Sen. Joseph Lieberman, (I-Conn) a renowned hawk and one of the foremost champions of the invasion of Iraq, warned on Sunday that the United States faced “danger” unless it pre-emptively acts to curb the rise of terrorism in Yemen.
“Somebody in our government said to me in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, Iraq was yesterday’s war. Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war,” Lieberman said, during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday”. “That’s the danger we face.”
This is dumb. Unless we invade Yemen today, it’ll be tomorrow’s war? At any rate, Glenn Greenwald had an actual Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen on the Christmas Eve edition of his podcast if you want to learn about the subject.
The good news is that while progressives basically need Joe Lieberman’s vote in the Senate to pass domestic legislation, thus giving him a ton of leverage over what happens, nobody needs to listen to him about Yemen. The balance of risks, it seems to me, is neither that we’re just going to ignore the al-Qaeda movement there nor that we’re going to invade. Rather the risk is that, as Johnsen says, we’ll have too many airstrikes without “the proper groundwork to undermine al-Qaeda to the degree that these attacks would be seen as a good thing by the Yemeni population.” Nobody likes to see American airstrikes happening inside their country. But if the political context is right, people can see it as the lesser of two evils. If the context isn’t right, that can build support for al-Qaeda faster than it kills terrorists.
I think this point from the brief on Yemen that Andrew Exum and Richard Fontaine did last month is basically on those same lines:
Since 2001, U.S. policy toward Yemen has focused mostly – and, at times, overwhelmingly – on counterterrorism. This is understandable, but problematic. When the perceived terrorist threat in Yemen retreated in 2003, U.S. policymakers lost interest, abandoning or curtailing development projects in the country. Given the threat posed not just by terrorism in Yemen, but also by the potential for nationwide instability, U.S. policy should move toward a broader and more sustainable relationship, with a strong focus on development. Such a relationship would include a counterterrorism component, but not be defined by counterterrorism alone. American officials should make clear, both publicly and privately, that the United States seeks an enduring relationship with the people of Yemen. In so doing, they should note that the United States does not merely view Yemen as a counterterrorism problem, but rather as a country with which it seeks a multifaceted and enduring relationship that includes economic development, improved government, and domestic stability.
In practice, this seems like a tricky rope to walk. One where a Lieberman-style bombs away mentality isn’t going to help.