TIME 2016 Election

Lindsey Graham Forces Foreign Policy On 2016 GOP Field

Senator Lindsey Graham
Senator Lindsey Graham speaks at a press conference in Washington on January 13, 2015. Samuel Corum—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The talk on the trail these days is focused on Main Street. But that could change.

At the moment his staff hit publish on a new pre-presidential campaign website, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham had distinguished himself from the rest of the already unwieldy Republican 2016 field. “Security Through Strength,” was the name of his new group, with a military-style combat unit shield as its logo.

Foreign policy would be Graham’s focus, and his tack would be unmistakable: He would be the candidate who could update Ronald Reagan’s Cold War vision of “Peace Through Strength” for the ongoing battle against radical Islam. Visitors had to read a couple hundred words of filler before any mention of domestic policy appeared. “Graham is also a leader in cutting spending,” the copy reads. Also, as if it were an afterthought.

As a political strategy, this was a bold move, given that most of his challengers have been focused their rhetorical fire on the cause du jour, the economic frustrations of the struggling American middle class. But then presidential campaigns rarely end where they begin, as Graham’s biggest backer, Arizona Sen. John McCain learned well in his 2008 race. That contest began squarely in McCain’s wheelhouse, as a foreign policy debate over the Iraq War. But it ended with an economic crises that McCain was not equipped to handle. “The issue of economics is not something I’ve understood as well as I should,” he was on record admitting in 2007.

There is a real potential for 2016 to follow the same pattern in reverse. Domestically, the economy remains stuck in neutral for most Americans, but gas prices are dropping, the labor market is firming, and the ground may be set for incomes begin to rise again. Overseas, however, the world is as tumultuous as it has been in a decade, with terrorist attacks in Europe, a virtual proxy war bubbling up between NATO and Russia in Ukraine, tense nuclear negotiations with Iran and Sunni radicals redrawing national boundaries in the Middle East.

In this environment, Graham stands relatively alone in clearly presenting a foreign policy vision. “I don’t think we’re anywhere close to the point where we need to be,” former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told TIME. Bolton is contemplating a run for president to keep foreign policy in the national conversation. “Having two paragraphs in a stump speech should not be confused with having a foreign policy,” he said.

Some would-be candidates have talked about foreign policy more than others. On Sunday evening at a panel hosted by a group affiliated with the Koch brothers, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who sits on the Foreign Relations committee, had as much criticism for the governors as he had for ideological rival Sen. Rand Paul, who has presented a more modest vision of U.S. power abroad. “Taking a trip to some foreign city for two days does not make you Henry Kissinger,” Rubio said, in apparent reference to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who was at the Koch event and is planning a trip to the United Kingdom next month.

Similarly, Mitt Romney has made clear that foreign policy will be a central theme of his third run, should he choose to continue with the race. “The President’s dismissal of real global threats in his State of the Union address was naive at best and deceptive at worst,” Romney said Wednesday, in a speech before students in Mississippi.

But other Republicans, especially the deep bench of governors with White House ambitions, have yet to find their footing. Instead of offering a vision, they have been focused on schooling themselves in the arts of international trade craft.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has been receiving briefings by a team including Bob Zoellick, the former president of the World Bank and U.S. Trade Representative, and Brian Hook, a former assistant secretary of state and Romney campaign advisor. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been soliciting briefings from foreign and domestic policy experts for more than a year to study up for a second campaign. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has co-authored a hawkish foreign policy white paper last year with former Sen. Jim Talent. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who launched his political organization this week, is expected to start receiving policy briefings in the next several weeks, with Marc Thiessen, the American Enterprise Institute scholar—and co-author of Walker’s book—expected to play a key role.

The former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, supported his brother’s foreign policy while in office, but has rarely spoken out on more recent threats. Last month he called for strengthening, rather than weakening, the U.S. embargo on Cuba, for instance. It is not clear whether he has started formal briefings, but he has been reaching out to an array of experts in recent weeks, according to a person familiar with the calls.

Some Senate aides have pointed out that the state leaders could find themselves at a steep disadvantage in the general election. “We need someone who can credibly push back against Hillary Clinton’s failed record,” said an aide to one Senator eyeing the White House. “And the governors can’t do that.”

