October 11, 2011
White House Maintains Blackout in Yemen, Bahrain
The Obama administration has been notoriously unkind to Yemen and Bahrain’s revolutionaries. Left to deputies, counterterrorism officials and the local ambassadors, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have expended their foreign policy rations on Libya and Syria. Limited statements, uninformative briefings and tightly controlled information revolving around al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Iran effectively pushed Yemenis and Bahrainis to the bottom of America and Saudi Arabia’s sphere of influence.
Yet U.S. news organizations must take some responsibility for their actions, even if the barrier between state and media is paper thin. Few journalists seem concerned that Bahrain’s King reconvened a sham session over a sham lower parliament, where he championed material reforms to conceal a systemic political crisis. Nor would there be any praise from the administration after unsuccessfully hyping a failed “National Dialogue.”
Perhaps no journalist tasked to the State Department believes Ali Abdullah Saleh’s cries anymore, but not one directed a question towards his latest promise to resign. Another lie is still news since it impacts the whole of Yemen’s situation; if Saleh outright refuses to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) initiative until his political opponents are exiled, all U.S. demands to this end are rendered mute. The administration's policy is floating dead in the water alongside the GCC initiative, buried again by protesters over the weekend.
A major story if someone actually wanted to cover it.
Jamal Benomar, the UN’s envoy to Yemen, also briefed the UN Security Council on Tuesday, giving journalists plenty to discuss with the White House’s Josh Earnest or the State Department’s Victoria Nuland. Again the topic wouldn’t be the GCC’s initiative, which the UN is about to formally stamp, but how Saleh refuses to sign it. Western diplomats keep dropping hints of “one week,” a tactic they began using months ago, and the GCC’s contents remain obscured after multiple edits by Saleh’s party and the UN’s delegation. Although the oppositional Joint Meeting Parties is risking its last strands of credibility by cooperating with the GCC and UN, the political bloc - at least in public - rejects the intiative without Saleh’s immediate resignation.
However the JMP may harbor alternative plans to obtain power through the GCC, and no other party agrees to this concession.
Most importantly, Saleh’s entire strategy is geared around staying in office until a new presidential election is held, which could be anywhere between three and six months in an ideal world. His first objective is to exhaust the revolutionaries; if he can’t, political maneuvering around the election will preserve his shrinking political network. On Sunday revolutionaries marched out of Change Square chanting, "Oh world, why are you silent while the people of Yemen are getting killed?"
So if not now, when will journalists probe the administration's immoral response to Yemen in greater depth? Tomorrow? Next week? After more blood is spilled, as is too often the case?
Unfortunately the mainstream media generally operates under Washington’s control while projecting an aura of independence, and thus cannot be fully blamed for inaction in Yemen or Bahrain. Media awareness is low, but organizations are rewarded in access and easily steered towards the “correct” narrative. U.S. media has little incentive to examine Yemen’s revolution or Bahrain’s uprising in depth, and could jeopardize access to information on AQAP or Gulf developments. A larger system beyond the media’s control has been corrupted.
The U.S. government also has a duty (supposedly) to inform the American people, which is why many have lost faith in both organs. When no journalist asks about Saleh’s latest scheme, the administration could release an official response through another press statement. These have no effect on the situation because they are unflinchingly supportive of the GCC initiative, but they speak to the simple fact that the administration does have other options - it just doesn’t want to explore them. The only tangible response is putting EU countries in the lead, as if to hide the collapse of U.S. policy in Yemen.
Ignoring Saleh’s ploys until UN action can be organized doesn’t suggest calculation, but a lack of urgency to remove him from power. Diplomacy inaction.