In Yemen we face a system of governance that is complicated beyond belief, with shifting tribal-based factions maneuvering with or against the center in an environment that we shall never understand in the necessary detail. All these factions have their own axes to grind, going back generations. In and around all this jungle we have a few genuine terrorists, al-Qaeda types, who know the political terrain a lot better than we do, and are using their knowledge more or less skillfully to advance their cause.
We come in like a bull in an arena, motivated by the scent of the terrorists. The matador (read, the official top dog in Yemen) uses that scent as his red flag in the ensuing bullfight. The rest of the players, like the picadors in the bullfight, are scrambling around either trying to use the situation to their advantage or to get out of the way.
We have the unmanned drone, raw power to kill, as our only effective weapon. How do we know we’re using it on the right targets when the people advising us, who know what they are doing, are advising us to suit their purposes not ours?
If we left them alone to duke it out by themselves they would establish a new equilibrium pretty soon, and kick out the terrorists, who are an alien and generally unpopular lot for the most part, by local standards.
There are striking parallels here to our situation in Afghanistan, which can serve as an object lesson for what we might face if we continue on our present course in Yemen.
If you have a bullfight coming your way, isn’t it better to be a spectator, rather than the bull?