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Political Debate: Should the United States Get Involved with Aid to Yemen?

Side 1: The U.S. Should Give Aid to Yemen as a Form of Protection

default article imageCurrently in Yemen, protests and government instability has allowed Al-Qaeda to take over cities in the southern part of the country, particularly the port of Aden where 140,000 barrels of oil pass through every day. National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter has called Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula or ‘AQAP’ the biggest threat to the U.S. Homeland. The attempted bombing of U.S. flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 marked a shift in terrorist activity, since the attack came from Yemen, and not central Al – Qaeda leadership in South Asia. Most importantly, however, may be the scary possibility of a potential nuclearized AQAP. According to Larry J. Arbuckle, a Navy Lieutenant, Al-Qaeda could obtain nuclear weapons. The problem has been that they have not had enough financing to be able to do so yet. AQAP taking over Yemen and gaining influence in the region can possibly lead to them obtaining a nuclear weapon. President Obama said in 2011 that if Al-Qaeda obtained nuclear weapons they would have “no compunction” of using them. According to Obama, “The single biggest threat to U.S. security, both short-term, medium-term and longterm, would be the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon.” Stopping Al-Qaeda in Yemen needs to be a top priority for the American government.

In addition to Al-Qaeda, the United States have moral obligations to the women in Yemen. According to the Yemeni Secretary of Health, women have barely any rights in Yemen currently; they are arrested arbitrarily for “immoral” acts such as smoking, adultery, or eating in a restaurant with a “boyfriend.” Women also do not have the ability to marry who they please. If a woman wants to get married she must get the permission of a man in her family, if she has no male relatives she must go to a judge. Women in Yemen have a one-in-three chance of being able to read and write. Women have a one-in-five chance of being attended by a mid-wife when giving birth, as well as a one in 39 chance of dying while giving birth. As the woman is the primary caregiver of children, if the mother dies the child has an increased risk of dying shortly thereafter. There is no law in Yemen stating how old a woman must be before she can get married, girls as young as 12 find themselves with a husband.

Many people may say that these problems are too complex and that it is not the responsibility of the United States to send money to other countries. However, the Yemeni people are specifically asking the United States to help the revolution. Tawakkol Karman, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner and head of a leading non-governmental organization in Yemen wrote a New York Times article saying, “We ask our friends in Washington to help us build a democratic future.” She was also quoted as saying “Together, we can eliminate the causes of extremism and the culture of terrorism by bolstering civil society and encouraging development and stability.” Student Lex Todd agreed by saying, “Tawakkol Karmen the Nobel Peace Prize winner know exactly what the Yemeni people need, her calling out to the United States shows that sending foreign aid needs to be a top priority for the government of the U.S.”

According to the National Democratic Institute, Non-Government Organizations and Central Statistical Organizations have been successful at reforms regarding political, economic, democracy, and women. Democracy assistance has also been known to combat terrorism. Many new recruits are joining AQAP because they simply need to make money, or because they have no representation within government. By helping NGO’s and CSO’s in Yemen, the United States will allow for the people of Yemen to have no reason to want to join any extremist groups. Dr. Joseph Patten, Chair of Political Science commented by saying, “It’s easy to topple a government, its harder to rebuild. NGO’s and CSO’s have shown the capacity to rebuild Yemen and help democratize the country which wil lead to a prosperous future” The U.S. needs to change the culture in Yemen for the better. However, these same groups known to reform society are starving for funding. They have been successful at a small local level but Yemen is a very fragmented country, and they need more funding to be successful on a national level. The U.S. currently gives $25 million per year to Yemen, not nearly enough following a recent request by the Yemeni government of an assessment of close to $14 billion will be needed to implement the type of reforms necessary to solve for the abuses currently taking place.

Side 2: Yemen is Not Necessarily an Ally

In the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions, Democracy in the Middle East is an increasingly important foreign policy initiative for the United States. Authoritarian regimes have been toppled in countries like Egypt Tunisia, and Libya, but atrocities against Arab citizens are still being committed, as seen in the past week, most notably in Syria. As we examine the crisis in the Middle East from an international political perspective, we must ask if democracy is realistic; ultimately make the region more stable and safe. These are the questions that will define American foreign policy in the region for years to come.

After an October U.N. resolution called for an end to violence against the country’s citizens, President Saleh who had been badly burned amidst this violence, signed power over to Yemen’s Vice President and called for elections to be held by late November, according to an article in the New York Times in February of 2012. While on the surface these democratic elections can be a positive transition for countries like Yemen, in the long run they may not be so instrumental in ensuring global peace and security. Groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have been gaining a significant amount of power throughout the Arab Spring countries and have demonstrated their power in sweeping elections. This influence is evident in Yemen as well. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, even democracy building non-government organizations, such as the Syrian National Council, have had Muslim Brotherhood ties, furthering their political will into the governments of revolutionized countries. Bryan Nardone, Fiance major stated “More extremism in the region will most likely breed more civil unrest.” If these groups already have a hand in the structuring of democracy, then these elections are not representing the democratic will of the voters. Professor Nicole Bizzoco, an adjunct political science professor said, “they have not historically been an ally. We are also spread too thin financially as well as militarily in other conflicts toreally provide much in terms of those resources to Yemen. I think focusing onhumanitarian aid and supportingthe people’s push for democracy where feasible is our best bet.”

Israel is an important country to factor in while considering these democratic transitions. If these Islamic regimes start to gain power, will their hostility towards Israel be demonstrated by the policies they enact? In an October 2011 report by journalist Steven Emerson, prominent members of the group, such as Essam el-Erian, stated openly that the “Existence of a state for Jews is against all rules of states all over the world.” The group has also expressed wide spread support for Hamas in Palestine. With a shift in power that crucial, it could trigger unrest in the Middle East that is even worse than it is currently. Open hostility and acts of aggression towards Israel would incite this.

American interests can also be compromised by a shift of power in the Middle East. With more of an extremist-Islamic influence being ushered into political regimes, an anti-western sentiment could be perpetuated. America must recognize that an increase in aid to the new democratic systems may ultimately fund and assist governments that display hostility towards them and threaten peace with Israel. If conflict enhances between Israel and the Arab states it would not only increase violence, but could call for the U.S. to get involved on some level when the country is just getting out of the war in Iraq as well as dialing down our involvement in Afghanistan. Pushing for such rapid change may not be the most stable choice for the U.S. In a region where rogue elements like terrorist groups and extremist organizations wield a substantial amount of violent power, this governmental transition could become the ideal opportunity for a power grab. Bizzoco stated, “The U.S. government has the difficult task of balancing evaluating threats and determining where best to expend our limited resources. As we have learned from Iraq, however, the government needs to really perform due diligence on the intelligence it uses to determine if a military strategy is appropriate in a particular country within the region.”

The world powers must take gradual steps to ensure that progress will not be hindered by hasty actions influenced by the passions of the moment. As a prominent world power it is a responsibility for the U.S. to assist these countries in the most effective way. By doing this peace and stability can be preserved.