These questions were directed to Ambassador Barbara Bodine following the NCUSAR event (read more about it below). The following day, on June 27, ambassador Bodine was one of the experts who signed a letter directed to president Barack Obama urging him to change US policy towards Yemen. You can read the letter here.
*Ambassador Bodine's Biography is attached at the end of the interview.
Q. Ambassador Bodine, you have signed a letter addressed to President Obama on June 25, 2012 urging him to change US policy towards Yemen. Yemeni pessimists believe that this letter would not change anything. Do you believe that US policy will change towards Yemen if Obama remains as president? If in a few months former governor Romney wins the vote, will policy towards Yemen change? Also, the letter mentioned recommendations that suggested an increase in foreign aid however how would the US insure that the aid is going to the right place or people?
I don’t think any of those involved with the letter believe that it will, in and of itself, change policy. It is not that simple. Nor do we believe the views and recommendations are at great variance with the views and recommendations of some, at least, within the Administration. We do hope that by adding our voices to the debate we can help shape it over the long term. A second audience for the letter is also the American people who have a rather narrow view of US interests in, policy toward and options on Yemen, given the media’s tendency to cover only the most dramatic of events and security issue.
Policy toward Yemen has changed already over the past few years from almost entirely security-centric to security-dominated but clear efforts to broaden the scope. The US is active in the Friends of Yemen and has significantly increased its economic and other assistance as evidenced by US Agency for International Development Administrator Shah’s recent visit. This increased assistance has however come at the same time as a sharp increase in the use of drones, expanded authority on targeting and other steps. The letter recommends that efforts toward recalibrating the focus and attention of US policy and programs be strengthened and expanded.
I would not presume to predict what further changes might be possible during the last months of or a second term for President Obama, which will be driven both by events on the ground and non-military resources available. Similarly, I could not presume to know what a President Romney might do. Much may depend on his views on economic and governance assistance, development assistance and the use of diplomacy in the furtherance of US policy.
How assistance is programmed must be done in cooperation with the Yemeni government, concerned and appropriate NGOs, and other partner states and organizations. One assumption I do want to clarify – assistance is not a check presented to the government, any government. Assistance is done through programs, projects and activities. Regrettably, there will never be a level of assistance great enough to match Yemen’s needs and there will be places and issues that are underfunded if funded at all. That is why working toward sustainable economy is better goal.
Q. At the NCUSAR event, you emphasize the importance of using Aden's port as an international trade point. As a professor at Princeton University, you have worked with a group of students on a Development Plan for Greater Aden. This plan depends on stability. When do you think this plan will take place? who would be in charge of this effort? There are coordinations pending with the Aden Development Council, but when will the plan be public?
The plan for Greater Aden was developed by a group of graduate students last year. “Plan” may be too strong a word. It is more a proposal or an outline, not a blueprint or a timeline. It does not including funding estimates, a critical element but beyond the scope of the students’ work.
Of course implementation depends on a level of stability, as well as Yemeni political will and international involvement, both donor and private sector. But just as development requires stability, stability requires development. The trick is how to advance on one in support of the other. The proposal had no timelines but in sketching out a structure strongly recommends that the Yemeni government – both the central government and the Aden government in partnership – be in charge. It includes a structure provisionally called “The Aden Development Council” but I am not aware of any steps taken so far to establish the Council. I would caution against the assumption that the students prepared a detailed blueprint ready for immediate implementation.
Q. You are a firm believer that Aden is capable of becoming an important economic center with a free zone. The port will gain benefit from the transportations to and from the Suez Canal with Bab-al-Mandab as a main source. Can you please elaborate more on this idea? Also, due to Aden's proximity to Africa, many of the refugees enter Yemen through Aden, how does the problem of refugees pose a threat to this project. Furthermore, is it possible that this port be hijacked by AQAP in the future if their strength proves to be more durable? Talking about spoilers, how do you make sure that corruption, which is prevalent in Yemen, does not take over this project?
There are a lot of questions here. The basis of the proposal refers back to Aden’s once pre-eminent position as a major shipping hub, a tradition that pre-dates the British in fact. The fundamentals remain, most significantly one of the best natural harbors in the world at an ideal location. Other advantages are land suitable for urban growth, the beginnings of a Free Zone, potential to handle containers, cargo and fuel, an existing airport and a large labor force. The downsides are a lack of sustained and coordinated investment in infrastructure – the port, the free zone and the international airport; lack of a trained workforce; inadequate water and electricity and security. While those downsides are significant, none are insurmountable. Labor can be trained; water can be desalinated; electricity can be generated; and, security can be enhanced, for example through an expanded Yemeni Coast Guard.
There is the theoretical risk that AQAP could take over the port, but this development proposal is a long term effort. If AQAP threatens the port area, it could derail efforts at any stage, just as the 2000 attack on the USS Cole set back efforts to develop the port. That potential however need not stop detailed planning on what will be a long term, incremental and staged effort.
This is a proposal to do more than expand the current container port. The broader vision is the development proposal is for the greater Aden area. If it were successful, if it were able to provide employment and economic stability, that would also help blunt the appeal of groups like AQAP.
Finally, this is a comprehensive proposal. It includes a look at governance issues, judicial frameworks and obviously the question of corruption. Corruption is not, regrettably unique to Yemen nor limited to Aden. A concerted plan to control corruption is needed more broadly in Yemen. However, planning and initial steps toward comprehensive regional development need not wait, and could in fact help fuel governance reform.
