What About Yemen?

ym-mapIn the aftermath of the apprehension of “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutalib and the revelation of his connection with Yemen, a spotlight has been shown on the poor country of 30 million people at the tip of the Arab Peninsula. Today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned that the situation in Yemen has “global implications”:

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says internal unrest and a surge in Al Qaeda activity in Yemen pose a global threat that is being met by U.S. support for the Yemeni government’s efforts to fight extremists.

Clinton told reporters Monday the situation in Yemen has “global implications” and the government must take actions to restore stability. Her comments came as the U.S. Embassy in San’a remained closed for a second day in response to Al Qaeda threats and ahead of a London conference later this month on Yemen.

Via Steve Hynd Fox News currently has a question on their web site:

Threats from Al Qaeda have prompted the U.S. and the U.K. to shutter their embassies in Yemen — and Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser says the U.S. does not plan to open a new front there. Do you think U.S. troops should organize an offensive in Yemen in response to the terror group’s growing presence?

and opinion is running decidedly in favor of such an action.

In my view the idea of U. S. forces mounting an offensive in Yemen is patently absurd. For an informed opinion on the subject, let’s turn to Col. Pat Lang:

I was Defense and Army Attache in the US Embassy in Sana, North Yemen in 1981 and 1982. I have been back several times. most recently three or four years ago. The same man, Ali Abdullah Salih, is president of a united north and south Yemen. He was merely president in the north when I lived in Sana. There have been no “breaks” in his service.

The country is an example of tribalism run riot. Except for the coastal plains the terrain is a wilderness of dissected mountain ridges, each of which is topped by a very defensible village.

The tribal structure is very complex and divided into; confederations, tribes, clans, families, etc. In the north of the country live Zeidi (Fiver) Shia. Their type of Shiism is the closest to Sunni Islam. Their jurisprudence is actually based on Mu’tazilism. The rest of the country is largely inhabited by Sunni Shafa’i.

There is constant war in Yemen, war over women’s honor, water rights, land, beasts or just for the fun of it. The government does not exercize any substatial control over most places outside the cities. The tribesmen are both in the army and out of it and a favorite political move is for some dissident officer to desert taking many of his men and such odds and ends as; small arms; artillery and tanks to his home district after proclaiming “come and get me.” The tribesmen are heavily armed. An AK-47 is a standard accessory in personal fashion, and they DO shoot at each other a lot.

Salih has turned milking foreign powers into a fine art.

In my view the underlying problem being exposed is weak, incompetent, corrupt government in the Middle East. Is there any way to address this problem other than by stronger, more competent, less corrupt government? Is that something that can be created by mounting an offensive? And have we learned nothing?

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Terrorism, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , ,
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. On the plus side at least Yemen has a coastline. Maybe we can trade straight across: move all our guys from Afghanistan into Yemen. It’d be a lot cheaper to resupply.

    On a more serious note, isn’t this Saudi’s job to tackle? God knows they’ve got the weapons and the money and there they are, right next door.

  2. Ugh says:

    And have we learned nothing?


    And plus, it appears we might be on the offensive there already. Yay.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    On a more serious note, isn’t this Saudi’s job to tackle? God knows they’ve got the weapons and the money and there they are, right next door.

    Not to mention that, if we were, arguendo, successful in Yemen, the terrorists would pull up stakes and move into Saudi Arabia. I’ve seen this movie before.

    I also have a vague recollection that the original complaint that Al Qaeda had against us was that we had troops on the Arabian Peninsula. Doesn’t anybody think that major operations in Yemen might stir up a hornets’ nest?

  4. Triumph says:

    I also have a vague recollection that the original complaint that Al Qaeda had against us was that we had troops on the Arabian Peninsula. Doesn’t anybody think that major operations in Yemen might stir up a hornets’ nest?

    I love it: “Lets not invade Yemen, it might upset Al Qaeda.”

    This Obama-style defeatism sure has sunken in deep.


  5. sam says:

    Which, I hope, is not an argument against targeting AQ ops in Yemen. Or is it?

