Monday, August 12, 2013

Yemen Snapshots

The image of Yemen being presented to Americans is incomplete at best, and perhaps deliberately misleading. Nearly every story follows a drone strike and includes the terms alleged militant,  or  al-Qaeda operative.Of the string of embassies closed last week, the one getting the brightest spotlight was in Yemen. 

I have been keeping an eye on Yemen over two years now, ever since I read an article at the outset of the Arab Spring reporting that of all the countries apt to experience unrest, Yemen was the most heavily armed. Casual news junkies are by now convinced that Yemen must be one of the hottest of hot-spots for Qaeda extremists. The rhetoric became so thick last weekend that a US State Department advisor called it "crazy pants.

Here, in the interest of balance, are a couple of links to help calm down the panic. First, there is this from Benjamin Wiacek, a French photo-journalist who has spent a lot of time in Yemen. 
Yemen: "No way I'm leaving this country!"
Six hundred French nationals living in Sana'a. Despite threats of attacks, few seem willing to leave.
[Google translation]
Jamal in the street, one of the shopping streets of Sanaa, the smiles are linked to the sight of strangers. In these troubled times, which made the country one of the highest risk areas of the world, Yemenis are happy to see expatriates stay. But even if the U.S. State Department announced the reopening Sunday of twenty embassies abroad, their embassies in Yemen remain closed. 
Last week, the United States had announced the temporary closure of the embassy , following a risk of terrorist attack. The interception of a telephone conversation between the leader of Al Qaeda Ayman Al-Zawahiri and the leader of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen (AQAP), Nasser Al-Wuhayshi was the reason for these security measures. France had also closed its embassy in Sanaa.But it will reopen Monday. Sign that the danger has passed or that the French are less exposed? 
Nearly 600 French nationals, of which two thirds are binational live in Yemen, mainly working for the embassy and subordinate institutions or for oil companies such as Total and Yemen LNG Company. Other expats are businessmen, aid for local or international NGOs. For them, no question of leaving the country. 
Patrice Knight moved to Sanaa with his wife of eleven years. Yemen consultant at Consulting Partners, working in particular with the oil companies, he says will have "never felt in danger. Yemen is a very nice country. Over time, you learn to feel the situation, we can adapt to avoid any danger. " He admits to not take special safety measures. A European diplomat also mentioned the absence of a specific threat: "There is an excessive media coverage of the situation in reality, there is no change on the ground.". 
The eight U.S. drone attacks against Al-Qaeda in ten days, which would have killed nearly 36 people, however, increase the possibility of retaliation. Expatriates remain cautious, particularly about the risk of kidnappings increased in recent years. For security reasons, foreign employees at Total, engineers or consultants, no longer have the right to leave the capital. 
Danielle Lustig, a French working for a humanitarian agency, avoid walking alone in the street: "I always use a driver for my travels But despite the risk, I refuse to yield to the collective paranoia.  I'm surrounded by people.. great and it is out of the question that I leave this country."

Next, I received this informative link from one of my Twitter contacts who lives in America but who has lived in the Middle East in past years and whose in-laws are Yemeni. 
Yemen: A Different Political Paradigm in Context
by Roby C. Barrett

Roby C. Barrett is an Adjunct Professor of History at Texas A&M Commerce and a Fellow of the Eisenhower Institute in Washington, DC. He has a doctorate in Middle East and South Asian history from the University of Texas at Austin and is a former US Foreign Service Officer in the Middle East. He is a specialist on security and defence issues and has over twenty five years of government, business and academic experience in the Middle East.

The tribal and clan fabrics of Yemeni society are more important than the geo-political constructs that Americans are taught govern the world.  This is from the introduction. 
The central theme of Dr. Barrett’s monograph is that in Yemen, power is based on family, clan, and tribal relationships and not a national identity. Dr. Barrett builds the case that Yemen as a nation-state is a fiction that largely resides in the minds of Western bureaucrats and analysts. Central authority has been maintained only in balance with tribal, sectarian, and political groups that align with central leaders based on a system of patronage. He advises that throughout Yemen’s history there always have been “multiple Yemens with fundamental social, cultural, and sectarian differences” and to view Yemen differently creates a “stumbling block” in the way of developing and executing coherent policy and strategy. Lines on a map do not constitute a nation-state.
[...]   The insights provided in Yemen: A Different Political Paradigm In Context plus recent events in Yemen suggest that the time is ripe to reconsider U.S.  approaches toward Yemen. Dr.Barrett suggests that Yemen cannot be transformed. Good governance, as Western nations would define it, is most likely unachievable. Our policy must deal with multiple Yemens with conflicting historical, political, economic, and cultural heritages. These are Yemens with identities and values hinged upon familial, clan, and tribal loyalties. Dr. Barrett, however, argues that while Yemen may be a failed state, it is not a failed society. This suggests that U.S. policy goals for addressing the root causes of instability and improving governance will have to reach beyond the central government and weak institutions to engage tribes and clans and to
achieve a balance among the multiple Yemens that are in virtual continuous conflict.
Dr. Barrett suggests that perhaps the only improvement possible in Yemen is a fluid equilibrium between the various groups and whoever dominates the government in Sana’a, a situation that may in fact mirror in many respects the future for other areas including Afghanistan.
That says more than most Americans are able to grasp... 
►Yemen may be a failed state, but it is not a failed society.  

