Until 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to blow up a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day, Yemen was barely on the Western public’s radar. Ever since, it has found itself the nexus of a raging debate. How large is the terrorist presence there? What has fanned the spread of radical Islam within its borders? Will the country become a third front in the war on terror? In a Big Think interview this week, Princeton University Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen provides detailed answers.
Dissecting Yemen’s volatile political history, Johnsen explains the “three layers of crisis” facing the nation and why they form the foundation for a thriving Al-Qaeda. He also addresses President Obama’s pledge not to put U.S. “boots on the ground” in the country, claiming that to break it would be “catastrophic” and assessing the alternatives the U.S. must consider.