On Point: Yemen 2015: From Success to Cesspool

by Austin Bay
March 24, 2015

The State Department's March 21 press release confirming the abrupt retreat of American personnel from Yemen attempts to conceal the magnitude of our latest Middle Eastern debacle.

When read with an awareness of Yemen's geographic import, the violent groups and proxies assaulting its U.S.-backed government and President Barack Obama's 2014 public testament to Yemen as a model for strategic emulation, State's press release moves well beyond acceptable diplo-speak. Its oddly detached officialese suggests psychological denial and disconnection -- denial of Obama's personal investment in Yemen's success and a surreal disconnection with current combat and the bad actors who stoked Yemen's chaos.

State's obscurantist presser opens with: "Due to the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, the U.S. government has temporarily relocated its remaining personnel out of Yemen. We have informed (Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi) of this step as part of our close coordination with the Yemeni government. We will continue to engage the Yemeni people and the international community to strongly support Yemen's political transition." State's above-the-fray bureaucrats add this peacenik no-no: "There is no military solution to Yemen's current crisis. We urge the immediate cessation of all unilateral and offensive military actions."

My realpolitik translation does not comply with Obama administration theories and narrative: We didn't have sufficient forces on the ground to ensure our security, so we've fled to avoid capture. Hadi, my man, we'll help you (maybe) whenever we get the backbone to deploy the military forces. For now, you fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and Iran's Shiite Houthi proxies. But all of you, including al-Qaida, dig the big lesson in Edwin Starr's Vietnam-era Motown hit record: "War, What Is it Good For?" Absolutely Nothin'. So cease and shantih.

Deteriorating security situation? Civil war engulfs Yemen. Hadi claims his forces are holding their own. No military solution? Despite State's admonition, Hadi's enemies appear to think there is a military solution.

Our failure in Yemen boosts the Islamic State. On Sept. 10, 2014, President Obama touted Yemen as a successful, real-world illustration of his strategy for defeating the Islamic State. After stressing his administration's "relentless effort to take out" Islamic State, he said the U.S. "strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the frontlines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years."

If we take Obama at his September 2014 word, our violent Islamist enemies have dealt the U.S. and one of its frontline partners (Yemen) a strategic defeat. Will Yemen's chaos lead Obama to change his strategy for defeating the Islamic State?

Yemen, on the Arabian Peninsula's southwestern littoral, is next door to oil-exporting Saudi Arabia. AQAP hoped to exploit tensions between Yemenis and Saudis and use Yemen as a base to topple the kingdom. Iran supports the Shia Houthi movement. The Saudis believe Iran would use a Houthi-controlled Yemen to destabilize them.

Yemen controls the east coast of the Bab-el-Mandeb, the strait connecting the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Closing the strait to shipping benefits numerous U.S. foes, but the main beneficiary is the bad actor former CIA Director David Petraeus identified as America's top security threat, even greater than Islamic State and al-Qaida: Iran. Iran frequently threatens to close the Persian Gulf's Straits of Hormuz. A pro-Iran Yemen could pull the same trick, without Iranian fingerprints.

Iran benefits most from the defeat of Yemen's pro-U.S. regime. Will Yemen's collapse lead Obama to change his assessment of the Iranian regime?

Obama treats Iran's theocratic dictatorship like an ally. Next week, he intends to sign a "transformative' nuclear weapons bargain with Tehran.

On March 21, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a chanting Tehran crowd, "death to America." He isn't listening to Edwin Starr. In seven months, Obama's Yemen went from success to cesspool. Fortunately, Yemen does not have nuclear weapons.

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