Under the Obama administration, United States policy toward Yemen was largely driven by regional concerns and counter-terrorism initiatives, with the drone campaign targeting Al Qaeda leaders in Yemen today remaining among America’s most intense.
The Arab Spring uprisings, which reached Yemen in early 2011, complicated America’s regional relationships and seemed to sour Obama’s appetite for democratization. This became apparent in Yemen when the White House helped install a US-friendly administration in Sana’a after long-time ally President Ali Abdullah Saleh was ousted. Saleh was replaced with his own vice president, Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who promptly announced plans to rout Al Qaeda’s Yemen franchise.
For the past 18 months, Yemen has been going through one of the most chaotic times of its modern history. Since the Houthi takeover of the capital, Sanaa, on Sept. 21, 2014, the country has been witnessing a gradual collapse of the state, which was accelerated when President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi left Sanaa for Aden and then for Riyadh. By March 2015, the Houthi rebel group was the de facto power running the country.
After 15 years of US efforts to combat terror and achieve stability in Yemen, a new study by Saferworld concludes that these efforts—as in the cases of Afghanistan andSomalia—have badly backfired. Today, Yemen requires not more military intervention, but strategies to counter corrupt and abusive government and to show its people that their security and rights matter.
Why is war a more common occurrence in some parts of Yemen than in others? Why do cities like Aden recover quickly from wars? And why do their youth rush to clean up streets and restore normalcy? Why do wars quickly cease in cities like Taiz and Ibb, but are quick to flare up over and over around Sanaa? It is basically a matter of the economy.
In the tribal North, where a war economy prevails, tribes thrive on conflicts. This contrasts sharply with the peasant tribes of central and southern Yemen that rely on an agriculture-based economy. In other words, war in Taiz hampers the agricultural economy and brings the lives of farmers to a grinding halt, while the war’s end in Amran results in unemployment and the demise of what has come to embody ‘normalcy.’