Arabian sea

What it's like to live in a city where half-a-dozen people are killed in a single day

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Sana’a, Yemen—On a recent rainy afternoon at the anti-government protest in Yemen’s capital, an old tribesman, dressed in a long white robe belted at the waist with a foot-long dagger, danced hand-to-hand with a young man wearing tight jeans and a khaki jacket, more Williamsburg than Arabian Peninsula. The two men hopped and whirled in tight circles, their shoulders draped in Yemen’s tricolor flag, their bare feet scuffing in unison on the dusty asphalt.

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Compounding things, the international community has moved ponderously, even lethargically, to aid the survivors. According to Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Saudi Arabia has led all countries in providing aid, with about $112 million, followed by the United States with nearly $76 million, and then the United Kingdom's nearly $65 million. Pakistan's neighbor and regional rival, India, has offered very little, while Pakistan's all-weather friend, China, has ponied up a paltry $9 million thus far. The total sum, according to the NDMA, amounts to only $524.93 million.

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No, I am not deserting the president on this one either. Any country that is under siege by Al Qaeda is likely to have strategic and/or ideological interest to us. But it’s a big stretch to argue that we have a democratic interest in Yemen’s future. It will not be before hell freezes over that we may have such an interest in Yemen. That time is neither now nor tomorrow. And since history in the Arabian Peninsula moves in geological time, let’s stop deluding ourselves about another democratic ally. Our interest in Yemen is strategic.

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The president came out of Oslo a different man than when he went, and Simon Schama has traced the lineaments of the change in a column in today's Financial Times. It is a sharp break for the administration which had spent its first nine months telling the rotten world that it was good and somehow persuaded itself of the nobility of the lie. One cannot overemphasize the drama of the change for which West Point was an ambiguous and ambivalent beginning. The political street people in Norway immediately recognized the import of Obama's words.

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