By Mikaela Tenner
Since U.S. forces invaded the Middle East in the “War on Terror” over a decade ago, a large portion of Middle Easterners have responded with complaints, protests, and violence. Following the commencement of the war, it has been especially difficult for the United States to gain allies in the region. Yemen was one country allied with the United States in the “War on Terror,” making it extremely important even if the two countries did not always agree on military operations or strategy. However, a recent military coup has threatened this relationship, as rebels have begun to demand an end to the country’s recently developed Western ties.
In the Yemeni constitution of 1990, the president was named as the top political leader, to serve as both the executive and military head of the predominantly Islamic state. The nation’s first president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, held power until he was forced out during the Yemeni revolution of 2011-2012. Following the revolution, a second president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, came into power. The new president assured that reforms would be made to the constitution to address the concerns that had been brought about during the revolution. However, over the past three years, President Hadi has failed to act on any of the demands.
On January 17, Houthi rebels kidnapped President Hadi’s chief of staff. The Houthi rebels are part of the Shiite Muslim minority, a group that has often felt marginalized by the Sunni dominated nation. Three days later, the rebels stormed the presidential palace, and took control of several other key government and military bases. On January 21, Yemeni government officials and the rebels claimed to have reached a deal, in which rebels would return the chief of staff safely in exchange for constitutional reforms. However, despite this compromise, President Hadi, along with his prime minister and cabinet, all resigned just one day after the negotiations.
The end of Hadi’s presidency brings into question what will happen with United States-Yemen relations. Despite a lack of cooperation in the past, the relations between the two nations have been drastically rising in the last few years, and up until these past weeks, were better than ever. The Yemeni government has been key to helping the United States fight Al-Qaeda in the region. Therefore, the United States is now faced with a decision; either it can stand back and see what happens when the rebels take control, or it can assist with getting another proven ally into power in Yemen.
In the interest of American security, it would be prudent for the United States to select the latter option. Without an American ally in power, the Yemeni branch of Al-Qaeda, known to be one of the most dangerous sections of the terrorist group, will be substantially more difficult to fight, thus putting the United States more at risk for attack. Furthermore, with the rise of ISIS in the Middle East, it has become essential for Western nations to intervene in order to ensure their security. The United States cannot afford to lose an important ally in this region because it would make itself and other Western nations more vulnerable to the threat terrorist groups in the Middle East pose.
At the same time, the United States may face considerable backlash nationally if it chooses to intervene in Yemen. Many Americans are growing wary of the U.S. presence in the Middle East, and may think it sensible to take a step back to allow the process to play itself out. However, at this point, it seems like many of these Middle Eastern nations are in a perpetual cycle, going from revolution to revolution. Although the Arab Spring of 2011 gave hope that these nations would become more democratic, little has changed. Countries that endured the Arab Spring are not met with equality and freedom, but rather, with continued corruption, violence, and severed relations with the Western world. Western nations cannot lose this security alliance in the Middle East, and if they do, they will face a greater threat than they do even now.