Jan. 23, 2015

Another Foreign Policy ‘Success’ Story

The nation’s prominence in fighting al-Qaida means recent events are troubling.

As more proof that drone strikes and occasional American advisory assistance are no way to bring peace and stability, let us present the woebegone desert nation of Yemen. It’s virtually under siege and perfectly illustrates Barack Obama’s failed foreign policy.

Few Americans can locate Yemen on a world map, but Yemenis are the largest group still held at Guantanamo Bay, and al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which claimed the Charlie Hebdo massacre as one of its operations, is based there. To paraphrase Joe Biden: In the world of Islamic terrorism, Yemen is a “big effing deal.”

It’s so big a deal that the U.S. had to put an informal halt on releasing Gitmo detainees who hail from Yemen.

While Obama had previously pointed to Yemen as a successful model in his fight against radical Islamic terror vague operation of appearing to care about national security, that confidence vanished in recent days. Neither al-Qaida nor Yemen was mentioned in the very brief portion of the State of the Union address that dealt with “violent extremism.” It’s no wonder Obama avoided the topic, as Yemen has crumbled in recent weeks. To mention it also would have brought up the obvious questions about Obama’s absence from the Paris demonstrations and his lack of success against other terror groups.

While direct attacks on Americans, such as a rocket fired at the American embassy last September, are rare, strife in the capital of Sana'a involving Shiite rebels known as the Houthis has otherwise reached a fever pitch. After Houthis battled their way into the presidential palace, pro-American Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi resigned on Thursday, shortly after Prime Minister Khalid Bahah and his 36-member cabinet all left office. This left Parliament Speaker Yahia al-Rai as the nation’s titular head, although the Houthis with the guns are truly in charge.

While a possible fringe benefit of these events could be a check on the Sunni sectarian AQAP, the need for assistance from the Yemeni government for the overall war on terror outweighs the limited advantages.

This was bad news for Obama, as Hadi’s cooperation in Yemen was a linchpin of his hands-off, no-boots-on-the-ground strategy to fight the Long War. Obama said just last September, “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.” With that government out of the picture and infighting among religious, tribal and regional factions tearing apart the small nation, the likelihood of significant progress on that war front is not good.

Not only that, but it’s good news for Iran. Political analyst Charles Krauthammer explains, “Why should we care about the coup? First, because we depend on Yemen’s government to support our drone war against another local menace, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. It’s not clear if we can even maintain our embassy in Yemen, let alone conduct operations against AQAP. And second, because growing Iranian hegemony is a mortal threat to our allies and interests in the entire Middle East. … Our regional allies – Saudi Arabia, the other five Gulf states, Jordan, Egypt and Israel – are deeply worried. Tehran is visibly on the march on the ground and openly on the march to nuclear status.”

In other words, Yemen’s collapse continues Obama’s track record of alienating allies and conceding to foes. So much for a model of success.

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