But governors may also have an advantage, not having their foreign policy so clearly defined before they run. Paul has been largely defined as an isolationist, while Rubio and Graham are affiliated with neo-conservatives, and Ted Cruz is has taken a hawkish line on many issues but favors budget cuts to defense programs.

“We don’t know very much of the foreign policy viewpoints of Jeb, Christie, and Walker,” said a veteran Republican policy aide to presidential candidates. “They have an opportunity to formulate and articulate the worldview that makes the most sense given time and space.”

That strategy works better if no one is forcing foreign policy questions into the debate at this early point in the cycle. In other words, a good day for Lindsey Graham, who enjoys easy access to the national press off the Senate floor, may be a bad one for many of his rivals in the months to come.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 29

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The homeownership safety net may be unraveling for the next generation of seniors.

By Taz George and Ellen Seidman in MetroTrends

2. As we try to understand what draws Americans to ISIS, one judge hopes we can slow radicalization by putting recruits in halfway houses instead of jail.

By Dina Temple-Raston at National Public Radio

3. Phones for farmers: With a mobile phone, a developing world farmer can learn best practices, get weather data, follow crop prices and even access financial services.

By Gates Notes

4. A new food studies program at a Bronx community college will look at healthy eating and obesity in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

By Winnie Hu in the New York Times

5. A new initiative is pushing to get more women into the debate on global issues. Meet Foreign Policy Interrupted.

By Micah Zenko at the Council on Foreign Relations

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME White House

White House Chief of Staff Reaffirms ‘Deep and Abiding’ U.S.-Israel Ties

Meet the Press - Season 68
Denis McDonough White House Chief of Staff appears on "Meet the Press" in Washington D.C. on Jan. 25, 2015. William B. Plowman—NBC/Getty Images

Amid reports of a rift with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough repudiated reports of a widening rift between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday’s morning talk shows.

An unnamed administration official was quoted by Israeli newspaper Haaretz as saying Netanyahu “spat in our face publicly” when he agreed to accept an invitation to speak to the United States Congress in March without President Obama having been consulted first.

But McDonough said on NBC’s Meet the Press that the alliance between the U.S. and Israel remained strong. “Our relationship with Israel is many-faceted, deep and abiding,” he said. “It’s focused on a shared series of threats, but also, on a shared series of values that one particular instance is not going to inform overwhelmingly.”

The White House Chief of Staff said he could not “guarantee” that an administration official hadn’t made the remarks about Netanyahu, but said he had no idea who might have said them. “It’s not me. It’s not the President,” McDonough told interviewer Chuck Todd.

House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress when he visits the U.S. in March, without informing the White House first. The trip coincides with negotiations between the U.S. and others with Iran on their nuclear capabilities, which are strongly opposed by Israel and by some in Congress.

The White House said President Obama would not be meeting with Netanyahu during his visit, out of concerns that it might influence the Israeli elections due to take place two weeks after his trip.

The decision has been portrayed as a snub by the Israeli media, though McDonough said on Meet the Press that the principle would be the same for any other ally. “We think as a general matter we in the U.S. stay out of internal politics of our closest allies,” he said.

In a separate interview on ABC’s This Week Sunday, McDonough urged Congress not to pass new sanctions on Iran while the nuclear negotiations are ongoing.

“We’ve asked Congress for forbearance, for some time to allow us to run these negotiations so that it is we who are, united with our allies, maintaining Iran isolated, rather than going with some kind of premature action up there on the Hill that would risk really splintering the international community, making it we, not the Iranians, who are isolated,” he said.

TIME Foreign Policy

Why Saudi Arabia’s Neighbor Is the Real Concern for the U.S.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah receives U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the king's Riyadh Palace on April 6, 2011 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah receives U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the king's Riyadh Palace on April 6, 2011 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

A smooth succession is all but guaranteed in the Kingdom — but that won't help imperiled U.S. allies in Yemen

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died Thursday of natural causes at age 90, leaving in place what appears to be a well-laid succession plan that U.S. analysts hope will assure continued stable relations between Washington and the oil-rich country that dominates most of the peninsula.

Unfortunately, in neighboring Yemen, the government of U.S. ally President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi also died Thursday, leaving nothing but the prospect of a failed state and increased sway for Iran-backed Houthi rebels and a powerful and dangerous branch of al Qaeda.

On balance, the bad news outweighs the good.

