October 28, 2011

U.S. Propaganda 101 in Yemen

Much like the international community itself, Western media has functioned as a double-edged sword throughout the Arab revolutions. Depending on whether a regime complies or disobeys with foreign orders, U.S. and European media generally follow the direction of their governments’ eyes. Each revolution has made widespread use of international media, which in turn breaks stories to accelerate the revolutions, but less fortunate protesters are subject to suffocating disinformation campaigns.

A main weakness of network-centric warfare (not to be confused with netwar) is false information; entering incorrect data can spread throughout a network if unchecked at the source.

Yemen constitutes a large mass of the counter-revolutionary blackout generated by Western, Gulf and Asian states. Propaganda output is highest in the two states with significant influence in Yemen - America and Saudi Arabia. While public awareness and pressure has negligible effect in the Kingdom, America’s public apathy and ignorance of Yemen’s complex environment contributes to its deterioration. Low awareness has enabled the Obama administration to act with impunity before and after the revolution began in January. Journalists have bigger things to write about and generally don’t ask when Yemen isn’t mentioned or particularly bloody.

Few big name pundits address the revolution on the national level that Egypt, Libya and Syria received; Yemen usually goes unmentioned if it’s not locked within the box of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Compounding the problem, U.S. academics that theoretically serve as the last line of education are swimming with Washington’s current. Rather than develop innovative solutions to revive a stagnant national policy, a lethal case of group think has infected the capital under the radar. Most “established” analysts in Yemen favor gradual regime change and only indirectly condemn Saleh’s actions. They depend too much on access to expose the truth of Washington’s meltdown. The result is a highly manipulated, monopolized think-tank circuit.

Christopher Boucek is a leading proliferator of state policy, whether Bush or Obama in origin. Boucek acknowledges Yemen’s problem in America - “there is so much we don’t know or understand about what goes on across Yemen” - while reinforcing the official U.S. line. His latest piece to Carnegie Institute reads like it was drafted by Western and Gulf diplomats, never mentioning but at all times advocating the GCC’s unpopular initiative.

Boucek’s general conclusion is that Yemen’s economy, not Saleh’s misrule as a whole, is the source of division. U.S. counter-terrorism is working but Washington needs a bridge through Yemen’s “political crisis.” Saleh’s family apparatus, loyalists and the JMP’s tribal network form a large part of Yemen’s puzzle, but they are not the only pieces. Thus Boucek’s policy counters the revolutionaries at every point. Snap elections offer the only “exit, an outcome that favors Saleh’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) and the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) - and would retrench old political lines. The revolutionaries instead call for a transitional period of 6-9 months (in line with regional election schedules), needing time to organize and remove Saleh’s regime before an election is held.

Boucek repeatedly defends U.S. policy as “realistic,” but a clearer vision of Yemen’s reality can be inferred from the opposite of his propaganda. Unfortunately it will be swallowed by many Americans as is.

Some of the most outrageous “gems:”
  • “Yemen is eager to be seen as a good partner to the United States. Many U.S. senior officials feel that the Yemeni government is now more cooperative than it ever was in the past.”
  • “Success breeds success. The killing of Awlaki helps Washington encourage Yemen to go after the other wanted terrorists. The American administration’s thinking on Yemen is much more mature than many people give it credit for, with Washington looking to find ways to make this situation work to America’s advantage.”
  • “There are diverging interests between Washington’s reliance on the Yemeni government for counterterrorism support and an international push for Saleh to leave amid calls for greater democracy across the region. But the fear of terrorism is not going away. The United States doesn’t know who is going to come to power next in Yemen and is trying to encourage the government currently in control to do as much as it can today.”
  • "Washington is working with the reality that exists now. This doesn’t mean that Washington is not pushing for Saleh’s exit, but the United States wants it to be as peaceful of a process as possible. Washington would like to see a managed process, with as little fallout as possible. If things go bad, they’re going to go really bad. The United States can’t push through a final deal, the Yemenis need to make compromises and find a process that keeps tensions calm."
  • “The Yemeni government argues that a transition process needs to be lawful and legitimate—otherwise they say it would be a coup. No matter what you think about the Yemeni government, President Saleh is the legitimately elected leader. Simply throwing him out right now without any sort of plan for what would come next could make matters worse.”
  • “U.S. policy has been inconsistent throughout the Arab Spring. When it comes to issues of terrorism, security, and AQAP in Yemen, Washington has tempered the immediate desire to see change and reform. Balancing these two objectives is not easy and because the stakes are so high in Yemen, it seems U.S. policymakers are not pushing for too much change too soon.”
Unsurprisingly, Boucek tries to flip his hand by concluding, “The United States needs to shift from having a relationship with the government of Yemen to having a relationship with all Yemenis.”

Except his “solution" - to deny that Yemen is experiencing a revolution - will further distance Washington from its people.


  1. Below is my latest entry. It is my take on the shift in the DoD's priority from the Greater Middle East to the Pacific Region:

  2. I'm sorry folks, but there is no revolution in Yemen. This is a powerplay within the Hasheed tribe to decide who is going to rule over this place the coming 25 years and that's all there is. No matter what, the next ruler will be from Hasheed!
    It is just a shame how much innocent blood is shed along this way.

  3. Sorry Anonymous One... even the Voice of America is reporting differently than your pessimistic view.


  4. A revolution isn't mutually exclusive from a tribal power struggle. Both events can and have unfolded simultaneously in Yemen, adding to and decreasing the revolution's strength. You may be right that a Hashid comes to replace Saleh (whether Hamid or someone else), but I don't think this outcome is inevitable. Tribal participation in the revolution is also positive at the grassroots level.