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A year after Yemenis took to the streets to call for the ouster of longtime autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh, the presidency was passed to Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi in an uncontested election on February 21, 2012. While this transfer of power represents a positive step towards the democratic reform demanded by the Yemeni people, the transitional process remains delicate with many challenges ahead. The security situation is extremely volatile, the economy is quickly unraveling, malnutrition is on the rise, and Saleh retains considerable influence as chairman of the General People’s Congress (GPC) party and continually threatens to have the GPC withdraw from the unity government when matters are not handled to his liking.
- Encourage—in its capacity as an international advisor—the Yemeni government to fundamentally restructure the security forces. The removal of corrupt officials from the former regime is crucial if Yemen is to truly move beyond the status quo.
- Tie military aid to progress on restructuring of the security forces and ensure that all financial assistance be channeled through the civilian government rather than given directly to specific security units.
- Recalibrate the bilateral relationship to focus more on longer-term political and economic development rather than narrow short-term security goals. Constant AQAP attacks in Yemen illustrate that a policy focused solely on military assistance, weapons, and drone attacks will not eliminate the threat of terrorism.
- Limit the use of drone strikes in Yemen to only the highest-level targets and carefully weigh the political costs when determining how and where drone attacks should be utilized. Drone strikes are often counterproductive to U.S. counterterrorism strategy as they fuel anti-American sentiment among locals and increase sympathy for the cause of AQAP. Moreover, it is not clear that these strikes are actually weakening terrorist groups.
- Allow the U.S. State Department to take the lead on policy toward Yemen, rather than the Department of Defense. With its emphasis on counterterrorism, U.S. public diplomacy toward Yemen has become increasingly “militarized.” The U.S. State Department should instead be leading foreign policy efforts in Yemen.
- Increase exchange programs and knowledge sharing between Americans and Yemenis. Despite its strategic importance, Yemen receives far less attention and interest from the West than other countries of the Arab world.