Abdullah’s successor, Crown Prince Salman, is an established figure in U.S.-Saudi affairs, with a history of collaboration on national security matters dating to his fundraising for the Afghan Mujahedeen during their war against the Soviets in the 1980s, says Bruce Reidel of the Brookings Institution. One of Salman’s sons, Reidel reports, “led the first RSAF mission against Islamic State targets in Syria last year.”

But while oil futures soared on the news of Abdullah’s death as traders worried about potential instability in Saudi Arabia, former U.S. officials viewed the collapse of central governing authority in Yemen as the real cause for concern. “Rule number one of contemporary national security policy is allow the emergence of no new failed states,” says former State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Amb. Daniel Benjamin.

The power vacuum is most worrying because it imperils U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism operations against one of the few al Qaeda off shoots that retains the U.S. as its primary target. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has a talented bomb-maker in its upper ranks, a Saudi fugitive named Ibrahim al Asiri. U.S. officials believe al Asiri is behind several near-miss attempts to bring down Western airliners, at least one of which was foiled by a Saudi double agent who had penetrated the group.

The Houthis are only a threat to the U.S. insofar as they appear to have effected the ouster of the U.S.-backed Hadi and left a collapsed state in his wake. “We were banking on a guy who was very pro-American, but had far less support in his country than we thought,” says Whitley Bruner, a former CIA Baghdad station chief who previously served in Yemen and has worked as a security consultant there in recent years.

The Saudis dislike both the Houthis and AQAP, which dispatched al Asiri’s brother in a suicide attack that nearly killed the Saudi Interior Minister in 2009. But the kingdom has little chance of putting its neighbor back together again: with Yemen’s history of sectarian, tribal and ideological violence, “it’s going to get worse,” says Bruner. AFP reported late Thursday that “four provinces of Yemen’s formerly independent south, including its main city Aden, say they will defy all military orders from Sanaa” now that the capital has fallen to the Houthis.

TIME White House

Obama Won’t Meet With Netanyahu During Washington Visit

US President Barack Obama(R) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on March 3, 2014. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

White House blames upcoming elections in Israel

President Obama will not meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next month when he is in Washington to address a joint session of Congress, the White House said Thursday.

“As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said in a statement. “Accordingly, the President will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress.”

MORE These Are the Elections to Watch Around the World in 2015

On Wednesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that Netanyahu had accepted an invitation to address Congress on Feb. 11, but neither the Republican leader nor the Israelis informed the White House, in a move Press Secretary Josh Earnest called a breach from protocol. The personal relationship between the U.S. and Israeli leader has deteriorated in recent years, even as both leaders argue that the professional relationship has never been stronger.

“The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he’s traveling there,” he said. “That certainly is how President Obama’s trips are planned when we travel overseas. So this particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol.”

His address comes as congressional Republicans are pressuring Obama over the ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran. During his State of the Union Address this week, Obama threatened to veto any additional sanctions legislation passed by the GOP-controlled Congress while talks are ongoing.

“The President has been clear about his opposition to Congress passing new legislation on Iran that could undermine our negotiations and divide the international community,” Meehan said. “The President has had many conversations with the Prime Minister on this matter, and I am sure they will continue to be in contact on this and other important matters.”

In a statement announcing the address, Boehner called Netanyahu “a great friend of our country.” “In this time of challenge, I am asking the Prime Minister to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life,” he said. “Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again.”

Read next: Yemen’s President Resigns as Capital Remains in Hands of Rebels

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. Eases Restrictions on Travel to Cuba

Cuba Havana US travel
A pedicab ("bicitaxi" in Cuba) with a national flag of the United States is seen in Havana, on Jan. 7, 2015. Yamil Lage—AFP/Getty Images

Will make it easier for people and companies to do business in Cuba

The United States announced Thursday that it was easing restrictions on travel and commerce in Cuba, in the first step of President Barack Obama’s plan to thaw relations between the two countries.

The new measures, which take effect on Friday, authorize airlines to fly to Cuba and allow Americans to visit Cuba without first obtaining a special license if they are traveling for any of more than a dozen reasons, including family visits, journalism and sports. They also expand the list of goods that can be exported to Cuba and authorize financial institutions to operate more widely in Cuba.

