But sometimes it is relevant. Reading through Def. Secretary Gates' spending proposals, it is clear that if he doesn't exactly have Yemen at the front of his mind, his ideas have the kind of battle that the US might have to wage there right up front. Here's the key proposition.
• Fielding and sustaining 50 Predator-class unmanned aerial vehicle orbits by FY11 and maximizing their production. This capability, which has been in such high demand in both Iraq and Afghanistan, will now be permanently funded in the base budget. It will represent a 62 percent increase in capability over the current level and 127 percent from over a year ago.
Now, clearly Congress still has to approve a budget, and they will fight like hell over cutting F-22's and various pet projects, but it would be a huge shock if they didn't approve the increase for Predator drones. They have proven themselves enormously successful in the Afghanistan/Pakistan front.
But it was in Yemen that Predators really first made their mark, in the killing of Qaeda leader al-Hirithi (among others). This was supposed to be an under-the-table operation, so as not to embarrass and endanger the Salih government showing that the US had permission to operate in Yemen, but the previous Administration was interested in trumpeting their reach and power. It was a diplomatic disaster.
Of course, now, Predators are out of the bag, and Greg has blogged about their rumored use in Yemen. It seems likely that, if they haven't been already, drones will be used increasingly used in Yemen, for surveillance and possibly for future offensive missions.
The worry, of course, is being too offensive. Predators leave a smaller footprint, physically and psychologically, than ground troops, but they are still and incursion into sovereignty. The problem- ok, one of the many problems- with the Bush Administration is that it tried a one-size-fits-all approach to its battle with jihadism, and that led it to stumble blindly, like a dumb and wounded beast. The danger with Obama and Gates is that they could get too infatuated with the relative success the Predators have had on the Af/Pak front, and use them too quickly. There may be a place for increased use of Predators in Yemen, but at this point they will do little but further turn opinion against Salih. I'm hoping- and cautiously betting- that they will be smarter than that, but it is always tempting to overuse toys.