With Panetta named SecDef, and Petraeus heading the CIA, commentators are talking about a blurring of the lines between intelligence and defense. In Yemen especially, traditional security categories and concepts are inadequate to describe what's going on.
While the U.S. has supported in word and in bomb several revolutions throughout the Middle East, Yemeni President Saleh is one of several autocrats whom the American government doesn't want to leave. He has allowed American covert action in Yemen for most of a decade. American predator drone strikes and reconnaisance on Al Qaeda targets in Yemen have received the most press, but American Special Operations Forces have been training Yemeni forces in counterterrorism as well. And one would be surprised if these commandos weren't also involved in intelligence-gathering and "kinetic" operations.
Yemen is one of those nation-states that aren't. It's the poorest country in the Middle East, which is an area not commonly cited for its economic dynamism. A long-running Iran-supported Shia rebellion in the north indicates how weak the central government's hold on power has been. Al Qaeda has exploited the tribally-dominant (not to be confused with chaotic) environment for over a decade to train, recruit, and hide out from its enemies.
Now that Ali Abdullah Saleh looks willing to leave power shortly, many strategic questions arise. What will be the new regime's attitude towards American covert action? Will Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula exploit the situation's uncertainty and weakened government to expand its operations both inside and outside of Yemen?
What are the U.S. governments options here? What instruments of power does it have at its disposal?
By Russ Greene