The announcement on Thursday marked the first tangible step by the U.S. to normalize relations between the two countries since Obama unexpectedly began the shift in policy last month after decades of tension with Cuba.

“Today’s announcement takes us one step closer to replacing out-of-date policies that were not working and puts in place a policy that helps promote political and economic freedom for the Cuban people,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew said in a statement.

TIME National Security

Charlie Hebdo Attack Highlights the Challenge of the U.S.-Yemen Relationship

If wars on terror don’t work, does Washington’s “lighter footprint” offer a viable alternative?

There are two basic ways the U.S. has dealt with incubators of terrorism: send in the Army, or send in the drones. Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate that the former is no guarantee of success. The attack on Charlie Hebdo suggests that the latter isn’t, either.

There are good reasons to steer clear. “The U.S. needs to think hard about how much it wants to be in the middle of a shooting match between Sunni and Shia,” says Daniel Benjamin, who spent a lot of time dealing with Yemen as the State Department point man on counter-terrorism from 2009 to 2012.

And there are good reasons to get involved. “I have serious concerns for the future security of the United States and our allies,” says David Sedney, who from 2009 to 2013 ran the Pentagon office responsible for Afghanistan, Pakistan and central Asia. “Al-Qaeda and its offshoots have an agenda of destroying us, and our way of life.”

Then there’s the history of benign neglect. “Going back to my time at Centcom, we always felt we needed to do more to help Yemen build its anti-terrorism capability,” says Anthony Zinni, who ran U.S. Central Command as a four-star Marine general from 1997 to 2000. “The other Gulfies complained that their coast was the source of a lot of transit and the ability of bad guys to come in.”

Things got even worse on Oct. 12, 2000, three months after Zinni stepped down, when suicide bombers in a small boat approached the USS Cole during her refueling stop in Yemen’s Aden harbor. Crammed with explosives, the al-Qaeda-sponsored blast blew a hole in Cole’s hull, killing 17 sailors. “That sort of soured things. The hearings in Congress were all about `Why Yemen—who cares?’” Zinni recalls. “We sort of neglected Yemen, and the outcome is that’s where al-Qaeda in Afghanistan has ended up.”

The Kouachi brothers face police after their killing spree inside the offices of Charlie Hebdo Jan. 7. Anne Gelbard—AFP/Getty Images

Yemen’s fingerprints are all over the slaughter at the French satirical newspaper, the latest in a series of bad events involving an impoverished state tacked on to the bottom of Saudi Arabia, wedged between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

Washington has cited its relationship with Yemen as breeding success in the war on terror. On Sept. 10, as President Obama announced the start of a bombing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, he heralded his lighter approach to dealing with terror by citing Yemen.

“I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he told the nation from the White House. “This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years.”

But 11 days later, the government of Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, the U.S. partner in its anti-terror fight, was driven from the capital of Sana’a by Shiite-backed Houthis, who have since gained control of several ministries. The U.S. and its Yemeni allies says the Houthis are funded by Iran, which the Houthis deny, although both Iran and the Houthis are virulently anti-American.

Yemen National Dialogue
Yemen President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

“It’s certainly worrisome when the legitimate government of President Hadi is much weakened by the Houthis occupation of Sana’a and by the increasingly sectarian character of the conflict there,” says Benjamin says, now a foreign-policy scholar at Dartmouth College. “I’m quite worried that this is going to become a southern version of Iraq because the whole region is so inflated with sectarian strife.”

Such violence further hampers American efforts. “It’s got to be harder for the U.S. to operate there, to cooperate with the authorities there, and also to do the training that’s such a key part of our relationship,” Benjamin says.

In fact, Yemen has been falling apart since the 2011 overthrow of Ali Abdullah Saleh, its longtime leader. The resulting unrest has allowed the Sunni-rooted al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to occupy much of the southern part of the country.

Four months after the fall of the capital, Saïd Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, French brothers of Muslim descent, stormed Charlie Hebdo Jan. 7 and killed its editors and cartoonists, before dying in a shootout with French police two days later.

AQAP had trained both men in Yemen in 2011, Reuters reported Jan. 11, quoting anonymous Yemeni sources. The pair met with al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al-Awlaki and spent time in the desert being trained on firearms before returning to France.