Having said all that, it is important to add that even as we speak American drones are ripping this ancient social fabric to shreds a little at a time. 
A short visit to a Twitter search returns harsh warnings from left and right against the drone policy.  
Here are a couple I turned up with virtually no effort...
(Updated on Sunday, August 11)
Nonstop fear mongering by lawmakers and White House officials about the allegedly growing threat of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has pushed Yemen into the national spotlight as a country synonymous with terrorism. Yemen is home to the scary bearded terrorists that want to kill our innocent American children, or so the mainstream narrative goes. But contrary to popularly indoctrinated opinion, if anyone is a terrorist in this scenario, it is us, the United States.

[...]   Speaking to a Senate Judiciary Committee in April on the legality of drone strikes, a Yemeni man named Farea Al-Muslimi explained the roots of blowback in Yemen. “Just six days ago, my village was struck by a drone, in an attack that terrified thousands of simple, poor farmers,” saidAl-Muslimi,

“What radicals had previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America.” Al-Muslimi said he had witnessed “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula use US strikes to promote its agenda and try to recruit more terrorists.”

If that’s not enough to convince you that we’re creating enemies, consider the aftermath of a drone strike last September that killed 13 civilians in Yemen:

Families of the victims closed main roads and vowed to retaliate. Hundreds of angry armed gunmen joined them and gave the government a 48-hour deadline to explain the killings, which took place on Sunday. 
“You want us to stay quiet while our wives and brothers are being killed for no reason. This attack is the real terrorism,” said Mansoor al-Maweri, who was near the scene of the strike. 
Residents are not denying the existence of al Qaeda elements in their region but say that misdirected strikes work in favor of the militant group, helping them recruit new operatives. 
“I would not be surprised if a hundred tribesmen joined the lines of al Qaeda as a result of the latest drone mistake,” said Nasr Abdullah, an activist in the district of the attack. “This part of Yemen takes revenge very seriously.”
This doesn’t mean that Yemenis love Al Qaeda, it’s quite the opposite. But compared to the threat of U.S. drone strikes, AQAP isn’t their primary concern according to Hakim Almasmari, an American journalist based in Yemen. Almasmari told the Huffington Post yesterday that, ”The Yemeni people are not afraid of al Qaeda, because al Qaeda will always fight and attack soldiers and troops and militants. They will never attack civilians. Whereas the drones at times will attack civilians — like in the last 10 days, out of the 13 who were killed, three were civilians.”

Here's another one from the political right.  The John Birch Society is listed among the "friends and affiliates" at the bottom of the link. That's as far to the political right as it gets. 
U.S. Drones Kill More Than 30 in Yemen; School Targeted in One Attack
In fewer than two weeks, Hellfire missiles launched by U.S. drones have killed at least 31 people in Yemen. At least 14 of the victims were believed by President Obama — the launcher-in-chief — to be al-Qaeda militants.

On the heels of reports of the foiling of a plot purportedly hatched by the Yemeni-based branch of the alleged terrorist organization, the president has accelerated the frequency and ferocity of the drone strikes in the small Arab nation.

[...]     Reuters explains that “Western diplomats in Sanaa say al Qaeda is a threat to Yemen and the rest of the world.” An argument can be made that a bigger threat to the world is the United States’ daily drone attacks that destroy our own dedication to the rule of law and serve as an effective recruiting tool for those seeking revenge for the killing.

The former CIA Pakistan station chief agrees. Speaking of the rapid expansion of the drone war in Yemen, Robert Grenier told theGuardian (U.K.):

That brings you to a place where young men, who are typically armed, are in the same area and may hold these militants in a certain form of high regard. If you strike them indiscriminately you are running the risk of creating a terrific amount of popular anger. They have tribes and clans and large families. Now all of a sudden you have a big problem.... I am very concerned about the creation of a larger terrorist safe haven in Yemen. 
We have gone a long way down the road of creating a situation where we are making more enemies than we are removing from the battlefield. We are already there with regard to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
For President Obama and those pulling the triggers on the joysticks guiding the missiles toward their human targets, “suspected militant” means (presumably) “all military-age males in a strike zone.”

For those of us more concerned with the Constitution, the rule of law, and the sanctity of human life than the president, “suspected militant” means nothing other than a person not charged with any crime, not afforded even the most perfunctory due process protections, but summarily executed upon order of the president anyway. What, then, are the practices or principles that separate the president from those he orders assassinated in the name of safety?

This CNN Snip underscores the point. 

►Listen closely for Iona Craig to say they are being fed 
"complete and utter codswallop" about three and a half minutes in. 

No comments:

Post a Comment