Another White House policy decision, another failed state, another civil war. The track record of Barack Obama’s foreign policy disasters, with interventions to push out entrenched leadership in Libya and Yemen and the decision to abandon Iraq, has turned the Middle East into a deadly shooting gallery, one in which Iran has increasingly gained ground strength at the expense of America’s Sunni allies in the region. Politico’s Michael Crowley reports that even a former Obama adviser calls this a “free fall,” but we have yet to reach the bottom:
Barack Obama faces a slew of Middle East crises that some call the worst in a generation, as new chaos from Yemen to Iraq — along with deteriorating U.S.-Israeli relations — is confounding the president’s efforts to stabilize the region and strike a nuclear deal with Iran.
The meltdown has Obama officials defending their management of a region that some call impossible to control, even as critics say U.S. policies there are partly to blame for the spreading anarchy. …
Not everyone is so forgiving. “We’re in a goddamn free fall here,” said James Jeffrey, who served as Obama’s ambassador to Iraq and was a top national security aide in the George W. Bush White House.
For years, members of the Obama team have grappled with the chaotic aftermath of the Arab Spring. But of late they have been repeatedly caught off-guard, raising new questions about America’s ability to manage the dangerous region.
“Of late”? They’ve been caught off-guard since the disastrous military intervention in Libya. At the time, Obama bragged that the decapitation of Moammar Qaddai’s government was the proper way to do “regime change,” and Hillary Clinton crowed, “We came, we saw, he died” to take credit for it. Without a substantial force on the ground, though, Libya turned into a failed state run by terrorist networks within a year, which led to the sacking of our consulate in Benghazi.
Obama’s intervention in Yemen, partnered this time with the Saudis rather than NATO, accomplished the same end. While the White House claimed Yemen as a success story for its counterterrorism policies, a stance they incredibly reaffirmed this week, Yemen has collapsed into a failed state. The rising power there aligns with Iran, which gives Tehran influence now over commerce in both the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Aden, threatening two major lanes of commerce for the West. It also extends Iran’s encirclement of Saudi Arabia, with its attempts to foment a Shi’ite uprising in Bahrain, the Shi’ite domination of Iraq to the Saudi north, and what’s left of Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria to the West.
That’s why Saudi Arabia is conducting military operations against the Houthis, and why Egypt is joining them despite their own problems at home, created by yet another incompetent Arab Spring policy from Obama and Clinton:
Saudi Arabia pressed its bombardment of neighboring Yemen on Friday, striking near the presidential compound in the rebel-controlled capital at dawn as well as at military installations, residents reported.
Egyptian warships were also steaming toward the Yemeni coast as part of an Arab-led offensive against Shiite rebels seeking to take over Yemen in what has become a showdown between the major powers in the Middle East.
Yemeni Foreign Minister Riad Yassin, speaking in Egypt, told the British Broadcasting Corporation that the airstrikes, an action the country was “forced to request because of what is happening on the ground,” should end as soon as possible.
“If they completed their mission in the coming days, or the coming hours,” the operation would end, he said in the interview. Yassin said he hoped it would prove a “short, sharp campaign,” which could finish as soon as the Houthi advance is halted.
The Saudis put together a small coalition of Gulf Cooperation Council nations to deal with Iranian ambitions to control the region, Eli Lake and Josh Rogin report for Bloomberg, with one key decision up front. They kept Barack Obama and the White House out of the loop until the last moment:
The Saudi Arabian-led intervention into Yemen’s civil war Thursday was remarkable for both the size of the coalition involved and the speed with which the plan coalesced. The U.S., which withdrew its last special operations forces from Yemen over the weekend, had only a brief warning that Saudi airpower was about to be unleashed.
U.S. and Arab officials tell us that the tripwire for the military action was Iranian-backed Houthi rebels storming the Yemeni port city of Aden, where President Abdurabuh Mansur Hadi had taken refuge earlier this month. On Thursday, Egyptian warships entered the Gulf of Aden, a strategic water route between the Red and Arabian Seas, while Saudi jets pounded Houthi positions on the mainland.
America’s traditional allies in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Egypt — began stitching together the military coalition in the beginning of March, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. The Saudis, however, did not begin having detailed, top-level discussions with the Obama administration on how the U.S. could support the new alliance until Sunday, U.S. officials tell us.
The White House and Saudis are putting on a braver public face, claiming that the US was consulted on the principles of the alliance all along. Rogin and Lake report, though, that CENTCOM commander Gen/ Lloyd Austin told a Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that he only had one hour’s notice on the Saudi military response. Even Turkey got more warning than we did.
Why did the Saudis and Egyptians cut us out of the loop? Sen. John McCain has a simple answer:
McCain noted that U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Lloyd Austin had told his panel earlier in the day that the Saudis had not given him advance notice of the intervention and said it was a sign of how low the Obama administration had allowed relations with Arab allies to slip to keep nuclear talks going.
“Our closest allies in the region no longer trust us,” McCain said. “That is because they believe we are siding with Iran.”
So does Israel, which is why Benjamin Netanyahu made the trip to the US to warn Congress about the deal that Obama and John Kerry are about to conclude with the Iranians. It’s a signal to Tehran that the US will not interfere with its ambitions for regional hegemony, even when that threatens trade routes critical to the US and its allies, and allows Iran to sponsor terrorism all over the world.
And now, thanks to the collapse of Yemen and the need for the Saudi-led coalition to intervene to stop Iran, guess who benefits from the chaos?
Al Qaeda and potentially its rival ISIS could benefit, according to a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen and a leading security analyst. Speaking before the Saudi airstrikes, both said the extremists could find more room to operate as the Yemeni government and rebels battle for control.
“It’s going to benefit certainly al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula — probably the most dangerous faction of AQ,” said Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “We don’t know as yet whether there is real support for ISIS.”
The withdrawal of the American advisers from Yemen was also seen as a major setback for counterterrorism operations.
“We’re pretty blind now,” the former U.S. ambassador told NBC News. “It doesn’t mean the air campaign will stop, but it means that the intelligence and coordination won’t be as good, which leads to more collateral damage, which in turn feeds into the narrative that all the U.S. wants to do is kill Muslims,” he said.
“Free fall” is about right in describing the Obama/Clinton/Kerry foreign policy. It’s certainly a lot more accurate than “smart power.”