At least this time there has been an evacuation of some American personnel, this time from Yemen. In Benghazi, the Obama administration (with Hillary Clinton in charge at State) left US personnel in an inadequately-secured facility for months after all of the other Western nations and agencies had fled after declaring victory over Moammar Qaddafi and liberation in eastern Libya. As Tripoli fell to terror networks and militias in July 2014 after that glorious US-led “liberation,” the US had to conduct an emergency evac of its embassy personnel from Libya’s capital to prevent another Benghazi.
And now the US retreat has reached Sana’a, which Barack Obama and his team hailed as a foreign-policy and counterterrorism success just four months ago:
The United States has pulled more staff out of its embassy in Yemen, U.S. officials said on Thursday as Washington scrambled to cope with the collapse of a government that had been a key ally in the fight against al Qaeda.
The scaling down of its presence in Yemen is the first sign that the latest turmoil there will affect U.S operations in a country that President Barack Obama hailed just four months ago as a model for “successful” counter-terrorism partnerships.
The U.S. diplomatic contingent in Sanaa was drawn down due to the deteriorating security situation in the Yemeni capital, the officials said. They insisted there were no plans to close the embassy, which could been seen as erosion of U.S. resolve in counter-terrorism operations in the volatile Arab country.
Obama’s Arab Spring policies have really borne fruit, no? The US and the Saudis pressured dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign in November 2011, as part of the efforts by the White House to clear the decks in the region with the so-called Arab Spring. Saleh had survived for 30 years by playing both sides of the Shi’a/Sunni divide, which the weak successor government couldn’t accomplish. Saleh might not have survived anyway — things were getting hairy in Yemen long before Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi succeeded him — but the move gave Saleh lots of incentive to undermine Hadi, and it’s been reported elsewhere that the former strongman is in part behind this coup.
This follows up on other Arab Spring disasters from Obama’s foreign-policy teams. We deposed Qaddafi to produce a failed state in Libya, which has turned into Somalia On The Med. We encouraged the civil war in Syria, which has produced the Islamic State — thanks in large part to Obama’s decision to pull out of Iraq entirely, leaving Nouri al-Maliki a free hand to restart the sectarian battles and undermine the Iraqi army we spent years building. We cheered the removal of Hosni Mubarak and pressed for quick elections that allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to dominate them, and nearly saw Egypt turn into an Islamist state.
Now we may have another failed state on the Gulf of Aden across from Somalia after pushing Saleh out, where a large amount of global shipping passes:
Yemen drifted deeper into political limbo on Friday after President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi resigned in exasperation at a Houthi rebel takeover of the country, a move that appeared to catch the Iran-backed group off balance.
Hadi, a former general, blamed the Houthis’ control of the capital Sanaa for impeding his attempt to steer Yemen toward stability after years of secessionist and tribal unrest, deepening poverty and U.S. drone strikes on Islamist militants.
His resignation on Thursday startled the Arabian Peninsula country of 25 million, where the Shi’ite Muslim Houthis emerged as the dominant faction by seizing Sanaa in September and dictating terms to a humiliated Hadi, whom they had held as a virtual prisoner at his home residence clashes with security guards this week.
CBS points out the disaster this represents for counterterrorism efforts:
“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,” Mr. Obama said.
Yet the collapse of the Yemeni government Thursday has raised doubts about the efficacy of a “light footprint” counterterrorism strategy, in no small part because the power vacuum creates an opening for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Gulf-based Islamic militant group that has been behind plots in the U.S. and other Western nations.
The problem is that you can’t have both a “light footprint” strategy on counterterrorism and a project to overturn the governments in the region at the same time. Obama derided George Bush’s strategy in Iraq, but at least Bush understood that much — that you have to control the ground after a forced regime change and stick around long enough to make sure the pieces come together properly. Libya proved the folly of “light footprint” regime change dramatically in 2011-12, but this White House didn’t learn the lesson then, and as late as September of last year kept insisting that these strategies were great successes for Obama. The evacs tell a much different story, especially to the radicals in the Middle East. They see an America on the retreat — and right now, that’s not an unrealistic picture.