US policy in Yemen does not always get the best press. To most it is associated with drones, seen as too wrapped up in security and counterterrorism, with no thought given to development and governance issues.
There is an element of truth to this caricature, and at times the US does not help itself. For example, the public face of US Yemen policy is John Brennan, Obama’s senior counterterrorism adviser. This does not help dispel the impression that US concerns about Yemen extend beyond how it affects US homeland security.
It is worth noting, then, yesterday’s State Department’s announcement that the USG has more than doubled its assistance to civilian and security sectors of the Yemeni government. The Obama administration will now provide $337 million in assistance in the 2012 fiscal year, up from $147 million in the previous year. The State Department will give $47m in security assistance, with a further $112m coming from the Pentagon to train and equip the Yemeni security forces to conduct counterterrorism operations. Significantly, however, $178 million will go on humanitarian aid, development and assistance.
This more balanced alignment between soft and hard power is much needed in a country that is the most impoverished in the Middle East, and where basic state provisions are severely lacking. The drones program will undoubtedly continue, as it should in a region that offers such a significant AQ security threat. However, this economic aid will hopefully help re-shape the perception that – despite the US already being the largest provider of humanitarian aid to Yemen – it has no interest in helping improve conditions for regular Yemenis on the ground.