SHANK: Of drone strikes and violence: A personal search for nonviolent solutions...

SHANK: Of drone strikes and violence: A personal search for nonviolent solutions in Yemen


WASHINGTON, April 27, 2014 — America is leaving a devastating legacy in Yemen thanks to its program of drone strikes.

Without question, America’s approach is doing much to destabilize this impoverished country, undermine constitutional and electoral efforts to unify her people, and devastate the local population, 92 percent of which is already suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from U.S. drones strikes.

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There are no hearts and minds being won by the White House when 92 percent of Yemen’s impacted population has PTSD thanks to American drones.

In fact, the opposite is happening, as has happened in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. American aggression is terrorizing and traumatizing the people there, and turning earlier pro-American sentiment into anti-American vitriol.

If the West wants allies in Yemen, it should help lift the nearly 55 percent of its population who are in poverty above the poverty line, feed the 45 percent living in food insecurity (they do not know where their next meal is coming from), and ensure that Yemen is not the first country nor Sana’a the first capital to run out of water.

Sana’a could be out of water in a few years. If the international community fails to act on this front, any current instability will be dwarfed by a future of vicious fighting over vanishing resources.

These are the pressing needs that deserve the international community’s attention. America can and must do better, which is why, when I’m in Yemen this month, I will be looking at the pressing challenges facing her people – whether environmental, socio-economic, and political – and how the international community can better support Yemenis in addressing these needs.

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Perhaps most importantly, I will be researching country-specific nonviolent solutions to violent conflict and documenting ways in which Yemen’s government and civil society are already engaging in prevention and identification of the root causes of conflict.  At the core of my research is a mission to improve coordination and prevention efforts between Sana’a and the international community.

Given how poorly the U.S. media cover this country’s diverse dynamics, and how they regularly default to the typical reports of violence and rhetoric, there is much work to be done to educate American policymakers on how U.S. foreign policy can attend to the needs identified by Yemeni government official and nongovernment organizations. If America were interested in reducing violence in Yemen, it would dig deeper and do due diligence to understand the current civil unrest.

Yemen doesn’t have to be the next Afghanistan, as some in Washington have asserted.  But to prevent this from happening requires an international commitment to this country that gets out of the sky, away from the cowardly and catastrophic drone strikes, and on the ground solving the pressing problems related to the water and energy crises, persistent poverty and unemployment and growing food insecurity.

Until that happens, I, and many others, will keep pounding the political pavement until policymakers in Washington care enough to change course and countenance this country’s real, but solvable, crises.  And soon, before Sana’a is sucked dry.

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Michael Shank
Michael Shank, Ph.D., is the Director of Foreign Policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington DC. Michael is also Adjunct Faculty and a Board Member at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, Board Member at Communities Without Boundaries International, Senior Fellow at the French American Global Forum and the Just Jobs Network, and Associate at the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict. Prior to joining FCNL, Michael served for four years as a congressional staffer, working as US Congressman Michael Honda's Senior Policy Advisor and Communications Director. Michael's career over the past 20 years has involved UN, government and non-governmental organizations in the US, Europe, Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America, as an adviser on diplomatic, economic, energy, and environmental security and policy initiatives. Michael's Ph.D. from George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution focused on Climate Conflict.