TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 20

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

1. America loves to take sides in regional conflicts. In Yemen, we shouldn’t.

By Paul R. Pillar in the National Interest

2. Here’s why Congress should drop the ban on federal funds for needle exchanges. (It’s because they work.)

By Kevin Robert Frost at CNN

3. Cheap coal is a lie.

By Al Gore and David Blood in the Guardian

4. How small-batch distilling could save family farms.

By Andrew Amelinckx in Modern Farmer

5. Can you fix city management with data? Mike Bloomberg is betting $42 million you can.

By Jim Tankersley at the Washington Post

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 Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: April 13

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

1. Why do we need human pilots again?

By John Markoff in the New York Times

2. We thought education would unlock the potential of Arab women. We were half right.

By Maysa Jalbout at the Brookings Institution

3. Peru found a 1,000 year-old solution to its water crisis.

By Fred Pearce in New Scientist

4. Why Saudi Arabia might need to break the country in two to “win” its war in Yemen.

By Peter Salisbury in Vice

5. Startup accelerators are great…we think.

By Randall Kempner and Peter Roberts in the Wall Street Journal

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 Pakistan

Pakistani Lawmakers Vote to Stay Out of Yemen Conflict

Pakistan's Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, center, leaves Parliament after a joint session discussing the crisis in Yemen, in Islamabad, Pakistan, April 7, 2015.
Anjum Naveed—AP Pakistan's Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, center, leaves parliament after a joint session discussing the crisis in Yemen, in Islamabad on April 7, 2015

Pakistan's parliament voted no to the Saudi-led coalition and adopted a resolution to call the warring parties to seek peaceful dialogue

(ISLAMABAD) — Pakistan’s parliament has decided not to join the Saudi-led coalition targeting Shiite rebels in Yemen, with lawmakers adopting a resolution calling on the warring parties to resolve the conflict through peaceful dialogue.

After days of debating, Pakistani lawmakers on Friday unanimously voted in favor of a resolution saying that the parliament desires “Pakistan should maintain neutrality in the Yemen conflict so as to be able to play a proactive diplomatic role to end the crisis.”

The predominantly Sunni Pakistan, which has a Shiite minority of its own and shares a long border with the Shiite powerhouse Iran, has been concerned about getting involved in Yemen’s increasingly sectarian conflict and a Saudi-Iran proxy war in the region.

TIME Yemen

Yemen Rebels Capture City, Iran Condemns Saudi Air Campaign

Smoke billows from a Saudi-led airstrike on Sanaa, Yemen, April 8, 2015
Hani Mohammed—AP Smoke billows from a Saudi-led air strike on Sanaa, Yemen, on April 8, 2015

Shi‘ite rebels made significant territorial gains by capturing a city despite a third week of Saudi-led air strikes

(SANAA, Yemen) — Shiite rebels and allied troops overran the capital of an oil-rich Yemeni province in a heavily Sunni area on Thursday, making significant territorial gains despite Saudi-led airstrikes, now entering their third week.

Iran, which is trying to garner international support to stop the bombing, stepped up its condemnation, with the supreme leader calling the air campaign “genocide.”

The rebel fighters, known as Houthis, along with military units loyal to former autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh, overran Ataq, the capital of oil-rich Shabwa province, after days of airstrikes and clashes with local Sunni tribes.

The Saudi-led coalition has imposed an air and sea blockade on Yemen and targeted the rebels and their allies to try to create a safe corridor that would allow the return of Yemen’s internationally recognized president, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled the country last month.

The conflict pits the Saudi-led Sunni Gulf Arab coalition against Shiite rival Iran, which supports the Houthis and has provided humanitarian aid, though both Iran and the rebels deny it has armed them.

The growing regional involvement risks transforming what until now has been a complex power struggle into a full-blown sectarian conflict like those raging in Syria and Iraq.

On Thursday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, compared the Saudi-led strikes to Israel’s bombing in the Gaza Strip. “This is a crime, genocide and legally pursuable,” he said, according to his website. “It is necessary for the Saudis to withdraw from disastrous crimes. … Yemenis will resist and will win.”

