In 2014, President Barack Obama touted Yemen as the golden child of his counterterrorism program. At the time, such seemed to be the case. As soon as President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi took office in 2012 with the help of U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, Yemen grew closer to becoming a full-fledged democracy and a helpful ally in the fight against terrorism.
All of that changed, however, when the Houthi-militant group seized control of the capital in January and pushed Hadi out of office. Further unrest has forced the United States to pull all troops out of Yemen and suspend the operation of the embassy. The Houthi’s hostile takeover has pushed Yemen to a state of revolt and chaos. As allies to Yemen, the United States should have an interest in diluting this unrest to begin with.
The concern, however, is not that the Houthis will take over Yemen. The greatest concern for the United States is that the unrest in Yemen will give al Qaeda too much wiggle room. The U.S. still considers the infamous terrorist group to be the biggest threat to citizen safety. They possess the most powerful bomb-making tool of all known terrorist groups. Al Qaeda is not shying away from using them to attack Americans at home or in the air either. The United States has prevented at least three al Qaeda attacks on airplanes since 2009.
Further political unrest in Yemen will give terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIS free rein to grow and plot. If the United States wishes to remain in control of terrorism in the Middle East, which the last two administrations have strongly indicated as a priority, regaining an ally in Yemen is crucial. It is true that no one player in Yemen is the perfect pick, but it seems that of the options, Hadi is the only effective choice.
The Houthis may appear to be an appealing option, given that they have fought al Qaeda stronger than any previous Yemeni force. The group’s motto of “God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, Curse on the Jews, Victory to Islam,” however, isn’t exactly promising. The Houthi motto was adopted in 2004 when the president at the time was supporting the United States presence in the Shiite-majority Iraq, the same faction of Islam as the Houthi.
The other two predominant terrorist groups at play, al Qaeda and the newly relevant Sanna province that claims loyalty to ISIS, are also clearly not viable allies. And unfortunately, the unrest in the capital created by the Houthis has served only to create chaos for ISIS loyalists and al Qaeda to thrive.
The United States has found an ally in Hadi in the fight against al Qaeda and other terrorist groups harbored in the area as soon as he became president. Estimates indicate that United States drone strikes have killed between 836 and 1,100 people in Yemen since 2002, most of whom the New America Foundation has identified as militants. Such attacks were done in conjunction with Hadi, who provided approval and intelligence necessary for the attacks to happen.
With Hadi back in power, the Obama administration would have the ability to continue its counterterrorism efforts without deploying thousands of American troops. The U.S. training bases that had been stationed in Yemen and intelligence given to the U.S. by Hadi are invaluable to the fight against terrorism. Stability in Yemen would just be an added bonus to stunting the growth of al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations operating in the area.
The road to getting him back into power is a completely different, and much longer, story. But without Hadi in office, the United States has no hope in returning Yemen back to its previous status.
Claire Cahoon is a sophomore majoring in English. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Tuesdays.