Over the weekend, Obama pledged to double aid to Yemen, but this money must be spent strategically. Several areas are ripe for foreign help, including training and equipping counter-terrorism forces, bolstering border security and building the capacity of the coast guard, expanding counterinsurgency advice to the Yemeni government and expanding programs focused on basic governance and anti-corruption.
A key challenge will be encouraging Yemen's government to confront Al Qaeda, something it has not been sufficiently willing to do up to now. The government's repeated battles against Houthi insurgents in the north have claimed resources that might otherwise have been directed at Al Qaeda elements. It is thus worth exploring whether mediation aimed at a political settlement of that conflict is achievable. In addition, the U.S. should privately make clear that the degree of political support it extends to the government of Yemen will depend directly on its taking action on the array of issues that concern Washington.
The goal of U.S. foreign policy toward Yemen should be for the country to emerge as a stable, functioning state, one that presents no sanctuary for transnational terrorist groups. U.S. policy alone can't bring this about. It can, however, attempt to mitigate the worst of the coming challenges that will plague Yemen.
Richard Fontaine is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and traveled to Yemen with a Senate delegation in August. Andrew Exum is a fellow at the center.