On April 24, Robert Swan Mueller III, the venerable director of the FBI, paid a visit to Yemen's newly installed president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi (formerly President Saleh's main lackey and Yemen's Vice President). The trip came just after an airstrike two days earlier that successfully targeted Mohammed Saeed al-Umda, Yemen's fourth most wanted individual and the person in charge of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's (AQAP) finances.
After the meeting, Mueller stated that the United States will continue to support the Yemeni government "with full force" in all respects. On April 26, two days after Mueller's visit, President Obama approved the CIA's request for expanded drone strike capabilities in Yemen. This new authority allows the CIA to target individuals even without knowing their identities, effectively permitting it to kill people based on suspicious behavior.
Though Yemen's internal politics have changed dramatically since January 2011, U.S. strategy there has remained single-mindedly focused on eradicating AQAP. Democracy promotion, and the hopes of millions of Yemenis who supported the revolution, do not appear to be among the Obama Administration's concerns in the country. Nowhere was this more clear than in a recent press conference in Sana'a, where Jeffrey Feltman, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, reinforced U.S. support for the existing transition plan, which doesn't call for elections until February 2014 and which has widely left President Saleh's patronage network intact. (His son, Ahmed Ali Abdullah Saleh, still controls the Republican Guard and Special Forces - a fact that inspires considerable disquiet among members of the pro-democracy opposition.)
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Since the beginning of the demonstrations against President Saleh's regime, the U.S. has signally failed to support the pro-democracy youth movement, a group that consists largely of the young and dissatisfied men that AQAP recruits so assiduously. The youth movement, with its calls for democracy and broader representation, is the best hope for a more tolerant and stable Yemen. In April 2011, the youth movement openly petitioned the U.S. for support, only to be ignored. The U.S. instead supported the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) negotiations with the old regime, squashing any hopes of an authentic democratic revolution and antagonizing Washington's most likely local allies. A few months later, Tawakkol Karman, one of the leaders of the group and the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, published an op-ed in the New York Times asking for the U.S. to support the youth movement even while explicitly approving America's "right to attack terrorist sanctuaries." Just imagine a Yemen in which a democratically elected government openly aids American counter-terrorism operations with popular support -- a far remove from the current situation. Sadly, after being ignored by Washington and subverted by U.S. support for former regime figures, the youth movement no longer asks for American help. As Khaled al-Anesi, a leader of the youth movement, stated in late February, "This revolution has been stabbed in the back."
Instead of advocating a better strategy, U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein has continued to emphasize the need for a vague "national dialogue" while casting aspersions on demonstrators who are literally dying to try and make Yemen a democratic country instead of kowtowing to the ancien regime. "We've also been clear in saying we don't believe that the demonstrations are the place where Yemen's problems will be solved," he stated in March. "We think that the problems have to be resolved through this process of dialogue and negotiations." This is empty rhetoric at its best. The lack of U.S. support means that these young men and women, who effectively ousted Saleh and continue to call for democratic institutions, have broadly failed to have a voice in the formation of Yemen's new government or have their legitimate concerns be taken seriously. (Above, a Yemeni soldier looks at posters of protestors allegedly killed by security forces in an anti-goverment demonstration last year.)