WASHINGTON — Twenty-seven leading foreign policy experts have sent a letter to President Obama, calling for a broader approach on US policy towards Yemen that “expands beyond the narrow lens of counterterrorism.” As US intelligence agencies point to the rise of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) activity making Yemen the next front in counterterrorism, the letter, signed by diplomats, security specialists, scholars, and US policy experts, argues that current US policy is short-sighted. It strongly urges for better policy that still serves America’s national interests by decreasing extremism and combating security threats in the region, but through a comprehensive, long-term approach that addresses Yemen’s social, economic, and political challenges.
The five-page letter, argues that current US counterterrorism policy toward Yemen “does not address the underlying causes that have propelled such [militant] forces to find fertile ground in Yemen” and that US public diplomacy only reinforces such perceptions: “Although the Department of State, USAID, and others have invested millions in development and governance projects, the perception both in the US and in Yemen is that we are singularly focused on AQAP. Yemenis need to know that their country is more than a proxy battleground and that our long-term commitment to the stability, development, and legitimacy of the country matches our more immediate and urgent commitment to the defeat of AQAP.”
Among the letter’s recommendations, the experts call for the US Administration to:
- Change the primary face of the US government in Yemen to alter the perception that US interest and attention are solely dominated by counterterrorism and security issues.
- Reevaluate the strategy of drone strikes with the recognition that it is generating significant anti-American sentiment.
- Work with Friends of Yemen to provide humanitarian aid for the more than 10 million Yemenis going hungry daily.
- Increase economic and governance aid to support democratic institution-building, so that it represents a greater proportion of overall assistance compared with military assistance
- Support the restructuring of Yemeni security towards a unified command hierarchy under Yemeni civilian leadership.
The bipartisan letter includes signatories from a range of backgrounds including Andrew Natsios, former Administrator of USAID; Emile Nakhleh, former Director of the CIA’s Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program; David Kramer of Freedom House; Steven Heydemann of Georgetown University; and Andrew Exum of the Center for New American Security.
This letter to President Obama was coordinated by the Yemen Policy Initiative, a new collaborative effort of the Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), which seeks to advance a more sustainable, long-term US policy that guarantees US national security interests and supports Yemen’s political transition.