With the inauguration of President Obama’s second term and the commencement of the National Dialogue Conference, now is an opportune moment to reevaluate U.S. policy towards Yemen. In this spirit, the Project on Middle East Democracy has, in collaboration with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, sent a letter to President Obama with the endorsement of 31 leading foreign policy experts calling for a broader, more far-sighted policy in Yemen. The bipartisan letter includes signatories from a range of backgrounds including Ambassador Barbara Bodine, former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen; Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning at the Department of State; David Kramer, President of Freedom House; and Isobel Coleman, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
The letter, a component of our ongoing Yemen Policy Initiative, follows up on a previous letter to the President from June 2012. The letter advocates a more balanced approach that prioritizes the “humanitarian, economic, and political development of the Yemeni people,” which will ultimately be more effective in combating extremism and promoting democracy in Yemen.
The four-page letter, signed by former diplomats, security specialists, scholars, and policy experts, argues that, despite efforts by the U.S. government to address Yemen’s long-term development and humanitarian needs, “our increased reliance on drones undermines our long-term interest in a stable, secure, and sustainable partner in Yemen.” This reliance not only fosters growing anti-American sentiment, it threatens to undermine President Hadi’s mandate: “Opposition to drone strikes is becoming a national rallying cry for those distrustful of the central government—from Ansar al-Sharia, to Houthis, to Southerners.”
Among the letter’s recommendations, we call on the Obama Administration to:
- Leverage the U.S. government’s close relationship with President Hadi to strongly encourage his government to meet the reform benchmarks to which he has committed and address human rights violations;
- Support the National Dialogue in ways that empower independent voices—not only political party elites—and include more extensive outreach to Southerners and Yemenis outside of Sanaa and other urban areas;
- Work within the Friends of Yemen group to ensure that the generous pledges committed to Yemen are delivered and that the government of Yemen has the capacity and resources it needs to implement projects;
- Implement a more robust public diplomacy strategy to demonstrate that U.S. interests in Yemen are not limited to counterterrorism and security issues;
- Reevaluate our reliance on drone strikes with the recognition that this approach is generating significant anti-American sentiment and could strengthen the appeal of extremist groups;
- Increase economic assistance and draw upon regional funds to support Yemen, in addition to a bilateral assistance package.