Yemen: If President Saleh is ousted, what comes next?

Opinions about events beyond our borders.
March 22 2011 5:23 PM

What's Next for Yemen?

President Saleh is probably on his way out. His successor will inherit instability and conflict.

(Continued from Page 1)

Houthis and southerners will see Saleh's fall as an opportunity to grab more power and influence, moves that may anger military leaders with a more nationalistic orientation. Demonstrators with a more pro-democratic bent will seek a leader who is not simply Saleh by a different name but someone committed to a more open and accountable political system. Yemeni tribal leaders, always eager to exploit a vacuum, will expand their influence.

Today, much of Yemen is governed at best loosely and at times not at all by the central government, so the further decline of centralized power at the expense of warlords and tribes would not change Yemen overnight. However, it would make Yemen more prone to further regime change and instability, as the alliances and patronage systems Saleh established all come up for grabs.

Advertisement

Saudi Arabia may destabilize things even further. Riyadh views Yemen as the kingdom's backyard and worries that instability there could spread north. Saudi Arabia has often tried, and often failed, to play kingmaker in Yemen. Should a new ruler in Sanaa try to hew an independent line from Riyadh, as Saleh did, the Saudis may give financial and other support to his enemies.

For the United States, the biggest worry is terrorism. Osama Bin Laden could take advantage of additional instability to channel more resources to Yemen. No matter what, AQAP will take advantage of any easing of pressure to plan more attacks and build their organization. A new government, like Saleh's, would probably see AQAP as a relatively minor threat and would focus its intelligence services and political energies on its domestic enemies and rivals, leaving counterterrorism a distant second. There is only so much cooperation the United States can buy.

U.S. influence in Yemen is quite limited. The United States can try, like Saudi Arabia does, to support its favored local factions against their rivals. This may put Washington crossways with Riyadh if we have different favorites. An even bigger problem is that the United States lacks the intelligence for such deft dancing and would likely be manipulated by local players.

So, as it always does, Yemen will go its own way while the world averts its gaze. Unfortunately for both Yemenis and the United States, Yemen's future may be worse than its present.

Daniel Byman is a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the research director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Technocracy

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 21 2014 9:18 AM Oh, Boy Prudie counsels a letter writer whose sister dresses her 4-year-old son in pink tutus.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:25 AM The Brilliant Fake Novels of Listen Up Philip
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 21 2014 8:38 AM An Implanted Wearable Gadget Isn’t as Crazy as You’d Think Products like New Deal Design’s UnderSkin may be the future.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.