By The Associated Press, on NPR website, February 3, 2011
The United States has taken a sharp tone on Egypt, urging Mubarak to move swiftly to meet the demand for democratic reform. But it cautiously praised reform pledges in Yemen. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley on Wednesday welcomed Saleh's "positive statements."
Saleh is seen as a weak but increasingly important partner of the United States, allowing American drone strikes on al-Qaida targets and stepping up counterterrorism cooperation.
In Brussels, Yemen's foreign minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, warned that interference from outside countries — he mentioned Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan — would be counterproductive.
He said frustration of the young generation was widespread across the Arab world, including in his country. "I think the frustrations of younger generations are universal in the Arab world," al-Qirbi told The Associated Press in Brussels, where he had come to seek development aid.
However, he said Yemen's government never severed contacts with opposition parties and civil groups, and for that reason it was better placed to hold a constructive internal dialogue than other countries in the Middle East.
In Yemen, where the population is overwhelmingly very young, unemployment is 35 percent and poverty is endemic. About 40 percent of the population lives on less than $2 (euro1.45) a day.
Saleh's government controls little of the impoverished country beyond the capital; it is facing a serious challenge from a secessionist movement in the south and a rebellion in the north.
The U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, thought to be hiding in Yemen, is believed to have inspired and even plotted or helped coordinate recent attacks on the U.S. Those include the failed Christmas Day 2009 bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner and the unsuccessful plot to send mail bombs on planes from Yemen to the U.S. in October.
Al-Awlaki also is believed to have inspired the deadly 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, and had ties to some of the 9/11 hijackers.
There is considerable irony here. In the case of Egypt, from which country there does not appear to have been any terrorists attacking the U.S. or its interests, the U.S. takes a very hard line about changes that have to come about "now." In the case of Yemen, from which country, several terrorists have been hatched in a 'university' operated specifically for training AlQaeda linked operatives, and those terrorists have wreaked havoc or potential havoc in the U.S., words of support for a program of reform from the leadership in Yemen.
I guess the message is, if you are a true friend of the U.S., don't look to have any slack cut for you by the American government, whereas, if you are merely a token ally, and there is a real potential for additional attacks from terrorists spawned and trained in your country, then you get a pass, on the timing of your reform package.
One has to ask, and not completely rhetorically, "Is the name Mohammed Atta hanging over the rooms in which American foreign policy is designed, written, debated, parsed and distributed?"
Is the U.S. more afaid of the potential for terrorist attacks than it is of the Middle East imploding?
Is the risk of more attacks more influential in U.S. thinking than the larger risk of the whole region turning into a "Muslim Middle East," as the Iranians are publicly hoping for?
If that kind of framing of the conversation is even close to approximating the truth of the operating framework inside the Siatuation Room at the White House, then the whole world is being risked to favour the relatively narrow and parochial interests of the U.S. Of course, the U.S. must protect its own citizens from direct attack. However, it would seem only reasonable that the stakes in this uprising are a little more explosive than the risks to American citizens from terrorists.
Unless, of course, it is through the lens of 9/11 that all foreign policy now takes shape and form.
And that, for all of us, is not a prospect that invites confidence, security or the audacity of hope.