Yemen doesn't have to be the next failed terrorist state
Not if President Obama partners with Saudi King Abdullah for an urgent rebuilding effort.
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Second, we must stay one step ahead of Al Qaeda recruiters by keeping young unemployed Yemenis active. This is another Saudi strategy that Abdullah insists can contain extremism. Building sporting facilities attached to rehabilitation centers throughout Yemen with Saudi-American cooperation would be a good start. Yemeni youth could be paid to help build these centers and in fact, a Virginia-based company has the patented technology to erect these buildings within 24 hours on site.Skip to next paragraph
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Third, we must recognize that Yemen’s economic development is one of the surest ways to undermine Al Qaeda in the Arabaian Peninsula. As a student of history, Abdullah points to the post-World War II Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe as an example of what is needed to stabilize Yemen.
With a sovereign wealth fund close to $1 trillion dollars, Saudi Arabia has the capital to match American funding and technology that can make a significant difference in Yemen.
Of immediate concern should be Yemen’s dwindling water supply. Only 46 percent of rural Yemenis have access to adequate water. The building of desalination plants can reverse this problem and lead to economic development. A nascent tourist industry can then be developed along Yemen’s coast – creating jobs and providing a steady stream of revenue for the central government.
Fourth, although Yemen’s modest oil reserves peaked in 2001 and have been dwindling, natural gas is abundant and can become a source of export earnings. A Saudi-American legal and commercial team of experts can assist Yemen with the negotiation of contracts for export of natural gas to gas-deficient Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, Yemen’s location is strategically advantageous to all liquid natural gas markets, both in the Asia-Pacific basin and on either side of the Atlantic. As Yemen becomes more stable, foreign oil companies would then be willing to consider the substantial capital investment needed to fully develop the country’s natural gas reserves.
Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton recently pledged to enhance US aid to Yemen, which currently stands at $121 million over three years. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has pledged $1.25 billion in assistance. Working together, Washington and Riyadh can make their money work harder.
The success of a Saudi-American partnership to save Yemen from imploding and becoming a haven for terrorists depends on cooperation from Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Here too, Abdullah – not Mr. Obama – holds the key. The Saudi king maintains strong ties with the Yemeni president. Indeed, Abdullah is widely viewed as a regional elder statesman who does not hesitate to speak bluntly to his colleagues. Mr. Saleh needs an ally like that now more than ever, one who will speak the truth, who cares about Yemen’s future, and who will back those words with actions.
S. Rob Sobhani, the president and founder of Caspian Energy Consulting, is author of the upcoming book “King Abdullah: A Leader of Consequence.”