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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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.Skip to next paragraph
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Earlier, Saleh announced he would not seek reelection and would not seek to have his son replace him, in a bid to quell mounting protests.
France, which has spearheaded international action against Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, became the first world power to call for Saleh’s resignation in the aftermath of the government’s violent put-down of Friday’s street protests in Sanaa. On Monday, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said, “We estimate today that the departure of President Saleh is unavoidable.”
But concerns that instability in Yemen could be a boon to Al Qaeda's freedom of action there are very likely behind Obama’s reluctance to abandon Saleh, say experts such as Boston University’s Mr. Dunbar.
Dunbar notes that Obama’s senior counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, called Sanaa Sunday and “read Saleh the riot act” about Friday’s violent repression. On the other hand, he suspects the US is still clinging to Saleh though many Yemenis have long sought an end to his 33-year reign. “I can imagine that the [CIA], powerfully represented by [Director Leon] Panetta, could be saying, ‘Leave him alone, he’s all we’ve got,’ ” he adds.
Saleh’s rise to becoming Washington’s “ally in the war on terror” suggests how things have changed since Dunbar was ambassador in Sanaa in 1988-91, he says. Saleh approved US missile attacks on AQAP targets and acted to facilitate the American targeting of Anwar al-Awlaki, the US-born Yemeni cleric the CIA is out to kill or capture.
The US is spending millions of dollars to train and equip new Yemeni counterterrorism forces.
But the millions of dollars in US aid – or Obama’s eventual abandoning of the Yemeni president – may not in the end play a decisive role in Saleh’s fate.
“I don’t see how we’re going to be able to do very much,” Dunbar says. “When it comes down to it, we don’t have a lot of influence over this problem.”