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Guest Thinkers

What I did on my summer vacation

I am back from a short trip to DC and ready to catch up on all the Yemen news. Today the new issue of the CTC Sentinel from West Point comes out. I have an article in this issue – “The Expansion Strategy of al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula” – the piece is particularly pessimistic and was largely informed by my time in Yemen this summer.

I went to Yemen concerned with the approach the US seemed to be increasingly falling into in Yemen without any sense of an overall strategy or any direction of where it wants to go besides attempting to get the Yemeni government to fight al-Qaeda, and I came away even more depressed. As I write in the article: “There is a frightening mix of ignorance and arrogance when it comes to US policy towards Yemen as well as among many of those tasked with implementing this policy.”

There appears to be no one person at the wheel when it comes to directing US policy towards Yemen. Instead there are a series of captains who take turns steering, but each one wants to take policy in a different direction. The result is that no one really knows where the US is going or why. This is not good.

I was also worried by the rising tensions in Yemen that are the result of a series of different issues both security-driven and others that are increasingly playing-off of and exacerbating each other. Calming sessions with Yemeni officials who explained to me that Yemen had lived through far worse did little to ease my concerns.

Claiming that the country is relatively successful because the President is not robbed at gunpoint by tribesmen seems, at least to me, to be setting the bar a bit too low. Also, one thing that this narrative fails to account for is the fact that the Yemeni state under the imams is nothing like the Yemeni state today. The imams could get away with having semi- or even largely autonomous regions within the border of the state. I’m not so sure Salih’s state can do this. And there was no one really challenging the imams for control of the state in the same way that other groups appear to be doing so today.


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