Monday, April 11, 2011

Riyadh Tries a Neat Trick to Promote Its Counterrevolution

Behind the superficial news reports lie layers of maneuver and counter-maneuver, with innocent-sounding initiatives sometimes hiding ominous implications.

Democracy requires that officials take responsibility for their actions. For a leader to murder peaceful demonstrators day after day and finally accept a golden parachute to Saudi Arabia is not what I mean by “taking responsibility.” But of course the last thing politicians want is to establish a precedent for forcing them to take responsibility for their actions. Thus, we see the Gulf Cooperation Council offering Saleh a deal in which he will resign to, no doubt, a life of luxury, while his own deputy (!), presumably as only Number 2, a man completely innocent of any improper behavior or intent, a man who presumably never killed or ordered or permitted the death of any peaceful citizen expressing an opinion, smoothly slips into control. Such a deal would stab Yemenis directly in the back by dismissing calls for democracy while serving Riyadh’s counter-revolutionary interests perfectly by maintaining the old system in control.

My earlier question about the possibility that Riyadh would follow up its military move into hapless Bahrain with an invasion of Yemen has thus been given an initial response: recognizing that Yemen is a bit harder of a nut to crack than Bahrain, Riyadh has chosen a sneakier tactic for achieving the same counter-revolutionary result. Maybe their ability to do math is better than that of some other regional players and better now as a result of their blatant military move into Bahrain.

Why anyone in Yemen would be mollified by seeing the dictator’s deputy replace the dictator is an open question. Whether or not Riyadh is holding its tanks in readiness for deployment is another. How the “new” Cairo, not to mention Tehran, might react to Saudi consolidation of influence in Yemen is a third. The shimmering mirage of a Mideast in which Riyadh finds itself essentially alone defending the old order, while Tehran, Ankara, and Cairo move forward into a new world of moderation and flexibility together, hovers faintly over the hot desert horizon.

Options for Washington:
  1. Stick with the devil you know and support Saudi efforts to preserve the Yemeni dictatorship at the risk of finding itself isolated with Israel and an unstable Saudi Arabia.
  2. Embrace the change that is already well under way, get on the right side of history, reject the out-dated zero-sum attitude that empowers so many extremists, and make a serious call for the Yemeni leadership group to be held responsible for violating fundamental principles of good governance.

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