2017-12-06 18:21:59 UTC
Ali Abdullah Saleh, Strongman Who Helped Unite Yemen,
and Divide It, Dies at 75
By SCOTT SHANE, DEC. 4, 2017, NY Times
By most accounts Mr. Saleh was 75 at his death, though for years his
official biography made him four years younger. It was not the only
flexibility with the facts that he had shown in an eventful lifetime.
His long tenure as the leader of the poorest Arab country, which
suffered periodic warfare and became a hotbed for Al Qaeda, left an
undoubted mark. But he was universally seen as corrupt and
unprincipled, interested mainly in wealth and power for himself and
his relatives, whom he installed in powerful posts.
It is a tragic end for a tragic 33 years of misruling Yemen, said
Farea al-Muslimi, a Yemeni scholar and chairman of the Sana Center for
Strategic Studies. He compared Mr. Saleh to Saddam Hussein and Col.
Muammar el-Qaddafi, and said that Yemen, like Iraq and Libya, had
descended into chaos in part because of Mr. Salehs failure to build
durable institutions while in office.
Gerald M. Feierstein, who met Mr. Saleh frequently as United States
ambassador to Yemen from 2010 to 2013, called him completely
untrustworthy. But he said some Yemenis would favorably compare the
relative stability of their country during much of Mr. Salehs rule,
from 1978 to early 2012, with the current violence and breakdown.
The positive is that he did kind of hold the place together, Mr.
Feierstein said, showing a sort of political mastery that moved Yemen
forward in some ways, including on education and health.
But Mr. Saleh, he said, was a kleptomaniac who stole billions,
perhaps tens of billions of dollars, over the years. He based his
rule on a personality cult, Mr. Feierstein said, and so the
government, the judicial system none of it was able to function
after he left office because it was built around him and his family.
In the later years of Mr. Salehs rule, his arid, impoverished country
of 28 million people attracted outsize attention from the United
States as a potential source of terrorist attacks by the Qaeda branch
based there, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
The so-called underwear bomber who tried to blow up a Detroit-bound
airliner in 2009 had been trained and dispatched from Yemen. Bombs
hidden in printer cartridges and loaded on commercial cargo flights
were intercepted on the way to Chicago the next year.
Mr. Saleh appeared to relish the leverage that the terrorist menace
gave him, cheerfully exploiting his countrys problems in his
petitioning for outside aid. According to a diplomatic cable released
by WikiLeaks, he once offered all of Yemens territory for American
counterterrorism efforts and agreed to keep lying to his people about
American missile strikes on Al Qaeda.