Resetting US Policy Toward Yemen
Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Johnsen has written for a variety of publications on Yemen including, among others, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, The Independent, The Boston Globe, and The National. He is the co-founder of Waq al-Waq: Islam and Insurgency in Yemen Blog. In 2009, he was a member of the USAID's conflict assessment team for 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.
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