Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been helpful in the fight against Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but Thomas Joscelyn argues that the Obama administration shouldn’t be so reluctant to see him go:
Surely it’s time for Saleh to step down. Indeed, there is every indication he is going to go, whether America blesses the move or not.
While the future of a post-Saleh Yemen is far from certain, every day he stays the situation gets worse. The administration rightly says that it wants to prevent as much violence as possible, but Saleh is escalating tensions – not reducing them – by clinging to power. And every day the Obama administration pushes for more “dialogue,” resentment for America grows. Indeed, as a friend in Yemen recently told me: “President Saleh is the face of America.” Therefore, as Yemenis see it, America gets part of the blame when Saleh’s forces kill protesters – whether we deserve it or not.
Perhaps most importantly, let us not forget that Saleh is far from an ideal partner in the fight against al Qaeda. Throughout his reign, and especially since September 11, 2001, al Qaeda has only grown stronger in his country. Saleh has skillfully played the rising terrorist threat to his own advantage. He is duplicitous and corrupt – always cutting deals with whoever will pay the highest price. And he has backed some of the most dangerous al Qaeda-affiliated characters in Yemen even in the face of substantial international pressure.
Joscelyn makes a good case that Saleh isn’t as great an ally as he might appear. But there’s a lot packed into “the future of a post-Saleh Yemen is far from certain.” Yemen may be a problem with no good solution. There’s a case for getting out in front of Saleh’s fall in the hopes of maintaining good relations with whoever takes over (insofar as it’s possible to take over in a country where a four-way civil war has been simmering for years). There’s also a case for sticking with him all the way down, to signal that support in the fight against al Qaeda, even if it is somewhat uneven, buys support from the United States. It would be hard to fault the Obama administration too much for picking either of those bad options.