Yemen is one of the most unstable countries in the Middle East. But it retains an important role in U.S. policy.
Among the 19 U.S. diplomatic outposts that were closed this month, when surveillance allegedly turned up information indicating a pending attack, was the embassy in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. Along with Pakistan, Yemen has been a particular target of U.S. drone attacks.
The United States has had an on-again, off-again relationship with Yemen. Instability and lawlessness have caused Yemen to replace Afghanistan as a center of activity for Islamist extremists, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Yemen was the homeland of the family of Osama bin Laden. Its port of Aden was the scene of the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 Americans.
Geographically and spiritually, Yemen is a wraparound of Saudi Arabia. But it possesses nothing like the wealth of that monarchy, thus limiting its actions in places such as Egypt and Syria.
Yemen’s population is sharply divided between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. At its origins, the country was divided into North and South Yemen. North Yemen was dominated by Saudi Arabia and kept on a pro-Western track. South Yemen, including Aden, remained under British control until 1967.
The Yemens united in 1990 and were ruled by dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh until he stepped down in 2011 and was succeeded by Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Since March, the Hadi government has tried to heal old wounds and build new unity after facing opposition by some Shiites and separatist Sunnis.
President Obama received Mr. Hadi at the White House this month and has tried to boost his government. Yet Yemen remains one of the most unsteady platforms in the Middle East for U.S. activity.