Why Obama isn't pushing for Yemen president to go: Al Qaeda
Obama wants Libya's Qaddafi out, and he pushed hard for Egypt's Mubarak to exit. Not so Yemen's Saleh, president for 33 years. The difference: US concern about Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula.
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President Obama has come down on the side of protesting populations more or less quickly as uprisings have mushroomed from Tunisia to Egypt and beyond. But Mr. Obama has refrained from joining Yemeni protesters and one-time government loyalists in calls for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. The reason can be largely attributed to an acronym: AQAP.
That is the abbreviation for Al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, the Al Qaeda offshoot that has directly targeted US soil – remember the Christmas Day bomber of 2009 and last year’s package bombs destined for the US – and that makes stability or chaos in Yemen a US national security interest.
“The places to be worried about are the north and into the east of the country, places that are fairly ideal for people who wish us ill to congregate,” says Charles Dunbar, a former US ambassador to Yemen who now teaches international relations at Boston University.
Officials and foreign policy experts continue to debate the existence of any vital national security interests in the Libyan conflict, but American interests in Yemen appear to be more clear-cut.
“We are obviously concerned about the instability in Yemen,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said during a visit to Russia Tuesday. Noting that the US considers Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen to be perhaps the most dangerous for the US, he added that “instability and diversion of attention from dealing with AQAP is my primary concern about the situation.”
The pace at which Yemeni military officers and government officials are abandoning President Saleh has quickened since Friday's bloody crackdown on protesters. Some prominent Yemeni journalists in the capital of Sanaa are predicting Mr. Saleh’s imminent downfall, despite the president’s recent offer to shorten his tenure, which otherwise is to last until 2013.