Why Does the United States Operate Blind in Yemen?

“Southern Yemen’s stability is a more recent phenomenon than Somaliland’s, but it is just as real. While the Saudis struggled unsuccessfully to push back the Houthis, Emirati forces working in tandem with local forces drove out Al Qaeda elements who had occupied Aden, Mukalla and other towns and ports. Multiple flights depart Aden each day for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Djibouti; the Sana’a airport handles at most a single flight daily. Hotels in Aden thrive. Security has returned. Aden is safer today than Karachi, Peshawar, and many Latin American and African capitals. An American is more likely to be taken hostage in Beijing or Moscow than Aden.

That the United States has not at least temporarily relocated its Yemen embassy in Aden is itself an acknowledgment that Yemeni unity is a fiction. American diplomats know that northern Yemenis consider southern Yemen a foreign land and vice versa. Southern Yemen has more in common with Somaliland, with whom many southern Yemeni families share blood, than with the Houthi-dominated areas.

Just as with Somalia and Somaliland, however, neither the White House nor State Department have the foresight to acknowledge the benefits of Yemeni disunity. Even short of recognizing southern Yemeni self-determination, maintaining a diplomatic office in Aden would bring huge diplomatic and security rewards at little cost. Southern Yemen may be secure now, but it was not long ago that Al Qaeda filled the vacuum. A U.S. presence tips the balance further by providing Yemenis hope and encouraging both Western and Arab investment. Intelligence also matters. Just as U.S. Embassy in Somalia reporting is risible given its blindness to dynamics in Somaliland where the State Department has no presence, the lack of a diplomatic office in Aden denies diplomats and intelligence analysts insight into local dynamics, including that across the de facto border in northern Yemen.

Revisionist powers are on the offensive, while the American presence erodes. In Yemen, this takes the form of Iranian support for the Houthis, while China operates its first overseas naval base just a couple dozen miles away in Djibouti. Rather than rectify the problem, the State Department appears aloof to it. If the State Department cares about the Yemeni people and consolidating stability in a region where it is elusive, there can be no further delay to an official diplomatic office or consulate in Aden.”

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