Keeping Yemen in Perspective

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It’s just words, but the idea, that instability in Yemen is a “global threat” seems obviously overblown. As I said before the challenge posed by Yemen—a country that, I promise you, no prominent American pundits or politicians know anything about—is to articulate the idea that America can have some interests in a place without wildly overstating the extent of those interests.

I wrote about this for The National in an article on the “safe haven” theory of national security:

But there are real questions about how reasonable this fear of safe havens is. For one thing, the strategy is frighteningly unbounded. Today America is worried about chaos in Afghanistan, but there are also indications that al Qa’eda has found safe haven in Somalia and Yemen. Broken states, alas, are not all that rare. To suggest that the United States could succeed in its mission to vastly improve governance in Afghanistan, given enough time and money and manpower, hardly provides evidence that the task could be repeated in Sudan and Nigeria and Chad. If it’s true that the world’s security depends on eradicating every pocket of instability on Earth, then we really are doomed.

These situations are problematic. When examined closely, in most cases there are probably some things we can do that will make them less problematic. Some of those things will be very costly and some will have reasonably low costs. When the costs are low, we should take action. Where exactly to draw the line is going to be hard to say. But it’s necessarily an exercise in line-drawing. Given that you can’t go all in everywhere it would be a huge mistake to randomly go all-in on some in the news hotspot only to find that resources aren’t available to do anything else.