U.S.-born Awlaki—who was also U.S.-killed, by a CIA drone strike in Yemen in September, 2011—has been the most inspirational Islamist for those seeking to attack U.S. targets. His legacy includes the failed 2009 underwear bomber over Detroit, the successful Fort Hood attack that same year, and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. It was in Yemen—where Awlaki resided from 2004 until his death—that he, as the face of AQAP, produced online videos and other media that continue to drive adherents to kill in the name of religion. The Saudi news outlet Al Arabiya has described him as the “bin Laden of the Internet.”

“This whole idea that was pioneered by Awlaki of individual acts of jihad has, in this particular environment in Europe where there’s so much anti-immigrant sentiment, growing Islamophobia, tough economic times, created the ground work for this kind of attack,” Benjamin says.

From Yemen’s perspective, dealing with Washington hasn’t always been easy, either. After an explosion 100 miles east of Sana’a killed suspected USS Cole bombing mastermind Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi in 2002, Yemeni officials blamed a car bomb for his death.

USS Cole Attack Suspect Arrested
The USS Cole following the AQAP attack. U.S. Navy/Getty Images

But Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz blew that cover story two days later by acknowledging in a CNN interview that a CIA Hellfire missile had killed al-Harethi.

“This is why is it so difficult to make deals with the United States,” Yemeni Brigadier General Yahya M. Al Mutawakel, the deputy secretary general for the ruling People’s Congress party, told the Christian Science Monitor shortly after Wolfowitz spilled the beans. “This is why we are reluctant to work closely with them.” Local outrage forced the U.S. to close its embassy in Sana’a temporarily following the admission.

Back in Paris, “Tell the media that this is Al-Qaeda in Yemen!” the Kouachi brothers shouted outside the newspaper office where they had just carried out their massacre. They’d later tell the driver of a car they hijacked that their actions were driven by a thirst for revenge for Awlaki’s death.

“The leadership of AQAP directed the operation, and they have chosen their target carefully as revenge for the honor of the prophet,” a statement issued by an AQAP spokesman said the day the pair died. U.S. officials said, despite that claim, that there is no clear evidence yet that the Paris attack was ordered by AQAP.

But the group did call for attacking Charlie Hebdo and its editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, in Inspire, its English-language magazine, saying he and other journalists were “wanted dead or alive for crimes against Islam.”

There is only so much the U.S. can do to fix the country. “Yemen is a semi-failed state—some people would say its an outright failed state—and as a result its absorptive capacity for dealing with assistance across a broad range of areas is limited,” Benjamin says. “We have done an enormous amount on the security side, as well as on the humanitarian, economic and governance accounts.”

Not everyone agrees. “We’ve mishandled Yemen terribly,” Sedney says. “Al-Qaeda is stronger today in Yemen than it was a year ago.”

The U.S. anti-terror policy of a “light footprint”—drones, special-ops units and training for local forces—isn’t working there, or in Libya, Somalia or the tribal areas of Pakistan, he says.

“That kind of activity can temporarily suppress the threat to the United States and our allies,” Sedney says. “But it doesn’t solve the problem, and it also creates countervailing forces that actually make the problem worse in the long run” because such remote attacks serve to motivate survivors to seek revenge.

Sedney says the only way of transforming a society is full-bore nation building, with the time and money needed to make it flourish. It requires political muscle and popular support, something that hasn’t truly existed since the U.S. helped rebuild Germany and Japan after World War II. “That worked wonderfully for us,” he says.

Since then, “the U.S. efforts have always been halfhearted, half-resourced and focused on exit strategies rather than on success,” Sedney says. “We always want to have an exit, and the problem with real life is there’s no exit.”

Christopher Swift, a Yemen expert at Georgetown University, agrees that U.S. efforts in Yemen have been lackluster. “Our relationships, whether they’re political or military, don’t extend beyond the capital,” he says. “The bad guys are out in the field, far away from the national capital, and to the extent we claim to have relationships out in the bush, they’re based on third-party sources or overhead surveillance.”

U.S. goals in Yemen have always been tempered. “We’ve been playing for very limited, very modest objectives in Yemen,” Swift says. “Yemen is still a place where people who want inspiration, or training, or a place to hide can go. AQAP isn’t going away. The Yemenis are not in a position to make it go away, and we’re not willing to help them defeat AQAO decisively.”

