Good Reads: An expected debacle in Yemen; Obama finds his inner fighter

Yemen's protests have now turned violent, with dozens killed on the streets of Sanaa. And the economic woes of the world have become the political woes of President Obama.

Antigovernment protesters demanding the ouster of Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh react after security forces fired tear gas grenades at them during clashes in the southern city of Taiz on Monday, Sept. 19.

As the Arab Spring drifted into summer and faded into fall, Yemen’s nine-month-long peaceful protests against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh faded from the attention of diplomats.

Now, with open fighting in the streets killing at least 34 people yesterday, and with some military units defecting to the antigovernment opposition, the Yemeni struggle is transforming rapidly into a bloody civil war.

Many of the major newspapers are covering Yemen with a combination of local reporters and regional staff correspondents. The Guardian’s Hakim al-Masmari in Sanaa and Martin Chulov turned out a quick piece of reporting at the sidelines of the street battles in Sanaa. Along with details of the dead and wounded, and public condemnations for the violence by both the opposition and the government’s spokesman, the Guardian’s reporters capture the changing mood of the protesters themselves.

"Nine whole months protesting in the streets under the burning sunlight, and still no one appreciates our peaceful efforts," said Nujood Saleh, a youth activist in Sana'a.

Another activist had a different take on events from here.

"We are not scared to use weapons, said Abdullah Mujalli. "But we know that the crisis is like a matchstick. When it burns it will burn everything around it – and quickly."

The Washington Post, meanwhile, mentions one reason why the Saleh regime has remained in power so long. One, the US has delegated the Yemeni peace talks to Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). And two, the US continues to cooperate with the Saleh regime, because of its concerns about the growth of the ever-strengthening Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. So once again, as the street turns against the regime, the US clings to that regime for its own reasons.

Sadly, all this bloodshed was quite predictable, argues Marc Lynch in a column for Foreign Policy. Diplomats took their eye off of Yemen, with the hotter wars that were happening in Libya and Syria. The result is that talks over a transition stalled, the regime is digging in its heels, and protesters are getting frustrated with the fruits of nonviolent protest. Mr. Lynch urges the US and the GCC to throw their support behind the protesters and to urge Saleh’s regime to step down immediately.

And then there's the US economy

As for that other slow-motion US crisis known as “the economy," it’s becoming ever more clear that public frustration is starting to mount. The protests to “Occupy Wall Street” didn’t get a lot of coverage over the weekend, and the promised thousands ended up being in the hundreds. But polls indicate a dark mood nonetheless, and much of the blame is being heaped on the man in the White House, President Obama.

Over the weekend, Mr. Obama did appear to have rediscovered some of his inner fighter, taking his jobs-creation plan on the campaign trail. The Monitor's Ron Scherer takes a close look at that plan and notes that its success or failure will depend on whether the country's (and the world's) economy revives or continues at its current snail's pace.

In this week’s New Yorker, economic writer James Surowiecki writes that while the economic crisis actually started toward the end of the Bush administration, as a consequence of years of deregulation and pro-growth policies of several presidents, it is Obama who is being held accountable for the current economic morass.

“…studies show that voters are more likely to hold politicians accountable for economic conditions when there’s “clarity of responsibility”— and responsibility for the economy now belongs to Obama and the Democrats. The recession started long before Obama took office. But, from a voter’s perspective, he had two years with sizable majorities in Congress to do something about it.”

And in his inaugural column for The New York Times, Bill Keller writes that some of Obama’s woes are of his own making and some of them are our own.

“Obama can be faulted for periods of passivity (his silence as Republicans have sought to defund financial reforms), for a naïve deference to Congress (his belated engagement in the details of the health care bill), for a deficit of boldness and passion, for not doing more to stiffen the spines of his caucus on Capitol Hill, for not understanding — at least until his latest barnstorming on the jobs bill — that governing these days is a permanent campaign.”

Obama needs to come out fighting, Keller writes. But if Obama has become disappointing in the American voter’s eyes, Keller adds, just take another look at the increasingly extreme views of his competition. “Yes, Obama could do better. But we could do a lot worse.”

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