Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton endorsed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh as “preferable to anarchy” in a Fox News appearance this morning. Bolton argued that Saleh — despite clinging to power for three decades, refusing to implement democratic reforms and overseeing a violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators — is the key to preventing Al-Qaeda from sweeping from across Yemen. He said:
I think Saleh’s return is quite significant. For month’s people had been saying the Saudis were trying to talk him out of power — him and his family — and when he was wounded in that attempted assasination and had to go to Saudi Arabia for treatment, I think many people thought that was the easy way out, in effect, and he would never go back. And he obviously didn’t leave Saudi Arabia without their concurrence. So my guess is the Saudis have put more weight on stability in Yemen than perhaps we’re willing to. But in light of the killing of Awlaki, I think we have to look again at whether Saleh might not be preferable to anarchy, certaintly preferable to Al-Qaeda.
But Bolton’s apparent endorsement of Saleh’s iron-fisted rule as means to containing Al Qaeda isn’t backed up by the reported facts on the ground. Indeed, Saleh cooperated with U.S. efforts to pressure al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) but AQAP appears to have suffered a major setback with the death of Anwar al-Awlaki. The main coalition of opposition groups in Yemen have shown little sympathy for AQAP and claim that Saleh used al Qaeda’s presence as an excuse for harsh tactics against pro-democracy activists and his political opponents.