I am based in Beirut this summer, and you can’t pick up a newspaper without reading about a Middle East country wracked by war, a Shiite-led insurgency, and Islamist extremism. The country is not Lebanon or Iraq but rather Yemen. One of the region’s poorest and most lawless countries, Yemen has struggled to contain a Shiite rebel group whose violence threatens to spill over into Saudi Arabia. Rebels have targeted foreign aid workers. At least 120,000 refugees have been forced to flee violent districts in the north. And Yemen appears to be on the brink of greater chaos.
The insurgency here matters for several reasons. First, Yemen is nominally an ally of the United States, despite voting against the U.S.-led wars in Iraq. Second, the country, which is the ancestral home of Osama bin Laden, could become a haven again for al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. And finally, there is evidence the Shiite rebels here are being supported by Iran, adding yet another issue to our litany of charges as we seek negotiations with Tehran. As we focus our attention on Iraq and Afghanistan, let’s not forget what is happening in Yemen, a country of vital interest to US foreign policy in the region. I am glad to see that a group of U.S. senators included Yemen on their trip through the Middle East but more needs to be done in Washington to prevent this ally from sliding back into civil war.