Time for Saleh To Go?
Yemen heats up.
9:00 AM, Mar 23, 2011 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
Nowhere has the Obama administration been more reluctant to embrace the revolutions sweeping through the Middle East than in Yemen. This is, in part, understandable.
According to the administration’s own intelligence officials, Yemen is home to the most dangerous al Qaeda affiliate on the planet, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which has authored a string of terror plots against the U.S. And administration officials see President Ali Abdullah Saleh, although corrupt and duplicitous, as perhaps the only partner in the country capable of offering vital counterterrorism assistance. Should Saleh fall, he could easily be replaced by someone worse, either by an Islamic fundamentalist or someone who is at least more sympathetic to the jihadist cause.
So, the administration has been reluctant to call for Saleh’s ouster.
This reluctance was on full display earlier this month when Ambassador Gerald Feierstein was interviewed in Yemen. According to a transcript of the ambassador’s comments published by Saba Net, Feierstein explained:
In a press conference with reporters on March 13, Feierstein was asked point blank: “When do you think that [Saleh] should leave?” Feierstein hedged:
The problem is that Saleh’s days are almost certainly numbered and by pushing for talks, when the crowd is pushing for action, the Obama administration appears to be siding with a loser.
Another reporter explicitly made this point during the March 13 press conference:
It’s hard to believe the Obama administration can stick with this approach. It’s hard to believe it should. Surely it’s time for Saleh to step down. Indeed, there is every indication he is going to go, whether America blesses the move or not.
While the future of a post-Saleh Yemen is far from certain, every day he stays the situation gets worse. The administration rightly says that it wants to prevent as much violence as possible, but Saleh is escalating tensions – not reducing them – by clinging to power. And every day the Obama administration pushes for more “dialogue,” resentment for America grows. Indeed, as a friend in Yemen recently told me: “President Saleh is the face of America.” Therefore, as Yemenis see it, America gets part of the blame when Saleh’s forces kill protesters – whether we deserve it or not.
Perhaps most importantly, let us not forget that Saleh is far from an ideal partner in the fight against al Qaeda. Throughout his reign, and especially since September 11, 2001, al Qaeda has only grown stronger in his country. Saleh has skillfully played the rising terrorist threat to his own advantage. He is duplicitous and corrupt – always cutting deals with whoever will pay the highest price. And he has backed some of the most dangerous al Qaeda-affiliated characters in Yemen even in the face of substantial international pressure.