  6. PD Shaw says:

    I’m interested in why not Yemen before. I don’t think al Qaeda was particularly happy in out-of-the-way places like the Sudan or Afghanistan. According to the 9/11 Comm’n Report, they at least had interest in refuge with Saddam in Iraq to be closer to the center of the Arab world, but ultimately distrusted Saddam.

    Three possibilities:

    1. Maps are deceiving, Yemen is just as outside the heart of the Arab world as the Sudan and Afghanistan.

    2. Salih, like Saddam, is a man al Qaeda cannot trust.

    3. The location is vulnerable to Saudi involvement from the North and Western involvement from the Seas.

    Anyway, I agree with Triumph — we got to figure out what al Qaeda wants and what they fear and make sure they get the opposite.

  7. Brett says:

    Doesn’t anybody think that major operations in Yemen might stir up a hornets’ nest?

    It would certainly fan the flames in the groups that think the US is waging a war on Islam, invading a country that close to the muslim Holy Land.

    As for the Saudis, keep in mind that they are not popular in Yemen. They’ve been meddling on the side of conservative religious elements for years, particularly back when the marxist South Yemenese government was in power.

  8. Drew says:

    I must start by saying I have no particular expertise in these matters. I simply have observations and questions.

    From the first day of this – and I mean 9/11, when some of my neighbors didn’t come home – I have had a very fundamental worldview: we can’t just execute a holding action. Its a variant of GWB’s “I don’t want to just swat at flies.” We must crush them, or lose.

    Said differently, we have limited resources, and so we need to make the oh, so difficult problem of policing strange places in the world someone elses problem. And by that I mean the states of Saudi Arabia, Packistan, Iran, Syria etc. We can’t do it alone, but they can. Because they play by different rules; and they will respond to real politic.

    It seems to me we (at least Obama) have adopted a view that rare but periodic terrorist victories are acceptable. You know, inevitable. Why? We need oil. Don’t mess with the equilibrium; its just once a decade.

    I think such views are disgusting, but irrelevant. The jihadists are realists, and their view is that they press for the completely catastrophic. And they traffic in the notion that we are a people who are willing to accept the losses along the way to preserve our lifestyle, until they can pull off the catastrophic.

    What a mess.

    Is there anyone who observes these issues who can tell me why we don’t take extreme measures with terrorist harboring countries and simply say (this will get me in a bunch of trouble) “you know who they are and where they are, you know who funds them, including yourselves, you know what they are planning……….if you do not take measures to prevent attacks……then when we are attacked and Chicago and New York are in flames, you can expect the immediate incineraction of Tehran, Mecca………you get the point.

    Its Mafia talk. But what the hell are we dealing with here? Tiddleywinks?

  9. steve says:

    First, the link following is to Greg Johnsen and Brian O’Neill’s blog on Yemen. They have been following it for quite a while, so they speak from knowledge rather than theory.


    Drew-The jihadists always have at least two audiences. Mostly that is us and the Muslim world. The jihadists/terrorists number in the thousands. They are no direct existential threat to anyone. They hope to unite the Muslim world and reform the caliphate, or at at least restore fundamentalist Islam as the ruling force in their world. Since they are so few, they hope that a few dramatic acts will encourage us to react with large scale military responses, the kind that will unite the Muslim world against us.

    While we are all angry, there are realities here. We cannot invade every country from which an attack is launched. We do not have enough money or soldiers. We also need to realize that these countries, like Yemen do not have the kinds of legitimate national governments to which you are accustomed. Most of these failed state governments are unable to control small groups like AQ within their borders. They usually dont have enough resources or ability to handle those attacking them, forget dealing with groups that want to attack the U.S.

    With this kind of problem, most of the CT people I read have been suggesting a police type approach, mixed with diplomacy, aid where appropriate and judicious use of black ops. This will of necessity go under the radar a bit. It will also be necessary to stop AQ and affiliates from winning the information war. A targeted approach that does not alienate the rest of the Arab world, that does not legitimize the jihadists, that does not bring them more recruits seems like a good idea.

    Would threatening Mecca suddenly make the corrupt incompetents in Yemen suddenly able to rule their own country? How many more recruits would it give AQ?


