During last week’s G-8 summit, Obama suggested the “Yemen model” as a solution for Syria. It wasn’t clear what he meant by this, since Yemen and Syria are strikingly different cases. However, looking back on developments in Yemen sheds some light on what the US has in mind in terms of a road map for Syria.
The uprising in Yemen began right after the Tunisian revolution. Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been in power for more than two decades, failed to meet the protesters’ demands with his meager concessions. As Saleh intensified the crackdown on protesters, his domestic allies shifted sides and endorsed the opposition. Saleh survived an assassination attempt, but he failed to maintain national and international support in light of the growing protests at home. His traditional allies, Saudi Arabia and the US, forced Saleh to resign, although he was granted legal immunity. After handing over power to his vice president Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, Saleh left the country and moved to Ethiopia.
It seems that the “Yemen model” is meant to solve the Syrian crisis without resorting to military intervention, which essentially boils down to keeping the Baath Party but getting rid of Assad. This is perceived as the least costly solution to trying to convince the different actors involved, except the Syrian people themselves.
The New York Times reported that Washington has been communicating with Russia regarding such a model. Russian support for such a proposal is crucial — it was the pressure from international sponsors that pushed Saleh to resign.
It is already established that for the Obama administration, international military intervention in Syria is not on the table. However, the Annan Plan — whose only aim is to gain the international community more time for not getting involved the mess in Syria — is on the verge of collapse. Everyone, including the supporters of the plan, knows that Assad has no intention to comply. The death toll is increasing every day. Assad’s persistence in ruthlessness and his cruelty is unacceptable even for the West, which has showed no will to end the bloodshed in Syria until now. In a nutshell, the West will be more than happy to see that the Yemen model, which is also the least costly one, works for Syria.
On the other hand, it won’t be surprising to see Russian support for such a road map, either. The Assad regime might soon be unaffordable for Russia. Although the military intervention option is not on the table now, the international balance may change after the US presidential elections. Russia is well aware that it will lose Syria completely should the Baath regime collapse. Hence, the Russians might favor a solution that will both maintain the Baath regime — and therefore their connections in Syria — while removing Assad from power.
While the diplomatic babble drags on, Assad continues to kill. Even UN observers are not making things difficult for his thugs. This weekend in Houla, more than 100 civilians were butchered. Each and every week Sabra-and-Shatilla-like massacres are repeated again and again in Syria. It is not clear what we took from the Yemen model, nor do we know when and how it will be implemented. What is clear is that Assad’s plan is the only one that is currently in use. While we discuss the Yemeni model, Assad’s plan, which is based on the Rwandan model, prevails.