Obama’s Counterterror Chief: What War in Yemen?
Does this sound familiar? The U.S. fears al-Qaida filling the security vacuum in a distant, unfamiliar country with a weak government. While the U.S. carries out lethal strikes there to pursue the terrorists, senior officials intone that the greater part of their aid isn’t military, it’s economic development, better health care, improved schools and opportunities for the locals to flourish and the government to improve. Corruption, however, remains a big problem — and in case you were wondering, no, none of this expansive aid package means the U.S. is embroiling itself in a foreign civil war.
That’s how John Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, describes what the U.S. is doing in Yemen. If you put the U.S. approaches to Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan into a blender, the frothing mixture that emerged would be Yemen policy. Brennan didn’t come close to conceding that the U.S. is at war in Yemen during a Wednesday talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. Rather, Brennan took pains to describe President Obama’s approach to Yemen as a giant development effort — although it’s the type of economic improvement initiative that involves robots of death circling overhead.
Brennan said the numbers tell the tale. U.S. assistance to Yemen this year is more than $337 million. More than half of that, $178 million, is for “political transition, humanitarian assistance and development.” That includes “helping to strengthen governance and institutions on which Yemen’s long term progress depends.” The money will “expand essential services, improve efficiency, combat corruption and increase accountability.” There’s even $110 million, routed mostly through the United Nations, to provide “food vouchers, safe drinking water and basic health services.” For good measure, the U.S. will “empower women,” a frequent promise in Iraq and Afghanistan. In response to a question, Brennan launched into a wonky discourse about Yemenis’ difficulties in accessing clean water.