April 29, 2011

Day and Night in Syria and Yemen

Throughout the Arab Spring, as Obama officials have grown fond of saying, a disjointed argument has been deployed to counteract mounting criticism of U.S. foreign policy. First insisting that America’s response has remained constant and consistent with U.S. values, reporters often question the perceived double-standard between U.S. allies and enemies, a pragmatic distinction now collapsing under equal democratic forces. The answer, inevitably, is that a “one-size-fits-all” approach isn’t functional during such a diverse and rapid chain of events.

This argument contradicts itself regardless of geopolitical demands.

Although nothing is certain in the Arab Spring, a consistent message to all dictators - friend and foe - cannot be ruled out so quickly as impractical. Supporting one regime over another has created more chaos and order, contrary to Washington and Riyadh's plan; a “pragmatic” strategy has only postponed those revolutions it opposes. These gains are temporary in the face of ceaseless energy from the youth, and jeopardize long-term U.S. interests in the Middle East and Africa.

Then again, maybe U.S. values are being held up in Syria and Yemen alike. As casualties mount under the fire of Syrian security forces, the international community has finally started to gather its own forces in the name of freedom and justice. Meanwhile Washington is fully-engaged in another American pastime in Yemen - weaseling out of punishment.

On Friday the White House released a “fact sheet” describing President Barack Obama’s executive order in response to Syrian human rights abuses. This Order, “provides the United States with new tools to target individuals and entities determined to have engaged in human rights abuses in Syria, including those related to repression; to be a senior official of an entity whose property is blocked pursuant to the Order; to have provided material support to, or to be owned or controlled by, persons blocked under the Order.”

The Order specifically targets Mahir al-Asad, President Bashar al-Assad’s brother and brigade commander in the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division, who has played a leading role in the government's crackdown in Dar’a. Sanctions will also be imposed on Atif Najib, al-Bashar’s cousin and the head of the Political Security Directorate (PSD) for Dar’a Province during March 2011, in addition to the entire General Intelligence Directorate (GID). Finally, Iran’s Qods Force (IRGC-QF) is singled out for providing material support to al-Assad.

The order’s conclusion demonstrates why a similar response in Yemen is not only unlikely but illogical: “As a result of this action, any property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the individuals listed in the Annex have an interest is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.”

How does the United States sanction or seize its own property?

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's iron-fist hasn't been as hard, relatively speaking, in his crackdown on Yemen’s democratic uprising; al-Assad might have killed more protesters in the last week than Saleh has disposed of since February. However Yemen’s civilian death-toll is likely much higher than the estimated 150, given persistent reports of government kidnappings (similar to Egypt). The wounded number in the thousands, with injuring ranging from knife and bullet wounds to tear gas spasms.

Their blood is largely traced back to Saleh’s Republican Guard and Central Security, his loyalist forces amid a wave of defections. These two units, as in al-Assad’s scheme, are commanded by Ahmad and Yahya, Saleh’s son and cousin. Unlike al-Assad’s relatives, however, Ahmad and Yahya enjoy life on the U.S. payroll.

So how can they be targeted for sanctions when they serve as Saleh’s military liaisons with the Pentagon? How can their units be targeted for sanctions when they’ve been outfitted with U.S. equipment? Or if they remain in place throughout Yemen's "transition?" Washington knowingly closed its collective eyes as Saleh redeployed from al-Qaeda to his enemies, the northern Houthis and secessionist Southern Movement, another policy that the White House doesn't want to rehash.

Going further, why can’t Iran provide material support to al-Assad but America can provide military support to Saleh? Why can Saudi Arabia invade Bahrain at the government’s request?

It’s safe to say that the U.S.-authored proposal, to be presented by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Saturday and Sunday, isn’t totally consumed with saving Saleh. No, Washington's first priority is saving its own skin from complicity in past and ongoing human rights abuses. Immunity for Saleh's family was written into the GCC proposal for a variety of reasons, mainly to preserve his political future and to protect U.S. counter-terrorism operations.

But the document is feeling more and more like Washington’s personal “get-out-of-jail-free” card. It certainly isn't a legitimate political resolution to Yemen's revolution.

Immediate help isn’t on the way for Syrians, as they should know by following the UN at all. While UN sanctions have proven beneficial in Libya and Côte d'Ivoire, Syria’s larger economy will likely provide al-Assad with additional time to stall. The sanctions themselves are limited in scope, though they do represent a start. Conversely, U.S. or UN sanctions imposed on Saleh’s decayed economic position would suck the remaining air out of his stall tactics, which are already running low on funds. Unfortunately the Obama administration has yet release a fact sheet announcing the halt of U.S. military support to Saleh’s regime.

He’s too busy trying to whitewash America’s bloodshed in Yemen.

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