Sunday, January 10, 2010

Yemen and its neighbors

Yemen is a country on the edge of chaos and with the underwear bomber's attempt the world seems to be looking at the country as the U.S. government's problem and responsibility. There are others that should join in. Let's look at a map.

Yemen shares a lengthy border on its north side with Saudi Arabia, on the east a border with the Sultanate of Oman, on the west the Red Sea across from Ethiopia, and on the South the Gulf of Aden across from the lawless Somalia. It is estimated that the Gulf of Aden has approximately 21,000 commercial ship pass through yearly. One could easily suggest that Yemen sits astride an area of economic and political importance for the countries in that region as well as for global trade, notably oil.

With two separate civil wars in its northern and southern provinces and al Qaeda operating there almost openly as well, the U.S. and its allies, primarily Britain, are being asked by the government of Yemen for significant developmental aid as well as the imposition of security assistance. Yemen is the poorest country in the Arab world and has a government that is so fragile that the efficacy of developmental aid would be a big question mark.

Yemen is not just a U.S. and U.K. problem. Why is it not obvious that this is a pan-Arab problem as well and that a pan-Arab solution would have a better chance of enduring. Saudi Arabia is immensely wealthy and its absence in any discussion baffles. Are the profligate entrenched oligarchs there so insecure in their power that they want no association with looking for a solution in Yemen that could be seen as beneficial to the U.S. A Saudi prince was almost assassinated earlier this year by a Yemeni al Qaeda member who had explosives sewn into his body so they could not be detected. Saudi oil shipments could be threatened by an unstable Yemen. Saudi dissidents already use Yemen as a safe haven. As a conduit from the Red Sea and with Yemen on the border of the strait that connects that waterway to the Gulf of Aden, why is Egypt not an involved party as well given the revenues they receive from managing entry or exit from the Red Sea. With the Somali pirates holding hostage ships indiscrimately including those from Iran, China, and Korea, does the trading world in general see the importance not letting Yemen fall into the same situation.

Yemen is not just a U.S. problem. The U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan plus its alignment with Israel makes it highly unlikely that the U.S. can effectively make a difference there other than to perhaps seek out and arrest or kill some members of al Qaeda. That could, in fact, exacerbate Yemen's long term problems.

Isn't it time for others in the Middle East to step up and for the U.S. and the Europeans to encourage their participation.


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