The Obama Administration, according to the New York Times, will allow Ali Abdullah Saleh into the country for medical treatment, in a move eerily similar to the Carter Administration allowing the Shah of Iran to seek medical help. A visa has not been submitted for Saleh, and the ultimate outcome is subject to certain conditions. But the path appears set.
One administration official said that there was no further “impediment” to issuing Mr. Saleh a visa, and that he could arrive at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital as soon as the end of this week for additional treatment of medical problems stemming from a near-fatal bomb blast in June at the mosque in his presidential complex.
Though the administration had been concerned that approval would anger the many Yemenis eager to see Mr. Saleh prosecuted for the killing of protesters by his security forces, some believe that giving him a way out of Yemen, even temporarily, could help smooth the way to elections next year and perhaps end a political crisis that has brought the government of the impoverished nation to the brink of collapse.
“In the end, we felt there was enough good to be gained that it was worth managing the criticism that we’d get, including any comparisons to past episodes,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the arrangement was still being completed.
I understand this sentiment. Saleh is a cancer inside Yemen, and the political system may more smoothly function without his presence (although that didn’t exactly happen when he sought treatment for his injuries initially in Saudi Arabia). But I just consider this to be a really bad idea. Here we’ve had a year of protest in the Arab world, and after some fits and starts, the US has tried to take a posture of siding with the protesters, toward political inclusion and universal rights. Now they will take in a dictator responsible for the murder of those protesters? I don’t think narrowing the nature of the visit to medical treatment will matter to the masses in the streets of Sanaa. It will rightly be judged as providing safe haven for a man the protesters see as a wanted criminal, a man who has cooperated in the mass of counter-terrorism operations in which the US has engaged on Yemeni soil. This sounds like a great way to turn the Yemeni public against the United States more than they already may be.
The White House stressed they had not made the final decision, and listed a host of conditions for the visit. Saleh could not have an entourage, and could not make political statements from his hospital bed, according to US officials.
Saleh is pretty obviously angling for a return to power, and a US visit would, contrary to some analysis, facilitate that. If we’ve gained anything from the Arab uprising, it’s the end to dynastic monarchies in the Arab world. Anything that would give those dynastic rulers a leg up should be something the United States wants nothing to do with. And that’s just one of the consequences, the other being the eternal enmity of an unstable country with significant foreign policy implications.