Official U.S. responses to the wave of revolutions rolling over Arab dictatorships should tell us something about my government’s attitudes toward other people’s freedoms. In his State of the Union address, the president praised Tunisia as an example of people’s democratic aspirations. Secretary of State Clinton continues to urge the Mubarak government to refrain from violence in reacting to protests — to what practical effect, not much, but it has its rhetorical value, I suppose.

But Yemen? How should we gauge the official reaction to street protests against the U.S.-backed regime there? Tepid. At WaPo, Greg Sargent summarizes why:

The administration has relied on Saleh as a key partner in their counterterrorism efforts. The Washington Post’s Dana Priest has reported that American forces have assisted the Yemeni government in counterterrorism operations against AQAP. Saleh has given the U.S. cover for its use of targeted drone strikes against AQAP by taking credit for them. Yemen expert Gregory Johnsen says that nevertheless, the drone strikes have provoked popular sympathies for extremists.

Johnsen has also argued that the administration’s focus on seeing Yemen “only through the prism of counterterrorism” has produced the kind of instability they were trying to avoid. Yemen’s population is also poorer, and there’s far more potential for extremist groups to take advantage of a potential power vacuum.

For the poor, of course, there has always been a vacuum, at least in terms of services, stability, and standard of living. Dropping bombs on them because their neighborhoods have been infiltrated by select enemies of Western powers may not be the best long-term strategy for promoting peace and stability in the region — not to mention the people’s democratic aspirations.

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