US Policy towards Yemen: An interview with Danya Greenfield

Today in DC, an event orchestrated by the Atlantic Council and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) took place discussing US foreign policy towards Yemen. During the discussion, the three speakers (Greenfield, Heyedmann and Al-Bukari) talked about the nature of US and Yemeni attitudes towards each other. Although one would assume that these opinions are public knowledge, it felt as if a big secret was finally out.  It was amongst the few (if not the first) big Washington DC-event that directly pointed out that some of the US's policies towards Yemen were "counterproductive". The event, which included the President of the Polling Center, Hafez Al Bukari, brought a lot of awareness to Americans. Danya Greenfield and Stephen McInerney (Executive Directer of POMED) collected 31 signatures to advise Obama's administration of reassessing US policy towards Yemen (emphasizing the excessive use of Drones).

I met with Danya Greenfield for the first time about two months ago and I was pleased to observe her in her element. For an established woman (she is currently the Deputy Director of the Rafik Hariri Center at the Atlantic Council), she was humble and formed her opinions carefully after doing a lot of research. She did one thing that most people in her position don't: she listened.

A month ago, I sat down with Ms. Greenfield and we talked about the relationship between the US and Yemen. Here is what she had to say:

You can find the letter to President Obama here.

Although it is common knowledge amongst Yemenis that the use of drones is not well liked, this event reveals (publicly) that there is hope for US foreign policy in Yemen. Events like this should make us aware that not all American programs in Yemen "support the use of drones".

The event highlighted how Yemeni and American officials are not having transparent exchanges with each other. Meaning that neither side had an honest discussion about how the average Yemeni is unhappy with the US' counterterrorism policies.

My own analysis is that this is frustrating to both sides. It actually creates a problem that is hard to resolve. Yemenis tell Americans what they want to hear so they can be backed up. Americans never know the real truth and support them without doing their own in-depth research. The problem gets worse when the US begins to analyze the results and put the pieces together. They have many choices but will either choose one of the two: to continue pretending that nothing is wrong or to completely stop their support of whomever they are backing up. If the US continues its support, then they look bad, but if they decrease their support, then the Yemenis on the ground will be left in an awkward position.