He also lashed out at what he called “a few inexperienced young men” controlling affairs in Saudi Arabia — a veiled reference to the Saudi king’s son, Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, who is leading the air campaign. “They prefer barbaric behavior over dignity,” Khamenei said.

In a speech in Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani urged a cease-fire in Yemen to allow for broad-based talks on resolving the crisis.

“To the countries in the region, I say, let’s adopt the spirit of brotherhood. Let’s respect each other and other nations,” Rouhani said. “Do not kill innocent children. Let’s think about an end to the war, about cease-fire and humanitarian assistance to the suffering people of Yemen.”

Comparing the Saudi-led campaign to Syria and Iraq, where a U.S.-led coalition is targeting Islamic State militants, he added: “You will learn … that you are making a mistake in Yemen, too.”

Saudi Arabia and its allies maintain their involvement is not sectarian but rather an attempt to curtail an increasingly expansionist Iran they accuse of exerting influence in a growing number of Arab countries, including Yemen. Iran denies it is meddling, and accuses the Sunni Gulf countries of inciting sectarianism in the region.

Speaking on PBS News Hour late Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington has information that Iran is providing military assistance to the rebels.

“There are a number of flights every single week that have been flying in. We trace those flights and we know this. We are well aware of the support Iran has been giving Yemen,” Kerry said. “Iran needs to recognize that the U.S. is not going to stand by while the region is destabilized or while people engage in overt warfare across lines — international boundaries — in other countries.”

Meanwhile, there was little sign the airstrikes have curtailed the rebels’ advance.

The capture of Ataq came after days of clashes as well as negotiations with local tribes. When the Houthis and Saleh loyalists entered the city they encountered little resistance, raising questions about whether Yemen’s fractured tribes — even in Sunni areas — can serve as reliable allies.

Military and tribal officials said leading tribe members facilitated the rebels’ entry after days of fighting, with one official saying the Sunni tribesmen didn’t want to keep on fighting, even though they were assisted by coalition airstrikes. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

Ataq residents said the rebels and allied soldiers installed checkpoints all around the city. “Ataq is like a military barracks. A tank here, an armored vehicle there and non-stop patrols,” said resident Saleh al-Awlaki. “I consider this an occupation by all means. And all occupation must be removed, also by all means.”

Mohamed Abkar, another resident, said residents looted unguarded weapons warehouses in the city on Wednesday, but not a shot was fired as the rebels entered the city.

Letting the rebels and Saleh forces in the city was “treason,” resident Khaled al-Wahabi said, blaming local tribes for facilitating their entry. “Shabwa tribes should bear the blame,” he said.

Soon after the city’s capture, residents reported that coalition jets bombed military camps in the area.

The spokesman for the coalition forces, Ahmed Assiri, confirmed the airstrikes and said the aim at this phase of the campaign was to cut off rebel supply lines and communications between the capital Sanaa, and rebel strongholds in the north.

The Houthis and their allies have seized 10 of Yemen’s 21 provinces but could encounter resistance in Shabwa from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. The Saudi-led bombing — backed by U.S. arms shipments and intelligence sharing — threatens to weaken the rebels and Saleh’s loyalists, who are al-Qaida’s most powerful opponents on the ground.


Karimi reported from Tehran, Iran. Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb in Cairo and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.

TIME Pakistan

Pakistan Says Saudi-Led Coalition in Yemen Wants Troops

Pakistani students rally to support the Saudi Arabian government in Islamabad, Pakistan, April 2, 2015.
B.K. Bangash—AP Pakistani students rally to support the Saudi Arabian government in Islamabad on April 2, 2015

Saudi Arabia has asked Pakistan to contribute troops in its efforts against Shiite Houthi rebels in Yemen

(ISLAMABAD) — A Saudi-led coalition targeting Shiite rebels in Yemen has asked Pakistan to contribute soldiers, Pakistan’s defense minister said Monday, raising the possibility of a ground offensive in the country.

Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif made the comments as Pakistan’s parliament debates whether to contribute militarily to the campaign against the rebels, known as Houthis. Pakistan previously offered its verbal support for the mission, but hasn’t offered any military support.

Days of Saudi-led airstrikes have yet to halt the Houthi advance across Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, fuelling speculation that there could be a ground operation launched in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members have not ruled it out.

Saudi Arabia also asked for aircraft and naval ships to aid in the campaign, Asif said. He said Saudi officials made the request during his visit to Jeddah last week.

“I want to reiterate that this is Pakistan’s pledge to protect Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity,” Asif said. “If there’s a need be, God willing, Pakistan will honor its commitment.”

The Saudi-led campaign entered its 12th day Monday, targeting the rebels who took over the capital, Sanaa, in September and eventually forced President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi to flee. The rebels and allied forces are now making a push for Yemen’s second-largest city, Aden, declared a temporary capital by Hadi before he fled abroad.

Muslim-majority Pakistan has close ties to Saudi Arabia, which is home to Islam’s two holiest sites, Mecca and Medina. Pakistan also has a sizeable Shiite minority, complicating the debate over engagement in a conflict that is increasingly pitting Sunnis against Shiites.

The debate in parliament will aim to decide whether their country can afford to join the conflict in Yemen when it is already at war with Islamic and sectarian militants allied with groups like al-Qaida and Islamic State. Pakistan already has nearly 300 troops in Saudi Arabia taking part in joint exercises and most Pakistanis back the idea of protecting Islam’s holiest sites from attack.

The Houthis have been backed by security forces loyal to Yemen’s ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh — whose loyalists control elite forces and large combat units in the country’s military.

Yemen-based Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, considered among the most active and dangerous branch of global militant organization, has benefited from the crisis. The chaos also has disrupted a U.S.-led drone strike program targeting suspected militants there.

TIME Yemen

The Crisis in Yemen Intensifies as Houthi Fighters Push Deeper Into Aden

A man shows the damage inside his house after an air strike in the Okash village near Sanaa
Mohamed Al-Sayaghi—Reuters A man shows the damage inside his house after an air strike in the Okash village near Sanaa, Yemen on April 4, 2015.

Saudi-led air strikes have failed to reverse the rebels' momentum

Houthi militia inched closer Sunday to capturing the port city of Aden, where Saudi-backed forces loyal to Yemeni President Abdel Rabbo Mansour Hadi continue to hold out.

The Shi‘ite rebels unleashed artillery barrages on residential areas in the city and targeted a pro-Hadi television station with mortar rounds, forcing it off the air, reports AFP.

“There are bodies in the streets, and we can’t get close because there are Houthi snipers on the rooftops. Anything that gets near, they shoot at,” an unidentified medic told Reuters.

Houthi militants continue to consolidate control over large swaths of Yemen, despite 11 days of air strikes from a Saudi-led coalition of Gulf Arab states.

The Houthi assault on one of President Hadi’s last remaining strongholds comes as more than a hundred members of a Sunni Islamist political party were rounded up by Shi‘ite militiamen on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross has called for the immediate imposition of a 24-hour cease-fire across Yemen to allow for the evacuation of the wounded to prevent further loss of life.

“Our relief supplies and surgical personnel must be allowed to enter the country and safely reach the worst-affected places to provide help,” said Robert Mardini, head of the ICRC’s operations in the Middle East, in a statement. “Otherwise, put starkly, many more people will die. For the wounded, their chances of survival depend on action within hours, not days.”

Health officials in Aden claim that at least 185 people have been killed and 1,282 injured in the city since March 26, reports the BBC. However, the figure does not include rebel casualties or residents killed by air strikes.

Last week, U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos called on both sides to do more to protect civilians trapped in the middle of the conflict.

“Those engaged in fighting must ensure that hospitals, schools, camps for refugees and those internally displaced and civilian infrastructure, especially in populated areas, are not targeted or used for military purposes,” said Amos.

