POLITICS JUNE 27, 1994
The old saw about Germany is fitting for Yemen: we love Yemen so much we want to see two of them instead of just one. There are real stakes in this seemingly incomprehensible fight between North and South Yemen. The country put together out of an impossible union back in 1990 has come apart. Southern Yemen wants to go its own way. What attention Washington can devote to this crisis, what power it can bring to bear, should go into providing South Yemen with the opportunity for a quick exit. Ali Abdullah Salih, the strongman in the north, a bully who hoisted Saddam Hussein's banners during the Gulf war, is no friend of American interests in the region. In fact, the union between the largely tribal north and the secular south was never consummated: the north and south kept separate armies and currencies. The south, with a much smaller demographic base (3 million southerners to 10 million northerners) had settled for the union four years ago after the fall of communism. Marxism, the ideology of the south, had been shown to be a farce; the south, with its free-wheeling port city of Aden, was willing to try anything. For its part the north was eager for dominion, for a large state that would make a bid for power in the affairs of the Arabian peninsula and the Persian Gulf. The north promised the protection of democracy and elections. But no sooner had Yemen been proclaimed an "emerging democracy" by the international community than the south decided it wanted nothing to do with Salih's regime. The elections held to such great fanfare last year backfired. They were, as they were destined to be, a mere cover for dictatorship. The jig was up when the south discovered oil supplies of its own; the north's schemes to get rich off the south's oil didn't encourage unity. The Yemens have fought this war as international wars are fought across borders: there have been aerial attacks against the south; Scud missiles have been fired into the north. The peace of the peninsula secured during Desert Storm was the work of Pax Americana. It was a campaign Salih hectored. He and his fellow travelers in the region would understand, and no doubt grudgingly respect, a just measure of retribution. Our exposure need not be excessive. The states of the Gulf are heavily invested in this fight. We should work with them to undo Salih's design.