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Fuzzy Math

Today Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan gave a detailed overview of US policy toward Yemen at the Council on Foreign Relations. 

Marc Lynch over at Foreign Policy has provided the good and the bad of the today’s talk – the bad was largely a disengaged, apparently twitter-addicted audience who couldn’t keep focused on one topic for a single hour. 

Brennan made several claims that stood out to me, including (when talking about US strikes in Yemen): “Contrary to the conventional wisdom, we see little evidence that these actions are generating widespread anti-American sentiment or recruits of AQAP.

But, since it is late, what I wanted to focus on is this section of Brennan’s argument:

You see our comprehensive approach in the numbers. This year alone, U.S. assistance to Yemen is more than $337 million. Over half this money, $178 million, is for political transition, humanitarian assistance and development. Let me repeat that. More than half of the assistance we provide to Yemen is for political transition, humanitarian assistance and development. In fact, this is the largest amount of civilian assistance the United States has ever provided to Yemen. So any suggestion that our policy toward Yemen is dominated by our security and counterterrorism efforts is simply not true.

Today Brennan urged us to use numbers as a barometer for what is important to the US in Yemen, so let’s do that. 

It is absolutely true that if you only look at the numbers that Brennan provided in his speech and the money the US gives to Yemen, then the US is putting just over half of its resources into non-CT related items.

But – and this is a big but – that is not all that the US spends in and on Yemen.  What is not counted in that $337 million is the amount of money the US spends on its parallel drone programs, the missiles it fires from ships and planes, or the manpower involved in the US’ current war in Yemen.  Those numbers are, I believe, classified – or at least I haven’t been able to find them.

However, I believe, they more than make up for the few million it would need to eclipse non-CT aid to Yemen.

So yes, let’s use numbers as a barometer for showing what is important to the US in Yemen – but let’s at least be honest about the numbers when we do it. 


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