The Obama Administration has decided to admit Yemen’s President Saleh to the United States for medical care. It is a controversial decision both in Yemen and here in the United States. As the Washington Post reported, “a decision to allow him into the United States could be politically risky for President Obama, given Saleh’s repressive 33-year reign and the sustained unrest in Yemen.”
But it the right decision. The State Department has said that “the sole purpose of this travel is for medical treatment and we expect that he will stay for a limited time that corresponds to the duration of this treatment.” Perhaps, and perhaps he will stay longer if it is clear that his absence from Yemen helps avoid chaos and violence there. There are not very many things the United States can do to promote stability in Yemen and this–figuring out how to get Saleh out of there–may be the most useful.
Of course some critics will claim that this way Saleh escapes punishment for his crimes. Human Rights Watch issued a predictable statement to that effect, demanding Saleh’s prosecution. But the self-appointed judges at HRW are not Yemenis, and Saleh has been voted immunity from prosecution by Yemen’s parliament because they too prefer peace to punishment. Perfect justice is not a realistic goal; a chance for greater stability may be, and if any group has the legitimacy to choose Saleh’s departure over his punishment it is Yemen’s parliament. The Obama Administration is right to help.