January 28, 2010 at 5:36 am

    I have been looking for many web sites to learn more and this post gets my attention. Good thing that I came across your website that tells people what they want to know. This is really helpful and enlightening. I already added this to my reader to be the first to experience your new posts. Has anyone else suggest other associated subjects that I can look for to find out more such information

    • Dan said, on January 28, 2010 at 6:55 pm

      If your into world news, try Dr. Marc Lynch’s blog and Dr. Stephen M. Walt’s blog at foreignpolicy.com

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