As the Western and Arab media continue to spin “U.S. pressure” and a “power transfer” in Yemen, two fundamental errors must be unequivocally rejected. First, Saleh didn’t “agree and back out” of the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) proposal three times - he’s never agreed in the first place. Second, Yemen’s future cannot be decided by its people under the GCC’s terms, which were negotiated between Saleh’s officials and the unpopular Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) at the hands of U.S. and Saudi officials.
Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland committed both of these errors during Tuesday’s State Department briefing, a copy/paste of Monday.
Rebuffing multiple opportunities to comment on Ali Abdullah Saleh’s return to Yemen, Nuland employs the GCC four times as her response. The issue isn’t his return, according to multiple U.S. official, but, “to move forward with a democratic transition along the lines of the deal that the GCC put forward that President Saleh himself said repeatedly that he supported. So, I think, the question is better put – why is President Saleh finding it so difficult to sign this thing so his country can move forward?”
Because he never agreed to what is still a very generous offer from Washington and Riyadh. Because he has vowed from the revolution’s beginning to cede power only through “the ballot box,” an oblique reference to a fraudulent election.
Questioned again by the indomitable Matthew Lee (of The Associated Press), Nuland replies, “Again, from this podium, our view is that Yemen needs to move in a democratic direction along the lines of the GCC report. How that happens is up to the Yemeni people, but it’s got to happen. So there are many, many routes that President Saleh could take to facilitate that process and he hasn’t taken any of them.”
After one final attempt, “Again, I’m not prepared to put that in those terms the way you did from this podium. My point on Yemen is the same point that we’ve been making for some six weeks and certainly since President Saleh was brought to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, that it is still possible for him to fulfill his obligation and his commitment to his people to sign the deal and let Yemen move on, and that needs to happen regardless of where he is.”
These remarks can be dissected from “many, many” angles, but the overall context of Washington’s reaction to Yemen has been chopped off by the U.S. and international media. Until Monday’s burst of information, mere smoke to cover Saleh’s hospital exit, the State Department hadn’t issued a response to Yemen in three weeks, and before that only three times in July (Syria was condemned 18 times in the same period). The media quotes these State officials without explaining that U.S. policy has literally stayed the same throughout Saleh’s brutal, “off-shore” crackdown.
Failing to account for Yemen’s revolutionaries, U.S. media routinely neglects to mention that most Yemenis oppose the GCC’s initiative. A dwindling minority support Saleh while a slightly larger minority wish him gone without the hassle of trying him. The majority, however, seek justice for 33 years of abuses against them and their families, driven by pre-existing unity against Saleh. The besieged dictator famously described ruling Yemen’s diverse landscape as “dancing on the heads of snakes,” but these were real people that he neglected.
Washington and Riyadh seek to rob Yemenis of their justice out of a need to shield personal assets. Saleh and his family’s immunity was written into the GCC’s initiative to silence U.S. complicity in his crimes against the Yemeni people, a far cry from Libya and Syria’s tightening UN sanctions.
Furthermore, what confidence can possibly be found in the fact that U.S. officials claim to be out of touch with Saleh? White House counter-terror chief John Brennan, U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein and other U.S. officials have privately lobbied Saleh to remain in Saudi Arabia; extensive conversations have also taken place with Riyadh. Yet Nuland claims that the administration last spoke with Saleh through Brennan on July 10th, and currently isn’t “seeking direct contact.” Asked, “Do you have any clarity on what are his intentions?” Nuland flatly replies, “We do not.”
Except that Saleh should sign the GCC’s proposal.
All U.S., Saudi, European and UN discussions over Yemen’s power transfer are inherently superficial. Neither the GCC’s initiative nor any known alternatives supports total regime change in Yemen; Saleh's latest ploy calls for early elections overseen by the current government. No plan is willing to break free of Saleh’s regime, build itself on the demands of Yemen’s people, and assist in their struggle for justice. Washington and Riyadh’s grand strategy continues to hinge on the notoriously duplicitous Saleh, leaving the situation “in his hands” - an extremely dangerous place for Yemen to be.
Avoiding pressure because of his instability is equally duplicitous; back in March, with U.S. support still warm, Saleh denounced the revolution as manufactured by Obama himself. With Saudi Arabia as his fallback plan, he also resisted any notion of fleeing the country until narrowly escaping assassination in his own palace. Where was this new found “caution” in handling Saleh before Yemen’s revolution started?
Sadly “U.S. pressure” and UN support for the GCC’s initiative are nothing more than stall tactics to pass Ramadan. Saleh could defy all international pressure and return to Yemen, or he could remain in Saudi Arabia and dominate through his son and nephews. Even if his family is replaced, exile will provide the ideal location to pull his party’s strings. Through no coincidence, none of these factors are being considered by Washington or the U.S. media.
Instead of advocating universal rights and self-determination, the Obama administration has channeled the mind of Ali Abdullah Saleh.