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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Where In The Hell is Arabia Felix?

Link: Yemen As An Example?

Missile Fired Near U.S. Embassy In Yemen

("Further more, Yemen is a leading pioneer in Democratic practice; lots of brothers and sisters testified on that".)*

Recently I had an important conversation with my brother Joe regarding the abundance of blogs focusing on National Security, and how my modest effort could be most effective.  Joe pointed out that my blog has already found a niche, because unlike the repetitive, "cut-and-paste" blogs that do a nice job of disseminating news, my blog is both proactive and reactive.  I have no problem dedicating an entire post to a question from a reader (in fact, I welcome them), and I use my experience and intuition to post about people and places that will be part of tomorrow's news cycle.  Don't misunderstand, I appreciate the larger, "neater" blogs that break down current events by country (alphabetically as well!); the Longest War Journal is my favorite and gets a visit from my address everyday.  But as Joe pointed out, what seems to be missing is a bit of the ol' human touch.  My style is not for everyone.  My book is written in this fashion, so be forewarned (excerpts coming within the next few weeks, Insh'Allah).

I love Yemen.  It is one of the few places left on the earth where you can have a glass of tea next to a donkey.  So much about Yemen remains as it was when Europeans first arrived and crowned this mountainous desert "Arabia Felix" (Felix is Latin for happy, blessed, fortunate, which sadly has never really applied to Yemen).  Until 1915 or so, Yemen, or more correctly the towns of Mocha and Sana'a, were part of the Ottoman Empire, and Aden belong to Britain.  After World War One, the Zaydi Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen was established in North Yemen, and the Brits continued to occupy South Yemen and Aden.  In 1962 north Yemen became the Yemen Arab Republic, and in 1967 the south chose a socialist path to independence, as the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.  It seemed as if the two sides were always at war, but in 1990, a union was created, and the modern state of Yemen was born (as always, I'm forced to leave out tons of amazing history, especially pre-European.  Thank goodness for Wikipedia).

In 2004, the Hawthis, a Zaydi Shia insurgent group, accusing the Yemeni government of discrimination against the Shia, declared war.  The government accused the Hawthis of trying to implement Sharia Law.  Al-Qaeda, which is basically a Sunni-affiliated terrorist group, arrived in 2009 and has at times fought on the side of the government against the Shia Hawthis.  This fact, together with Saudi Arabia's proximity to Yemen, allowed Al-Qaeda to develop a strong presence in Yemen.  Yemeni President Ali Saleh has played both sides of the fence on numerous occasions.  Now that the United States has decided that Yemen deserves some attention (and taxpayer dollars), Saleh has become Uncle Sam's best buddy.  As the links point out, today Yemen is sorting through a mess that is very similar to Syria's.  A Sunni-Shia conflict continues (with Al-Qaeda continuing to sympathize with the Sunni cause), alongside a U.S. military effort to destroy Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).  On different occasions Saleh has fallen from power, only to pop back up again, like a Dervish Jack In The Box.  Presently Saleh and the Yemeni government are working with the United States to destroy AQAP.  Every month or so we get a news story about a successful drone attack on Al-Qaeda encampments.  In fact, the U.S. military effort (with the CIA playing a pivotal part) has had great success hunting down and killing various Al-Qaeda targets.  Because of these successes (and the apparent cooperation of the Saleh government), the Obama Administration considers Yemen to be a success in the war on terror.  As is always the case in this part of the world, the reality can never be covered with just one sentence.

In the last few weeks, the Hawthi Movement has increased its pressure on the Saleh government.  Bit by bit, the capital city is falling under the authority of the Hawthis.  The CIA is aware of events as they occur, and surely is keeping the Administration informed.  But the Administration does not want to let go of its one success story, so we have a President who is, for all practical purposes, burying his head in the sand.  The Hawthis, no friend of Al-Qaeda, have been very careful not to piss off the Americans. Considering the amount of resources that the U.S. military and intelligence have tied up in Yemen, it would be in our best interest to avoid pissing off the Hawthis (I'm sure Sana'a is flooded with Iranian intelligence operatives).  If the Saleh government falls, lets hope that the Obama Administration can diplomatically shift our support from the Sunni government to the Shia Hawthis, and continue our operations against Al-Qaeda.  All indications are that the Hawthis would like nothing more than to have the Al-Qaeda presence removed from Yemen (the "enemy of my enemy is my friend" cliché is getting worked to death, for Heaven's sake).  What we have here is an opportunity.  If the Obama Administration can safely navigate the waters of this internal Yemeni conflict (in truth its a civil war), and end up on the other side, still droning the hell out of Al-Qaeda, it will be an indication that just maybe, the same result can be expected in Syria.  Its almost like an opportunity for the Foggy Bottom Diplomats to practice once, before the big game.

*Ali A. Saleh, President of Yemen

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