As we near the final year of the decade that brought us 9/11, it's worth recalling one lesson our experience on that date has etched with painful clarity: Failed states can become breeding grounds for violent extremists -- with devastating consequences far beyond their borders. Before 9/11, no one could have predicted that attacks concocted in remote, impoverished Afghanistan might have such a cataclysmic impact on history. Now we know that we ignore such states at our own risk. That's why remote and impoverished Yemen, a country undergoing what by all appearances is a slow-motion collapse, is likely to draw increasing attention -- and cause increasing alarm.
Yemen, the poorest country in the Arab world, is facing a triple assault on its precarious stability. In the face of this growing crisis, the embattled government of President Ali Abdullah Saleh is doing a less-than-stellar job of averting catastrophe.
The country at the southwestern end of the Arabian Peninsula is under assault from both man and nature. The government faces two dangerous rebellions: one from northern Shiite rebels, the other from southern separatists. By some accounts, government forces control less than one-third of the national territory. All the while, the Sunni forces of al-Qaida are strengthening in Osama bin Laden's ancestral homeland, garnering only mild concern from the president. Looming over the political and security challenges are a crumbling economy and a growing ecological crisis that threatens to leave already dry Yemen without enough water to sustain a functioning society.