Read next: Pakistan Says Saudi-Led Coalition in Yemen Wants Troops

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Military

Saudi Air War Over Yemen Leaves U.S. on Sidelines

Saudi-led coalition launch airstrike in Yemen
Sinan Yiter / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images Houthis in the Yemeni city of Saana fire anti-aircraft weapons in the general direction of Saudi-led attacking warplanes March 30.

But former American commander says it’s about time

When it came time to bomb Libya—both times, in fact, in 1986 and 2011—American airpower led the way. When Iraq was in the crosshairs—all three times, in 1991, 2003 and 2014—the stars and bars of the U.S. Air Force led the charge. Same thing in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Syria and even Iran (against oil platforms and small boats in the Persian Gulf in 1987-1988).

That history makes it almost relaxing for the U.S. military to be sitting out the latest air war launched by Saudi Arabia against the Houthi rebels now occupying a growing chunk of Yemen. The kingdom, which kicked off aerial attacks March 25, is nervous about the Iranian-backed rebels along its southern border. But Riyadh’s hardly flying solo: it has been joined by Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.

Washington shouldn’t feel left out, according to Anthony Zinni, the retired four-star Marine who headed U.S. Central Command, which oversees the region, from 1997 to 2000. “Ever since the first Gulf War in the early 1990s, we’ve been pushing to get some sort of alliance in the region,” he says. “We wanted them to come together and basically find a way where we could support them but not have to lead them all the time.”

Zinni says the Saudis have acted because they hate the Houthis, hate the Iranians, and hate the idea of an ungoverned state next door. “They will not tolerate a Houthis-led Yemen on their southern border,” he adds. “And they’re pissed that the Iranians support them.” Saudi Arabia has attacked the Houthis before, he notes, but never this extensively.

Precise details about what each country allied in the battle against the Houthis is doing remain murky. But it’s obvious a lot of the air attacks on Houthi sites, in what Riyadh has dubbed Operation Decisive Storm, involve U.S.-built warplanes dropping U.S.-built bombs.

Much of Saudi Arabia’s air force consists of U.S.-built warplanes. It says it has dedicated 100 to the fight, and lost a St. Louis-built F-15 involved in the campaign March 26 (both pilots rescued by a U.S. helicopter from the Gulf of Aden). Bahrain has earmarked up to 12 Fort Worth-built F-16s, with Jordan and Morocco contributing six apiece. Kuwait reportedly has dispatched 15 St. Louis-built F-18s to the battle.

But the U.S. role is decidedly limited. “Our current position is that we will help the Saudis with intelligence and logistics and planning support,” Army General Lloyd Austin, Zinni’s successor as chief of Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 26. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: the U.S. has been selling weapons and providing training to many nations in the region for decades. Most Americans have no interest in wading into another war. President Obama—with his pledge not to deploy U.S. ground combat troops in the ongoing fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria—shares their view (although the U.S. has been bombing ISIS since August).

While U.S. intelligence has begun flowing to the Saudis, logistical help remains largely in the planning stages, U.S. officials say. U.S. intelligence is being funneled to the Saudis through the Combined Air and Space Operations Center at the major U.S. al Udeid air base in Qatar—the same base conducting the daily air strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria. “Right now it’s almost exclusively intel—intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” a U.S. military officer says of the American aid.

“Log[istical] support hasn’t really kicked in yet,” he adds. “When it does it will be mostly refueling and spare parts. It’s not clear yet where the [aerial refueling] tankers would one from. Presumably al Udied.”

Without the U.S. in the lead, Washington can’t start and stop bombing. But it retains some control: it can control the flow of spare parts for the warplanes it built and the bombs they drop.

Of course, one of the advantages of being in charge is calling the shots, and knowing why they’re being called. When it comes to the Saudi effort against the Houthis, Austin acknowledged at that armed services committee session that he’s all but clueless. “I don’t currently know the specific goals and objectives of the Saudi campaign,” Austin said. “I would have to know that to be able to assess the likelihood of success.”

When you’re out of the loop, you also don’t know what’s going to happen next. The Saudi defense chief informed him of the impending strikes “the day of the attacks,” Austin said, “so it was not much before that they actually started the attacks.”