Al-Qaeda’s return to center stage comes a year after it was pushed out of the spotlight by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, which has preoccupied Washington and returned U.S. troops to Iraq for the third time in 25 years.

Al-Qaeda wants that spotlight back. “There an internal competitiveness now,” Zinni says. “Everybody wants to outdo the other guy, because it helps with recruiting and funding.”

Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agrees with Zinni. “ISIL is inspiring groups that already exist to rebrand themselves, but in rebranding themselves into a more radical ideology,” he told Fox News Jan. 9. “That’s what makes it dangerous.”

Yemen remains a difficult challenge. “Once touted as a relative success story among Arab uprisings, the internationally backed transition process in Yemen has unraveled in the wake of the September 21 Houthi takeover of Sana’a,” April Longley Alley of the nonprofit Middle East Institute wrote in December. “In the north, the balance of power has tipped sharply in favor of the Houthis, a predominantly Zaydi-Shi‘i movement that took control of the capital in September and has since consolidated and expanded southward and along the Red Sea coast. Supporters of the movement see the Houthis as correcting the wrongs of the country’s 2011 transition agreement, which preserved the power and corruption of old regime elites. They praise the movement’s willingness to confront corruption, combat al-Qa‘ida, and fill a security vacuum left by a feckless government.”

But the Saudis, who have poured at least $4 billion in aid into Yemen, view the Houthis as proxies for their mortal enemy, Iran, and could halt the cash flow. “If they do pull the plug,” Alley writes, “it will almost certainly increase hardship for average Yemenis, undermine the new technocratic government formed in November, and raise the prospect of fiscal collapse in early 2015.”

Houthis take control of al-Udayn district in Ibb, Yemen
Houthis have taken over wide swaths of Yemen. Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Between 2011 and 2014, the U.S. pumped $343 million into Yemen, largely to fight AQAP. The U.S. is slated to provide Yemen with $125 million in arms and military training in 2015, in addition to $75 million in humanitarian aid, according to the nonprofit Security Assistance Monitor website.

“Despite their aggressive actions against AQAP, the Houthis have continually expressed anti-American rhetoric,” Seth Binder of the Security Assistance Monitor wrote Jan. 9. “And AQAP has used the Houthi’s Zaidi-Shi’a roots, a sect of Shiite Islam, to frame their battle as a Sunni-Shiite conflict. Recent reports indicate the tactic may be working as an increasing number of disenchanted Sunni tribesman are joining AQAP.”

There are near-daily attacks in Yemen now. On Jan. 7—the same day the Kouachi brothers butchered Charlie Hebdo’s masthead—a car bomb killed 40 people seeking to enroll in a police academy in Sana’a. Five suspected al-Qaeda members have been arrested in connection with the blast.

TIME Foreign Policy

White House Says It Should Have Sent a More Senior Official to Paris

"We should have sent someone with a higher profile," Obama's top spokesman said

The White House said Monday that it blundered by not sending a higher-profile government official to attend a unity march in Paris on Sunday after last week’s terrorist attacks, following a day of criticism from media figures and Republicans over the Obama Administration’s absence.

“I think it’s fair to say that we should have sent someone with a higher profile to be there,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in the wake of rebukes from figures including Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. “We agree that we should have sent someone with a higher profile.”

French President François Hollande invited world leaders to attend the march on Friday. German Chancellor AngelaMerkel, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were in attendance, but the U.S. was represented only by Ambassador to France Jane Harley. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Paris to attend meetings with his French counterparts, but did not attend the march, which attracted more than one million people.

Earnest would not say whether the White House considered sending President Barack Obama or Vice President Joe Biden to attend the event, but said he is sure they would have wanted to attend.

“Had the circumstances been a little bit different, I think the president himself would have liked to be there,” he said.

“This was not a decision that was made by the President,” Earnest added.

Earnest blamed the short timeframe in which the event came together for keeping American leaders from attending, as well as U.S. security requirements which would have been “onerous” for other attendees.

“We’re talking about a march that came together in about 36 hours, and a march that took place outdoors,” Earnest said, adding that had Obama or Biden attended, “it would have significantly impacted the ability of those in attendance to participate like they did yesterday.”

MORE Ted Cruz: Obama Should Have Gone to Paris

“There were a variety of conversations,” State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf said of attending the march. Secretary of State John Kerry was in India on Sunday for a long-scheduled meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Since this happened, we have shown solidarity with the French in so many ways,” she said, adding that the U.S.-France relationship is not defined by a single event.

