Bombing the US destroyer “USS Cole” by al-Qaeda in Aden in 2000 opened the door for new formulation of the Yemeni American relations primarily based on security issue.
As the incident took place at the end of the former U.S. President Bill Clinton's term, his administration could not fulfill the mechanisms required for these relations. In January 2001, the right-wing extremist Republican President George W. Bush sworn as a president of the United States of America, and like any new American administration, the president had to carefully study all the files. To study and absorb each political file, everyone knew that George W. Bush needed much more time than the time of his predecessor the Democratic Bill Clinton.
Thus, the Yemeni file was put off until after the September 11, 2011, when Bush’s’ administration intimated that Yemen was their second target after Afghanistan. Due to this, the former president Ali Abdullah Saleh made in November of the same year his most important visit to the United States, which resulted in the stoppage of targeting Yemen, established security cooperation and drew a new path of relations between the two countries.
It was a difficult visit; President Bush was in the highest degree of tension and excitement, while President Saleh was for the same extent at his highest degree of the concern and courage to face recklessness of his American counterpart. He wanted to spare Yemen any direct American intervention in it as had happened in Afghanistan, and the return was an infinite Yemeni-American cooperation to target al-Qaeda and its leaders in Yemen. Saleh managed to spare Yemen that direct intervention which, if happened, would have flamed a fire difficult to be extinguished.
Only one year after that visit, al-Qaeda attacked the French tanker “Limburg” at Mukalla shores, and the Americans replied to this attack directly through a U.S. drone killing Abu Ali al-Harethi, Qaeda prominent leader, in Mareb Province. The Yemeni leadership was confused and did not know how to deal with this incident. First they denied, then claimed responsibility for this incident and later admitted this incident. After that, the Yemeni security apparatuses worked hard to tighten the grip around al-Qaeda, and were almost active during the next three years. The Yemeni state had adopted various procedures to tighten the grip around al-Qaeda, including the social rehabilitation for those who repented, in addition to arresting and monitoring others.
The U.S. administration was impressed by some of these procedures and did not like others. But that intensive security activity was very effective that it limited the dangers of al-Qaeda activities, though two fronts were successively opened in 2004 and 2005 with the Houthis and the Southern Movement. The relations of the two countries reached the highest level at the invitation of former president Saleh and three other Arab leaders to participate in the Group of Eight (G8) summit in the summer of 2004 in the United States. It seemed that this invitation expressed a deep international appreciation of Yemen’s way in democracy and counterterrorism.
That level of relations was followed by a decline after another, for democracy did not remain as it was. From the second half of 2004, Saleh’s regime launched a violent war against the journalism reaching the limit of judicial sentence of imprisonment against journalists. This occurred despite the directives Saleh had given before his participation in the G8 summit to the government to amend the press law, cancelling imprisonment of journalists due to their opinion. In the next year, Saleh’ regime was surprised that the U.S. Administration excluded Yemen from the program of the Millennium Fund, as a result of non-fulfillment of some requirements and commitments of taking advantage of the allocations of the fund.
Among these requirements was eliminating corruption and making economic and political reforms. In the light of this, Saleh’s regime decided to rethink of the level of seriousness of combating al-Qaeda to attract the American attention again. After tightening the security grip around it which was very effective, al-Qaeda started to restore its activity slowly bringing the relations between Sana’a and Washington to the top, but without that old trust. Many attempts were made to restore the previous level of relations through two visits Saleh made to Washington in 2005 and 2008. After the first visit, Saleh returned to Yemen to implement several political reforms and wide governmental amendment, to restore the trust of the U.S administration in order to return to the Millennium Fund. Excluding Yemen from this fund resulted in the reduction of the aid of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The last and brief visit in 2008 was at the time of the fiercest confrontations with the Houthis, aimed at enhancing the security cooperation and bidding farewell to President Bush who was preparing to leave the White House as his term was about to end up.
After electing the Democratic President Barack Obama, his Administration did not have enough willingness to establish real trust relations with Saleh’s regime. They were aware of the great maneuvering of Saleh’s regime and his security apparatuses in fighting terrorism and expanding it in order to maintain the American military and security aids from one side, and to make annual visits to the White House that would enhance his position against his local opponents from the other side.
Therefore, Obama Administration avoided inviting Saleh to visit Washington along the years 2009 and 2010, because of their conviction that Saleh was not serious in combating al-Qaeda, eliminating corruption and making political and economic reforms. The incident of the Nigerian student Omar al-Farooq in 2009 added fuel to the fire, after which the United States, EU, and the GCC countries decided to put Yemen under a kind of trusteeship due to the failure and the collapse Saleh dragged Yemen to.
Yemen Friends Conference in London in 2010 marked a new stage especially in the Yemeni American relations, we shall write about it later to discern the U.S. vision of post-Saleh Yemen.
Source: AL Bayan Emirates Newspaper in Arabic