  10. I wrote a blog post long ago suggesting that Tom Tancredo was right when he suggested we put targeting of Mecca on the table.

    You can imagine the reaction. And you can probably imagine how much I enjoyed defending Tancredo.

    I always try to look first at what is do-able and only later at what is right or moral. I want to know if a solution exists in theory before larding it up with right thinking.

    Clearly we have the power to make this problem go away. For example we can refuse visas to anyone from a list of target countries. That’s relatively mild. We can use nuclear weapons to permanently close the mountain passes leading into Afghanistan. We can “de-nuclearize” Pakistan and Iran and North Korea. That would be on the extreme end. We have almost unlimited power to destroy.

    On a slightly more positive note we can legalize opiates and in a flash destroy the Taliban’s economy. We can literally rain money down on the FATA and enjoy the pandemonium and social upheaval that would follow. (I’m a fiction writer so coming up with unlikely scenarios is what I do all day.)

    There are a lot of fun and exciting things we might do. The reason we don’t is because 1) People do the easy, predictable, safe thing. 2) The threat isn’t existential yet. 3) Sometimes problems actually do just “go away” all on their own. 4) They never elect a fiction writer.

  11. steve says:

    BTW, the intel report Exum links to on his blog is a must read. Great quote.

    The second inescapable truth asserts that merely
    killing insurgents usually serves to multiply enemies
    rather than subtract them. This counterintuitive
    dynamic is common in many guerrilla conflicts and
    is especially relevant in the revenge-prone Pashtun
    communities whose cooperation military forces seek
    to earn and maintain. The Soviets experienced this
    reality in the 1980s, when despite killing hundreds of
    thousands of Afghans, they faced a larger insurgency
    near the end of the war than they did at the beginning.


  12. anjin-san says:

    you can expect the immediate incineraction of Tehran, Mecca………you get the point.

    Drew has zero problem with the idea of killing innocent Muslims, yet he cannot fathom why terrorists have no problem with the idea of killing innocent Americans. He just knows that if they kill us, it is evil, and if we kill them, we are justified (at least in whatever book it is he works from). Can’t imagine why some folks hate us so much.

    One thing is clear, he is really terrified of these people. They will never defeat America, but they have already whipped him.

  13. Anjin:

    We incinerated Tokyo, not to mention Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We frequently make bloody trade-offs, their lives rather than ours, even sometimes in hugely disproportionate numbers.

    I don’t know whether there is a moral difference between accidentally killing a half dozen civilians in a Predator strike and killing civilians in bombing raids on Berlin. The victims are just as civilian and just as dead.

    Were we wrong to threaten the USSR with annihilation in order to maintain a balance of terror?

    I think as a rule we should try to minimize civilian casualties, even when it means accepting some greater risks, even when it means passing up some opportunities. But how far does that extend? Must we reject deliberate attacks on cities, for example, if in making the threat we forestall the destruction of an American city? Do we really value their lives (whichever “they” we have at a given moment) as highly as ours?

  14. anjin-san says:

    Well Michael, lets extend your logic. Imagine a group of American terrorists, sort of Timothy McVeigh types, but maybe they have a thing about Russia. There are 30 of them working together. They launch a terrorist attack in Russia that causes a lot of casualties.

    Now Russia has a moral right to nuke NYC or DC? Because of the actions of a few people?

  15. Anjin:

    If we refused to prosecute said terrorist or acted to support him I’d say yes, they have reason to retaliate.

    I think the government of Yemen is in fact trying to stop Al Qaeda. The Taliban obviously did not. So while we have no case against the Yemeni government, we did against the Taliban.

    I can’t go as far as pacifism. I think we have a right of self-defense, and I think that exercising that right frequently involves additional injustice. It’s not what anyone would call a good system.

  16. Mr. Prosser says:

    Steve, good for you. The non glamorous, under the radar operations, diplomacy and, truthfully, bribery of semi-failed governments, is the sane mode in this or other similar situations. I think other countries may get involved if the Yemen situation exacerbates Somali piracy. After all, Yemen is as close to the Suez routes as Somalia. Who says AQ wouldn’t be happy blasting freighters off the Horn of Africa or using piracy as a funding source?