Read next: Al-Qaeda Group Frees Hundreds of Inmates in Yemen

TIME Yemen

Al-Qaeda Group Frees Hundreds of Inmates in Yemen

Mideast Yemen
Hani Mohammed—AP Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, chant slogans to protest against Saudi-led airstrikes, during a rally in Sanaa, Yemen, Wednesday, April 1, 2015.

Unrest in Yemen could fuel al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's expansion

The powerful al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen stormed a southern port city and freed hundreds of prisoners as it took advantage of mounting turmoil in the country.

The New York Times reports that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) launched an offensive early Thursday against the city of al-Mukalla, targeting the security headquarters, government buildings and the central prison. Witnesses reported seeing hundreds of inmates fleeing, according to the Times.

Yemen has descended into civil war since the rebel Houthis from the north seized the capital, Sana’a, last fall and ousted President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi earlier this year. Clashes between the advancing Houthis and forces loyal to Hadi intensified last month and prompted neighboring Saudi Arabia to launch airstrikes to push back the predominantly Shi’ite Houthis, who are perceived to have support from Saudi rival Iran.

The city of al-Mukalla had been spared the fighting, but onlookers have long raised concerns that the unrest could fuel AQAP’s growth in strength and stature, especially as the Sunni extremist group positions itself as a leading opposition force to the Houthis.

[New York Times]

TIME Military

U.S. Resumes Weapons Flow to Egypt

An Egyptian Air Force F-16 fighter jet flies low over thousands of anti-government protesters gathered at Tahrir square in Cairo
Yannis Behrakis / Reuters A U.S.-built Egyptian F-16 flies low over thousands of anti-government protesters in Tahrir square in Cairo in January 2011.

But the White House announcement wasn't only about weapons

President Obama on Tuesday lifted his nearly two-year ban on shipping American weapons to Egypt, a restriction imposed after its military kicked out its elected government in 2013.

Obama relayed news of the move in a telephone call to Egyptian President (and former Army general) Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. It will allow for the shipment of 12 F-16 aircraft, 20 Harpoon missiles and up to 125 M-1 Abrams tank upgrades. The White House added that the Administration will continue to ask Congress to approve $1.3 billion in annual military aid to Egypt.

CRSU.S. aid to Egypt is overwhelmingly for new weapons, designated “FMF” (“Foreign Military Financing”).

The resumption of arms shipments to Egypt is in keeping with the growth of U.S. arms sales abroad. Major American weapons exports grew by 23% between 2005-2009 and 2010-2014, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said on March 16. “The USA has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool,” Aude Fleurant, of SIPRI, said when the group released its annual arms-sales accounting. “But in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure.”

The White House announcement wasn’t only about weapons. “President Obama also reiterated U.S. concerns about Egypt’s continued imprisonment of non-violent activists and mass trials,” it said in a statement. And, as the Administration drafts proposed legislation to resume military aid to Egypt, it “will not make the so-called ‘democracy certification’ in that legislation,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said.

In other words, Egypt remains little more than a military junta now wearing civilian clothes, and the White House won’t pretend otherwise.

All this is what diplomats call a return to the status quo ante—the way things were before. Obama is eager to defeat the militants of Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, defeat Islamic fundamentalist uprisings in Libya and Yemen and tamp down Iran’s ambitions—nuclear and otherwise. If he, and the U.S. government, have to cozy up to coup-plotters to achieve that goal, that’s realpolitik.

Cairo has recently suggested it may send ground troops into Yemen to bolster air strikes being carried out there by Saudi Arabia against the Iranian-backed Houthis rebels. Obama is now willing to resume the arms flow to Egypt in hopes of improving relations between the two nations as they join with other countries in a bid to restore stability to the war-racked region.

After nearly 40 years of such aid, the record is not reassuring. “Since the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty, the United States has provided Egypt with large amounts of military assistance,” the Congressional Research Service reported earlier this month. “U.S. policy makers have routinely justified aid to Egypt as an investment in regional stability, built primarily on long-running military cooperation and on sustaining the treaty—principles that are supposed to be mutually reinforcing.”

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