Yemen’s Tipping Point?

Today’s violent clashes in Yemen appear to have been instigated when Yemeni soldiers loyal to President Saleh began stockpiling weapons and munitions at the al- Ramah school near Shaykh Sadiq al-Amhar’s residence in the capital Sana’a. Sadiq al-Amhar is the head of the Hashid tribal federation from which Saleh also hails and his recent decision to side with the masses of anti-Saleh protestors had raised tribal tensions considerably, but reached a tipping point when this battle erupted between Saleh forces and Sadiq loyalists – an airline office was set on fire, at least one government building was taken over, 38 lives were lost and 24 people were injured.

This all came after Saleh refused, for the third time in one week, to sign a deal led by the GCC States and by U.S. and E.U. diplomats to step down from power, as the Yemeni people are demanding. The general conclusion seems to be that now that outright hostilities within the tribal federation have broken out Yemen has reached a critical juncture and prospects for a transition of power with relative peace is less likely, while out-and-out civil war is more likely.

The Obama administration officially said yesterday that they are “reassessing” the exorbitant and deleterious economic and military aid to Yemen due to this crisis. One might wonder why the atrocities the Yemeni government has been committing against protestors was not enough to reassess or halt our support. And one would be forgetting that this kind of brutality has been understood by the U.S. as a corollary to the aid. Harsh responses to the developing Houthi rebellion in the past few years, responses Saleh calls Operation Scorched Earth, were expected results of U.S. support while so-called U.S. “counterterrorism” programs were pursued with impunity.

U.S. diplomats have been present in meetings where Saleh was supposed to have signed the deal to step down, and as the Post explained, “White House counterterrorism chief John O. Brennan told the Yemeni president ‘that if he doesn’t sign, we’re going to have to consider possible other steps,’” but these facts shouldn’t be misconstrued for some new and improved U.S. policy of humanitarianism and concern for the well-being of Yemenis. Rather, they seem to fit a well-established approach to how U.S. national security planners deal with lavishly supported proxies who are in trouble: support them as long as possible, and when it reaches a tipping point plan for a transition that keeps as much of the old (and subservient) regime in power. This process has been followed for decades with a number of U.S. supported dictators from Duvalier to Ceaucescu to Suharto.

With Suharto in Indonesia, the U.S. continued to support the tyrant, while “issuing tepid calls for reform…and worrying deeply about what might follow.” Support continued past his rule – when popular protests became overwhelming and military favor began to dwindle – and Suharto’s vicious Vice Presient B.J. Habibie headed the transition (with a cabinet consisting of mostly the same faces as under Suharto). Dictatorship was soon overcome by the people for some kind of democracy, but the U.S. followed this protocol nicely – as they did in Egypt, supporting Mubarak right until the very end, and then attempting to keep people like Omar Suleiman in power and in fact still supporting a transition government made up largely of Mubarak’s people.

Whether or not we’re at that point in Yemen remains to be seen. All we can hope is that Brennan’s “other steps” don’t mean a continued support for dictatorship, and hopefully not a fourth (fifth?) war in a Muslim country.

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