Another report warning that Yemen could become "the next Afghanistan" appeared Monday on the website of the Atlantic.  --  Max Fisher said that "many analysts" think "that Yemen is on the edge of becoming an international crisis point on the scale of Afghanistan."[1]  --  "Yemenis make up 40% of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay," Fisher said.  --  He called the Dec. 17 American cruise missile attack, in which dozens of children were killed, an instance of the U.S. "engaging Yemen's problems, if lightly" -- though for Fisher, "[t]he extent of U.S. involvement remains unclear."  --  In fact, there is little doubt that U.S. cruise missiles killed dozens of innocent women and children on Dec. 17....



By Max Fisher

Atlantic Wire
December 21, 2009 (see original for other links)

How worried should we be about Yemen?  The small Arab state sits south of prosperous Saudia Arabia and just across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, the world's most failed state.  Long plagued by separatist insurgencies and terrorism, many analysts fear that Yemen is on the edge of becoming an international crisis point on the scale of Afghanistan.  Yemenis make up 40% of the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.  Yemen, along with Somalia and of course Afghanistan, is frequently cited as a safe haven for terrorism.  Because al-Qaeda is a predominantly Arab organization, and Yemen is an Arab state unlike Somalia or Afghanistan, some fear it could be more susceptible to al-Qaeda infiltration.  Yemen's dilapidated economy, expected to decline over the next year and disintegrate as oil runs out by 2017, could plunge the nation into chaos.

The U.S. is already engaging Yemen's problems, if lightly.  On Thursday, a series of bombings hit suspected terrorist sites in Yemen, with apparent American support.  The extent of U.S. involvement remains unclear, however, with news reporting ranging from mere intelligence assistance to Yemeni officials to launching cruise missiles against the targets.  But it's clear American officials are beginning to worry about Yemen.


The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Christopher Boucek insists we should focus on Yemen's economy, governance, and civil society.  "U.S. aid to Yemen is disproportionately small given its importance to U.S. national security.  Development assistance, education, and technical cooperation, capacity building, institution strengthening, and direct financial assistance can better address the interconnected challenges facing Yemen than military and security aid," he writes.  "The international community must be realistic about the limitations of intervention in Yemen.  In the near term, however, inaction is not an option."


Yemeni terrorism expert Gregory Johnsen warns, "First to no one's surprise, news that the U.S. was involved -- and possibly even carried out the attack -- is not playing well in the Yemeni press.  And as this news seeps further down into the consciousness of the country it is only going to get worse."  He laments the civilian deaths and the failure to kill Qasim al-Raymi, an al-Qaeda official and the top target.  "If you launch something like this, you had better kill al-Raymi.  If you don't, no matter who else you kill, the operation is a failure.  And particularly so when many of the dead are women and children. [...] As I have said at two different events in Washington during the past two weeks there is 'no magic missile answer' to the current al-Qaeda problem in Yemen.  Al-Qaeda is too entrenched and too strong to be decapitated like it was back in November 2002."


Spencer Ackerman points out that the U.S. decided this strategy -- "Ground-force light/absent aerial bombardment, redolent with the risk of exacerbating radicalization, with with minimal/absent political involvement" -- doesn't work in Afghanistan, so why would it work in Yemen?  But he notes that U.S. political discourse would have the alternative be the heavy involvement we have in Afghanistan, which is obviously also not viable.  "We can’t have a real conversation about sustainable counterterrorism that revolves around two poles and two poles alone."


The National's Gregory Gause posits, "Now the [insurgent] Houthi movement in Yemen has captured the headlines, out of proportion to its real strength, because it seems to be the latest example of a shift in power from states to non-state actors across the Arab world.  But a longer view suggests the influence of non-state actors in itself is nothing new."  But he notes the possibility for proxy warfare.  "It is in these weakened states that the contest for regional influence is now being played out.  Iran supports non-state actors in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and perhaps in Yemen.  Saudi Arabia and Egypt have their own favorites in these countries."


The Economist argues that the Yemeni Army's Operation Scorched Earth is exacerbating violence.  "Much of the reason for [the Houthi insurgency's] success lies with the army itself.  Its aerial bombing and artillery fire have proved better at enraging locals than at subduing bands of guerrillas; and its induction of tribal allies has pushed their traditional rivals into the Houthis' arms."  The Economist worries about "even more perilous potential threats to Yemen looming, such as growing unrest in the once-separate south and menacing signs of a resurgence by affiliates of al-Qaeda."


The Center for New American Security's Andrew Exum and Richard Fontaine produced a widely-discussed policy paper on Yemen's Instability and the Threat to American Interests:  "Facing an active insurgency in the north, a separatist movement in the south, and a domestic al-Qaeda presence, Yemen rests today on the knife’s edge.  The consequences of instability in Yemen reach far beyond this troubled land, and pose serious challenges to vital U.S. interests.  A destabilized Arabian peninsula would shatter regional security, disrupt trade routes, and obstruct access to fossil fuels.  With Saudi Arabia already at war in northern Yemen and the country increasingly at risk of becoming a haven for transnational terrorists, the United States must actively work to avoid the potentially dire consequences of a failing state there. [...]

"In the coming decades, Yemen will suffer three negative trends – one economic, one demographic, and one environmental.  Economically, Yemen depends heavily on oil production.  Yet analysts predict that its petroleum output, already down from 460,000 barrels a day in 2002 to between 300,000 and 350,000 barrels in 2007 and down 12 percent in 2007 alone, will fall to zero by 2017.  The government, which receives the vast majority of its revenue from taxes on oil production, has conducted virtually no planning for its post-oil future.  Demographically, Yemen’s population -- already the poorest on the Arabian Peninsula with an unemployment rate of 40 percent -- is expected to double by 2035.  An incredible 45 percent of Yemen’s population is under the age of 15.  Environmentally, this large population will soon exhaust Yemen’s ground water resources.  Given that a full 90 percent of Yemen’s water is used in highly inefficient agricultural projects, this trend portends disaster."