The country of Yemen lies at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. It has a population of approximately 24 million people, and is about the size of Colorado and Wyoming combined.
Yemen has a complex political history. It is the poorest country in the entire Middle East, with a per capita annual income of less than $1,400. The northern and southern parts of the country unified only in 1990, and serious tensions still exist between these regions. Yemen has also suffered from frequent interventions by its richer and more powerful northern neighbor, Saudi Arabia. The latter usually tries to weaken the central government of Yemen in order to increase its own influence.
Until recently, Yemen was the main Arab target for the war on terror. There have been more than 70 drone strikes in Yemen since 2002 and more than 800 fatalities. The drone strikes were intended to weaken al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), but they have had exactly the opposite effect. The drone strikes destabilized the central government of Yemen, precipitated a successful rebellion by the Houthi people of northern Yemen (a branch of Shia Islam), and on March 25 compelled the unpopular Yemen president, Mansur al-Hadi, to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia. The Houthi rebels currently control about half of Yemen, including the capital Sanaa (a city of almost two million).
The latest episode in this sad, but familiar, story is a monthlong Saudi Arabian aerial attack (with U.S. backing) upon Yemen. The attack is supposedly for the purpose of restoring deposed president Hadi to power, but the Saudi’s are probably more intent upon combating a possible extension of Iranian influence. The death toll from the Saudi aerial attacks exceeds 900, and the bombing has displaced at least 150,000 people. The main beneficiary of these attacks appears to be AQAP, which now controls Yemen’s fifth largest city. The ultimate upshot of ill-advised drone strikes on Yemen could well be a prolonged and multi-sided civil war with grim ramifications for the entire Middle East.
The Obama Administration regards drone attacks as a cheap and a well-controlled alternative to full-scale warfare. This view is profoundly mistaken. Drone attacks violate basic principles of international law and undermine the entire framework of national sovereignty. They create far more rebels than they destroy, and they instill an abiding hatred for the perpetrator of the attacks. Moreover, drone attacks instigate a chain of events that readily leads to full-scale warfare. Yemen is a prime example.
Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s ‘Peace Train’ runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.