Jillian Schwedler, a political-science professor in New York, spent several years during the 1990s living, traveling, and conducting interviews in Yemen, where she traversed unmarked roads in all-terrain vehicles. “What strikes me now,” she writes in a new essay about the country, “is how most Islamists saw jihadi groups as having no place in Yemeni politics.”
Today that has changed.
Some people in Yemen who once opposed attacks on foreign countries like the United States are becoming more willing to give terrorists like al-Qaeda space to operate.
In her expert opinion, America’s drone war is largely responsible for that shift.
President Bush began the drone war. President Obama radically expanded it. Both have defended its legitimacy. Whether one believes the war to be moral or not, Schwedler points out, “the reality for Yemenis is that the United States uses drone strikes regularly to run roughshod over Yemeni sovereignty in an effort to stop a handful of attacks—most of them failed—against U.S. targets. The fact that corrupt Yemeni leaders consent to the attacks makes little difference to public opinion.”
The drone strikes have killed some terrorists, along with innocent men, women, and children. Washington, D.C., policymakers consider the operations a success if they can check individual names off a kill list, but they neglect a longer-term consequence: Al-Qaeda is able to operate in more spaces than ever before as the population becomes increasingly hostile to the United States.