"It is important to make sure that we strengthen the capacity of the government so that you don't see the same vacuum develop in Yemen that has developed in Somalia....We'll continue to help Yemen in terms of its dialogue with its own population in both north and south."
These two gems come from US State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley's press briefing yesterday, in which he gave us the upshot of last Friday's "Friends of Yemen" meeting in New York. The first sentence is, of course, the exact opposite what the Yemen Peace Project and Human Rights Watch both urged prior to the meeting. We implored the US, UK, Saudi Arabia, and other members of the Friends of Yemen group not to rely on a policy of "strengthening the capacity" of President Saleh's government, a government that has abandoned democracy and due process in favor of its own survival. If the US and its allies continue to "strengthen the capacity" of this regime, the people of Yemen will face more and more hardship, repression, and violence.
As we pointed out in our open letter to the Friends of Yemen, the US is also directly responsible for killing dozens of Yemeni civilians. Saudi Arabia -- which chaired last Friday's conference along with Yemen and the UK -- has racked up a far larger Yemeni body count, having bombed several villages out of existence during the last phase of the Sa'dah war. The US recently announced a massive deal to supply new jets and helicopters to the Saudi military, thus ensuring the Kingdom's ability to kill even more Yemenis the next time around. For the leaders of these two countries to talk about "dialogue" and development is disingenuous at best. Does the State Department expect Yemenis to buy this double-talk? Does it seriously expect Yemenis to choose Saleh and his "Friends" over the various opposition movements currently at work in Yemen?
In his remarks to the press, Crowley also claimed that US Undersecretary William Burns led the Friends of Yemen conference, although, as noted above, this dubious honor in fact fell to the UK and Saudi Arabia. Clearly the US wants to be seen -- or wants to see itself -- as leading the effort to fix Yemen. But the truth is that US humanitarian aid is already vastly overshadowed by military assistance to Saleh's regime, and now the Obama administration is considering a huge, multi-year package that will augment Saleh's capacity for violence several-fold, even though critics within the administration and Department of Defense argue that the new weapons and training will be used against Saleh's political enemies rather than al-Qa'idah (it's almost as if they'd been reading the news).
This week Secretary of State Clinton told the United Nations that the US would not "sacrifice human rights" to fight terrorism. Clinton told the world that the way to end terrorism is to provide hope to those vulnerable to the "allure" of extremism. To be honest, I'm surprised Hilary Clinton -- or any other State Department official -- can gather the nerve to speak to the world, knowing as we all do the humiliating fact that they are almost completely irrelevant to American foreign policy. I give Clinton credit: her words to the General Assembly weren't hollow rhetoric. The State Department has been producing papers for a long time now pushing the agenda of long-term, systemic solutions in places like Yemen. But the US hasn't shown Yemen any long-term solutions, only the immediate destructive power of the American war machine. For many Yemenis and other victims of American violence around the world, the "choice" between Yemen's "Friends" and al-Qa'idah isn't so simple.