National Security

Saudis Clean Up Obama's 'Success' in Yemen

The Gulf states band together to fight Iran's Houthi proxies.

Michael Swartz · Mar. 27, 2015
Disaster = success?

Remember when Yemen was a model of success for Barack Obama’s foreign policy? That’s what he called it last September before the Yemeni government fell to Iranian backed rebels. Among other things, U.S. intelligence in the region is seriously compromised after having had to pull its personnel from the country. Undeterred by this dramatic change in events, however, Obama still insists Yemen is a great example of a “successful counterterrorism strategy.”

After learning earlier this month about Saudi Arabia’s efforts to counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions through a deal with South Korea, we now know the Saudis are countering Tehran on another front: They’re leading a counterattack against Iran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen.

On Wednesday, the kingdom made it official, leading a coalition of at least 10 allied nations with airstrikes against its southern neighbor, reserving ground troops as needed. The U.S. is playing a small role, with a Joint Planning Cell to provide military and intelligence support.

As is often the case in these conflicts, the players are divided along sectarian lines. The Saudis and their Sunni allies are pitted against the Iranian Shiites in the latest chapter of an age-old conflict. Yet these religious alliances do not necessarily extend to the Islamic State, which is also engaged in a struggle with Iran over various cities in Iraq, most particularly Tikrit. The U.S. is part of a coalition to push the Islamic State out of Iraq – whose ascendance was enabled by Obama’s disastrous decision to withdraw American forces in 2011.

Among the factions trying to push ISIL from Iraq, though, are Iranian-backed militia groups. So, as National Review’s Jim Geraghty put it, “[W]e’re offering logistical help to our allies to help them fight Iranian proxies… while we’re helping Iranian forces in Iraq against ISIS… while we’re attempting to reach agreement with the Iranians on their nuclear ambitions.”

If you’re confused, join the club: As FP Group CEO David Rothkopf quipped on Twitter, “I’m pretty sure appointing a Magic 8 Ball as National Security Advisor would produce better results than we’re currently getting.”

You have to hand it to the Saudis, though: When they saw their national interest was threatened, they put together a working coalition to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, the original U.S.-led effort to deal with Islamist terror – what we in our humble shop call the Long War – has dissipated due to Obama’s lack of resolve and compulsory aim for political expediency. For their part, the Saudis will likely fight until they get what they want, so the real question is just how much wider this Arabian Peninsula skirmish will grow, and what other strange bedfellows get together.

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