is a Travesty of the Truth Yemen is a real place where people are demanding social justice and democracy. Their cause is harmed by the US
by Brian Whitaker Guardian/UK August 8, 2013
Citizens of Yemen's capital are not accustomed to drones – strikes usually happen in more remote parts of the country – but the white object circling overhead, harmlessly as it turned out, gave them a small taste of what it's like to be on the receiving end. "If this is how much fear, terror, and anger what just sounds to be a drone makes in Yemen's capital, imagine what it does in areas it actually bombs," activist Farea al-Muslimi tweeted.
In fact, it wasn't a drone on this occasion. Whether or not the plane gleaned any useful intelligence, there is little doubt that the buzzing of the capital, together with the closure of embassies, the sudden evacuation of foreigners and the latest reported drone attack in Shabwa, are as much about psychological warfare as they are about conventional anti-terrorism operations. Some of the psychology is obvious. The message to al-Qaida's militants is that their plans have been rumbled and they are being watched. If that makes them lie low for a while, the US will claim that its ploy has worked.
But two other messages from this spectacle are more troubling. One is what it says to Yemenis, and the other is what it says to Americans. The desire to protect embassies and their staff is understandable. Domestically, he has little to lose by over-reacting to the current threat. The trouble, though, is that this also reinforces American perceptions that Yemen is about al-Qaida and very little else. Viewed from Washington, Yemen is not a real place where people are demanding social justice and democracy so much as a theatre of operations in Saudi Arabia's backyard.
Among ordinary Yemenis, meanwhile, the latest al-Qaida drama has been greeted with scepticism and even some derision. Al-Qaida is often viewed as an American obsession while millions of Yemenis have more basic things to worry about – like obtaining their next meal. They also point out that more people die on Yemen's treacherous mountain roads, or in fights over scarce water resources, than at the hands of al-Qaida.
There is now widespread recognition that drone strikes in Yemen have been counter-productive. Whatever benefits they brought in terms of killing militants who posed a serious threat have been cancelled out by the killing of others who posed no threat at all, and the anger this has aroused among the population at large.
Some of that resentment is now being directed against President Hadi, who was installed by the Gulf states (with western blessing) as Saleh's successor. Hadi had no real power base in Yemen and without strong international backing – especially from the US – he would be unlikely to survive for long. That leaves him in no position to resist American demands and at the same time it further damages his support at home. In effect, the US is propping him up with one hand and dragging him down with the other. [Abridged]
© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited
Brian Whitaker is a former Middle East editor of the Guardian.