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Guest Thinkers

What? A war in Yemen!!

File this in the better late than never category: the US government is finally publicly acknowledging the Huthi conflict.

The Huthis will focus on paragraph one:

“The United States is increasingly concerned about the humanitarian situation in northern Yemen resulting from the ongoing conflict between the Government of Yemen and Al-Houthi opposition groups in Sa’ada governorate. The United States calls on all parties to return to the ceasefire that was established in 2008; to respect principles of international humanitarian law; and to avoid any action that would endanger the civilian population – including relief workers – in the affected areas. In the absence of a permanent ceasefire, we call on all parties to coordinate humanitarian pauses during the fighting to provide international relief agencies the opportunity to deliver urgently-needed food and medical supplies to tens of thousands of displaced Yemenis as well as civilians to escape the conflict zones.”

(I’m a bit concerned with the knowledge of whoever drafted this statement as the details of the 2008 ceasefire were never made public and it seems that there was never an agreement as such between President Salih and ‘Abd al-Malik al-Huthi, but rather a unilateral ceasefire and partial withdrawal by the government under Salih’s orders. If the US is seeking a ceasefire that is admirable, but a deeper understanding of the history of the conflict is a prerequisite for public comments.)

While the Yemeni government will focus on paragraph two, particularly “unified”:

“The United States agrees with the Council of the European Union’s October 27 statement in support of a unified, stable, democratic and prosperous Yemen. The United States also joins the Council in recognizing the importance of a comprehensive approach to address the security, political, and economic challenges that Yemen faces and reiterates the United States’ readiness to support the Government of Yemen in its efforts to address these challenges.”

I tend to focus on the first line of the fourth and final paragraph:

The United States has thus far provided over $8.7 million in FY 2009 to assist Yemenis displaced by recent fighting.”

The US spends money in Yemen on what is important to the US and it is clear to everyone that the Huthi conflict has never been important to the US – the only thing that has mattered to the US in Yemen over the past several years has been al-Qaeda. Hopefully that is changing and the US can have a deeper and more nuanced relationship with Yemen, but I have my doubts particularly given the increasing military outlook on diplomacy. Ironically, it is only a more nuanced and deeper relationship with Yemen that will allow the US to actively combat al-Qaeda in any meaningful and lasting way, instead of simply cutting the head of the organization.

But at the moment US diplomats are so limited in their movements that they are increasingly isolated from what is going on in the country. There is, of course, a real concern over security in the country. Risk management should never have given way to risk avoidance. This, I think, provides short term security – one conversation partner recently called this “lazy security” – while undermining long term security for the US and US interests in the country.


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