Resetting US Policy Toward Yemen

For the past several months I have strongly criticized US policy in Yemen, arguing that the US is missing a key opportunity to be a force for positive change in the country.  And that these missed opportunities will have important long-term consequences for US national security interests.


I have argued against letting Saudi Arabia - a monarchy that sent troops to Bahrain to put down a popular uprising - take the lead on a democratic transition in Yemen, and I have argued that the GCC plan was and always will be a worthless document that left too many loopholes for Salih to exploit if he ever signed it, which he never has.

Some people who have left comments here at Waq al-waq as well as others in private have suggested that I have been too hard on US policy in Yemen. 

I don't think that is the case.  The US is making, in my view, serious mistakes in Yemen - one only has to look at yesterday's piece in the Financial Times to see what a comedy of errors this has become.

Here at Waq al-waq and in private conversations with people in a variety of different positions suggested alternatives to what I see as the current mistaken approach. 

Now, thanks to the Council on Foreign Relations, I have laid out the broad outlines of what I call a Reset of US Policy Toward Yemen. 

The brief policy memo was released this morning on CFR website and you can read it here.

Yesterday I linked to a piece by Charles Schmitz, who I know well and respect greatly.  Often in our private discussions and debates Charles is more optimistic about Yemen than I am.

Now, as you can see from our most recent published work, the roles have been reversed.

I still think there is something the  US can do to rescue Yemen from disaster of war that is about to befall the country.  And make no mistake, this will not be a nice, neat two-sided war like the 1994 Civil War, it is going to be messy, unpredictable and absolutely disastrous for regional security and US interests, especially the war against al-Qaeda.

To avoid this the US needs to take a strong leadership role and move from talking tough to acting tough.  It is going to require strong coordination with Saudi Arabia, but this is not abdicating a leadership role to the kingdom.

There are numerous areas where US and Saudi interests (not to mention the demands of the protesters in Yemen) align, and there is a great deal of common ground to begin working out a deal.

Creative, active diplomacy is needed and needed desperately.  There are moments that when missed are gone forever - and if this one is missed at some point in the near future something is going to go drastically wrong and people are going to ask: How did Yemen get this bad?

If the US doesn't want to be asking that question for years to come it needs to act and act now.  The time for sitting on the sidelines is over.  There are things the US can do, and it needs to do them.

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

This is the best (and simplest) world map of religions

Both panoramic and detailed, this infographic manages to show both the size and distribution of world religions.

(c) CLO / Carrie Osgood
Strange Maps
  • At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
  • See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
  • There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?
Keep reading Show less

Apparently even NASA is wrong about which planet is closest to Earth

Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.

Strange Maps
  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
Keep reading Show less

Remembering when bankers tried to overthrow FDR and install a fascist dictator

When FDR took office, the U.S. was in the grips of the Great Depression. People had grown desperate, and FDR's election seemed disastrous. Some wealthy bankers believed that it was time to take the country by force.

Image source: Topical Press Agency / Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • Though we know today that his policies eventually ended the Great Depression, FDR's election was seen as disastrous by some.
  • A group of wealthy bankers decided to take things into their own hands; they plotted a coup against FDR, hoping to install a fascist dictator in its stead.
  • Ultimately, the coup was brought to light by General Smedley Butler and squashed before it could get off the ground.
Keep reading Show less