Q. "Yemen has a large number of workers however they are not skilled": in NCUSAR, you briefly mentioned that due to unemployment, it is easy to find employees who are willing to work, but they lack skills. How easy would it be to train them? how long will it take?
Yemen has a large and underutilized work force that lacks many of the skills needed. Training need not be lengthy or complicated, depending on the task required. One model used in a number of countries, both developing and developed, is a partnership among private sector investors, both Yemeni and international, and training providers. Brazil has been particularly successful at this. Training of mid and upper level managers as well as skilled labor force is also needed. While reform of the education system may be necessary and worthy, we do not need to start with current 5 year olds in creating a skilled workforce. There are unemployed young Yemenis – some without basic skills, some with experience abroad, and some with higher education – all of whom can be trained in relatively short time to take on new tasks. The key is be sure there is a link between the training provided and the skills needed.
Q. When expert Charles Schmitz mentioned that the US needs to pressure the Gulf and Saudi Arabia into accepting Yemeni laborers as a way to fix Yemen's economy and increase remittances, you shook your head briefly. Can you tell us why? what is the best way to improve Yemen's economy (some people can argue that because Yemen has the 2nd most growing population in the world, no matter how much the economy improves in Yemen, it will never be able to absorb all of the population)?
I do not think that it is realistic to depend on a return to the days of massive expatriate labor in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia to solve Yemen’s economic problems. First, Yemen labor was critical to the construction of the Kingdom and the Gulf states, but the labor tended to be unskilled or semi-skilled. The labor requirements now a more sophisticated. Yemeni workers need the correct skill sets to be competitive. Second, major projects in the Gulf states won by Chinese, Indian, Korean or other firms often include as part of the package the provision of labor, recruited by the company or a subcontractor, a broker, housed and managed by the same, and then returned to their country of origin when the project is complete. Finally, while I agree that any measure that relieves the unemployment pressures and increases the remittance levels in Yemen is good, remittances can create another form of “rentierism” – unearned and unproductive income. While remittances do help raise the standard of living of family members and can drive the consumer goods sector, they are often not available or used to create productive infrastructure, enterprises and employment. Thank back to Yemen’s own experience with the return of workers in the early 1990s.
Q. You mentioned briefly the importance of preventing a proxy war in Yemen between Saudi Arabia and Iran. To some, this war is already in play. How much worse can it get? Could this situation in any way be similar to the proxy war that occurred between Saudi Arabia and Egypt in Yemen? Is it possible that the US would support Saudi Arabia in this war considering that Iran is a common opponent?
This has yet risen to the level of a proxy war commensurate with Saudi Arabia and Egypt in Yemen in the 1960s and do not think it helpful to theorize on what steps the US would take should the level of competition raise to that level. The first priority, however, would be the integrity and survival of Yemen as a state, as it was in 1994.
Q. What would you recommend be Yemen's main short-term, mid-term and long term goals? what should Yemen do about other non-terrorism or economy related needs like child marriages, famine, displacement, etc?
It is for the Yemeni government and Yemeni people to decide on short, medium and long term goals and how best to get there. You have alluded to many goals I assume are widely shared just in the nature of your questions and the nature and goals of the uprising over the past 18 months – a stable, responsive and legitimate government, a sustainable economy and a reasonable level of personal and state security. Those are the goals of virtually any peoples in the world. The challenge is prioritization and sequencing…and patience that does not slip to passivity and commitment that does not slip to dogma.
The President announced on September 2, 1997 his intention to nominate Barbara K. Bodine, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service, to be Ambassador to the Republic of Yemen. She was confirmed on November 5, 1997.
After initial tours in Hong Kong and Bangkok, Ambassador Bodine has spent her career working primarily on Southwest Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. She has twice served in the Bureau of Near East Affairs' Office of Arabian Peninsula Affairs, first as Country Officer for the Yemenis, then as Political-Military officer for the peninsula. She later served as Deputy Office Director. Ambassador Bodine has also had assignments as Deputy Principal Officer in Baghdad, Iraq, and as Deputy Chief of Mission in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion and occupation in 1990. She was awarded the Secretary of State's Award for Valor for her work in occupied Kuwait.
Following Kuwait, Ambassador Bodine was the Associate Coordinator for Operations and later served as the Acting Coordinator for Counterterrorism. She went on to serve as the Dean of Professional Studies at the Department's Foreign Service Institute. She has worked on the secretariat staff of Secretaries Kissinger and Vance, and as a Congressional Fellow in the office of Senator Robert Dole. Most recently, Ms. Bodine spent a year as the Director of East African Affairs.
Ambassador Bodine was born in 1948 in St. Louis, Missouri. She earned her B.A. in Political Science and Asian Studies, and graduated magna cum laude from the University of California at Santa Barbara. She received her Master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Massachusetts. She also studied at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Department of State's Language Training Field Schools in Taiwan and Tunisia. She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and serves on the Board of Directors of the UCSB Alumni Association and on the Advisory Council to the Program on Southwest Asian and Islamic Civilization Studies at the Fletcher School. She was the recipient of the UC Santa Barbara Distinguished Alumni Award in 1991.