Business for Peace Award

The thrust of Yemen policy

Published on 3 December 2012 in Opinion
Nytimes.com Stephanie Speirs (author)

Nytimes.com Stephanie Speirs


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I disagree with Gregory D. Johnsen’s characterization of United States policy toward Yemen and the man who leads it, John O. Brennan (“The Wrong Man for the C.I.A.,” Op-Ed, Nov. 20).

Mr. Johnsen claims that United States policy is myopically focused on counterterrorism. In reality, this White House takes a broader view, and American assistance emphasizes governance and development as much as security.

The real “Yemen model” during the Arab Spring sought not only to protect American lives but also to support the Yemeni people’s aspirations for political change, despite warnings from some that doing so would disrupt counterterrorism cooperation. The model was hardly all about airstrikes. It was about how Yemen, with international support, averted a civil war by beginning a political transition.

Mr. Johnsen says airstrikes are driving the growth of the group known as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, it was expanding long before American counterterrorism activities escalated, to several hundred members by December 2009 from 23 in 2006 — a period when no airstrikes were conducted.

AQAP grew in 2011 because of unrest and an influx of foreign extremists, but membership has declined after the signing of last year’s transition deal.

Yemen’s challenges are enormous and the situation fragile. But in contrast to many other Middle East countries, Yemen is now a model for democratic possibilities. John Brennan crafted the United States policy that helped realize this outcome.

The writer served as director for Yemen at the National Security Council, 2011-12.


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