  17. anjin-san says:

    we did against the Taliban.

    Of course we did. I am not arguing in favor of pacifism. I supported Bushs’ attack on Afghanistan.

    What I am arguing against is things like revenge bombings against population centers, or stupidity such as the attack on Iraq, which simply used 9.11 as a cloak to pursue an unrelated agenda.

    If we had not spent so many decades supporting corrupt, incompetent governments in the middle east in the name of keeping the oil (an oil profits) flowing, we would probably not be in this pickle…

  18. Drew says:

    Steve –

    I guess my inquiry is a variant of Reynold’s “isn’t this SA’s problem?” and DS’s (my interpretation) acknowledgement that it is. In short: make our problem their problem. This is a position I understand and have always endorsed.
    I leave it to more experienced hands as to how to affect that.

    anjin-san: Please. Your comments are pathetic.

  19. Anjin:

    Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of sympathy for your position and a lot of uneasiness about mine.

    There are two conflicting beliefs at work in most of us: 1) Love thy neighbor, and 2) Stay alive. I personally put the weight heavily on the second proposition. Not exclusively, but enough that I am prepared to support some fairly awful things. I don’t deny they are awful and immoral. That’s why war is to be so desperately avoided: once it starts it requires us to do things we don’t ever want to have to justify to our children.

    I think it’s important to be honest about what war means. I supported Iraq and I supported it knowing that despite our best efforts we would kill children, kill women, kill people who’d never harmed anyone. And as bad, we would require our soldiers to actually perform many of those heinous acts. I hoped we’d lessen the net suffering of the Iraqi people. Maybe we will have done so, but at best it’s some gruesome math.

    I think Afghanistan was a just war, as WW2 was a just war, but that doesn’t make the dead kids any less dead or the orphans any less fatherless.

  20. anjin-san says:


    It’s pretty clear from your comments since the aborted flight 253 bombing that these people scare the crap out of you. You can spend all the time you want telling those who disagree with you that they are pathetic, that they are embarrassing themselves, or that they flop around like fish. You can ramble on about being hunted down like a mongrel dog.

    Instead, why don’t you concentrate on growing a pair? Do this, and you will be a lot less angry…

  21. anjin-san says:


    The older I get, the more I lean towards “love thy neighbor”. Human beings have been justifying killing each other since to first cave man conked his neighbor over the head with a rock to get his space in the cave. Is this a cycle we will never be able to end?

    Some day, not that many years from today, the sun will rise, and I will be gone. I would much rather it be 40 years than 4, but with each passing year I want more and more to find a path that does not include killing other people (or any other creatures, for that matter). What is left when we are gone? Nothing really, except perhaps the idea that we were about something. I am certainly not ready to endorse the idea of revenge bombings. Gandhi did have it right. “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.

    Sometimes, killing can’t be avoided. But as a nation, we have been terribly unwise about the use of our vast power. How many people did we slaughter in Vietnam that did not threaten us? If we want to be the good guys, we have to work harder at actually being the good guys. We can’t just coast on the sterling example our grandparents set in WW2.

    PS… off to CES tomorrow!

  22. Anjin:

    It would be good to get from cradle to grave without feeling responsible for taking a human life either directly or indirectly.

    We (the kid especially) are so jealous of CES. Although we’re (again, mostly the kid) really mostly jazzed about the iSlate. A Baptist doesn’t look forward to the second coming with any greater anticipation.

  23. anjin-san says:

    The tablet should be very cool, though I always wait for the second or third iteration of Apple products, they tend to rush things a bit. Interesting position they are in. 33 billion in cash, no debt, and a lot of white hot products. Jobs is a remarkable guy. Best comment I have ever heard about him – “he is not an engineer, so he doesn’t know what can’t be done”.

    CES should be fun. Cool gadgets, high-end audio equipment, and apparently there is a porn convention in town as well. Is this the best of all worlds???

  24. Anjin:

    There’s pretty much always a porn convention in Vegas.