“I would like to see how many minutes we spend on Boko Haram compared to a march—I just want to point that out,” Harf added after reporters repeatedly asked about the march at the State Department’s daily briefing monday.

Read next: Charlie Hebdo Afflicted Us With Free Speech Hindsight

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Foreign Policy

FBI Director Gives New Clues Tying North Korea to Sony Hack

29th Annual Briefing of Overseas Security Advisory Council
FBI Director James Comey delivers a speech during the 29th Annual Overseas Security Advisory Council in Washington on Nov. 19, 2014 Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

Hackers "got sloppy" and mistakenly sent messages that could be traced

(NEW YORK) — The FBI director revealed new details Wednesday about the stunning cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., part of the Obama administration’s effort to challenge persistent skepticism about whether North Korea’s government was responsible for the brazen hacking.

Speaking at the International Conference on Cyber Security at Fordham University, FBI Director James Comey revealed that the hackers “got sloppy” and mistakenly sent messages directly that could be traced to IP addresses used exclusively by North Korea. Comey said the hackers had sought to use proxy computer servers, a common ploy hackers use to disguise their identities and throw investigators off their trail by hiding their true locations.

“It was a mistake by them,” he said. “It made it very clear who was doing this.”

The Associated Press reported Dec. 20 that the FBI had discovered that computer Internet addresses known to be operated by North Korea were communicating directly with other computers used to deploy and control the hacking tools and collect the stolen Sony files. The FBI previously said its evidence also included similarities to other tools developed by North Korea in specific lines of computer code, encryption algorithms and data deletion methods.

“I have very high confidence about this attribution to North Korea, as does the entire intelligence community,” Comey said.

North Korea has denied it was involved in the hacking.

Comey said the Sony attack had “clear links” to malware developed by North Korea, Comey said. The same tools were used in an attack last year on South Korean banks and media outlets, he said.

Finally, the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit studied statements and threats purporting to be from Guardians of Peace and compared them to other known attacks by the North Koreans, Comey said. The unit told him, “Easy for us – it’s the same actors,” Comey said.

Comey said the evidence should undermine persistent skepticism by some cyber experts that individual hackers or a disgruntled insider were the culprits behind a hack that sabotaged the wide release of “The Interview,” a comedy about a plot to kill North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“They don’t have the facts that I have, don’t see what I see,” he said.

Comey said he was hesitant to reveal more about how U.S. officials learned that North Korea was the source “because it will happen again, and we have to preserve our methods and sources.”

Earlier Wednesday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also warned North Korea will continue the attacks against American interests unless the United States “pushes back.”

Clapper told the audience of government and private cybersecurity experts that he had gained insight into North Korea’s anti-American mindset while dining with a top North Korean general last year when he went there to negotiate the release of two U.S. prisoners. The general would have been the one to give the green light for the attack on Sony, he said.

North Koreans “really do believe they are under siege from all directions,” and “are deadly, deadly serious about affronts to the supreme leader,” he said.

Earlier this week, Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai broke his silence about the attack, saying his employees were victims of a “vicious and malicious cyberattack,” while adding that he’s proud of them for standing against “the extortionist efforts of criminals.”


Cuba Frees Three People Believed to be on U.S. Political Prisoner List

Military guards at the Combinado del Este prison in Havana, Cuba in 2013.
Military guards at the Combinado del Este prison in Havana, Cuba in 2013. Franklin Reyes—AP

Cuba has pledged to release 53 political prisoners as part of a deal with Washington

The Cuban government freed three detainees Wednesday in the latest sign of thawing relations between Havana and longtime foe the U.S.

The released trio are believed to be on a list of 53 political prisoners Washington wants to see freed in the socialist Caribbean island-state, Reuters reports.

Cuba has pledged to release all 53 as part of a deal to renew diplomatic relations between the two countries.

According to Cuban human rights activists, the government released 19-year-old Diango Vargas and twin brother Bianco Vargas Martin who were arrested in Dec. 2012 and sentenced to 30 months in prison for threatening a state official and disorderly conduct.

Activists said another man, Enrique Figuerola Miranda, was also freed.

All three were members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) opposition group.


Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser