Is Yemen 'Tomorrow's War'?

Senator Joe Lieberman thinks so, but commentators aren't so sure

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The failed bombing attempt on Northwestern flight 253 by a Nigerian man who says he got explosives from al-Qaeda officials in Yemen has raised serious questions about Yemen-based terrorism. On Fox News Sunday, Senator Joe Lieberman raised the possibility of American war in Yemen, saying, "I leave you with this thought that somebody in our government said to me in the Sana'a, the capital of Yemen. Iraq was yesterday's war. Afghanistan is today's war. If we don't act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow's war. That's the danger we face."

The fear that Yemen could become the next Afghanistan is not a new one. But Lieberman lends a high-profile voice to the possibility. Experts and analysts are highly skeptical of a large-scale U.S. military incursion into Yemen. The U.S. already conducts low-level counter-terrorism in Yemen, to much debate. Is there anything to Lieberman's suggestion?

  • Would Invasion Accomplish Anything?  Spencer Ackerman poses pointed questions to anyone who supports invading Yemen. "What are the local dynamics in Yemen that a military strike would impact? What would the goals of such strikes be? What are the underlying political effects that have allowed al-Qaeda to establish itself in Yemen? What measures short of war might be better targeted to addressing those conditions? These are just a few of the many prior questions that have to be answered before such a thing is considered. Instead, Lieberman just gets to go on Fox and monger away, unchallenged. Such is life."
  • Safe Haven Threat Is Overblown  Newsweek's Tim Fernholz discredits the idea that Yemen, as another terrorist safe haven like Afghanistan, is a threat. "But, though it is clear that broader engagement, including non-military partnership, is needed to stop with Al Qaeda in Yemen, we shouldn't be looking for another war. Instead, the circumstances of the attack give us an opportunity to reconsider whether the Obama Administration's extensive commitment to the Afghanistan conflict is the right way to go after extremist groups who wish to attack the United States, and whether so-called 'safe havens' are really a threat," he writes. "With the costs of the already $68 billion-a-year Afghanistan conflict set to rise, it's time for the administration to rethink the balance of resources between military operations designed to shut down terrorist safe havens and the intelligence and law enforcement efforts that could have stopped the incident on Christmas."
  • Focus On Limited Airstrikes  Matthew Yglesias lays out the pros and cons. "[T]he risk is that, as [Yemen expert Gregory] Johnsen says, we’ll have too many airstrikes without 'the proper groundwork to undermine al-Qaeda to the degree that these attacks would be seen as a good thing by the Yemeni population.' Nobody likes to see American airstrikes happening inside their country. But if the political context is right, people can see it as the lesser of two evils. If the context isn’t right, that can build support for al-Qaeda faster than it kills terrorists," he writes. "In practice, this seems like a tricky rope to walk. One where a Lieberman-style bombs away mentality isn’t going to help."
  • Long-Term, Non-Military Intervention Needed  In a widely-circulated policy paper for the Center for New American Security, Andrew Exum and Richard Fontaine explain. "Since 2001, U.S. policy toward Yemen has focused mostly – and, at times, overwhelmingly – on counterterrorism. This is understandable, but problematic. When the perceived terrorist threat in Yemen retreated in 2003, U.S. policymakers lost interest, abandoning or curtailing development projects in the country. Given the threat posed not just by terrorism in Yemen, but also by the potential for nationwide instability, U.S. policy should move toward a broader and more sustainable relationship, with a strong focus on development." They note that unemployment is high and that both oil and water are at risk of running out, sending Yemen into chaos. Military intervention, they note, doesn't address these problems.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.