National Security & Defense

Obama’s Yemen Strategy

POTUS fiddles while ISIS and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula gain strength.

“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.”

— President Obama announcing his ISIS strategy, September 10, 2014

When President Obama uttered those words, Yemen was on the cusp of becoming a failed state. The president, however, evidently regarded it as a textbook example of foreign-policy success.

Twelve days later, Iranian-backed Shia Houthi rebels took control of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa. By seizing President Mansour Hadi’s residence and extorting major concessions from him, and then effectively forcing his resignation, the Houthis turned Yemen into the failed state that Obama (somehow) didn’t see coming.

While the Houthis are publicly stating that they want a de facto coalition government, they’re highly unlikely to relinquish their military control on the levers of power. After all, that power offers the resources and influence they need.

This is a big problem for America.

Though the Houthis oppose al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) — which is of the Salafi-Jihadist sect of Sunni Islam, and which retains safe havens in Yemen’s south — they’re also anti-American. With sponsorship from their Iranian benefactors, there’s now a real risk that the Houthis will threaten the U.S. embassy in Sanaa in order to push America out. Though the Obama administration is determined to ignore reality, Iran’s existential purpose these days requires America’s departure from the region. And now, with Tehran’s allies in control of Sanaa and its influence in Iraq unprecedented, Iran has established an arc of power across the Middle East.

And that arc isn’t going unnoticed in the Sunni Arab monarchies.

Take the Saudis. With their ally, President Hadi, now deposed, Saudi Arabia will look at the map and see itself surrounded by Iran. And not just any Iran: an Iran that the Saudis believe will shortly become a nuclear power. Thus perceiving an existential threat, the Saudis and the other Sunni monarchies will likely now escalate their support for anti-Houthi proxies in Yemen. Potentially including AQAP. This is no small risk. Driven by fear, paranoia, and their grand strategic struggle with Iran, the Saudis believe AQAP is the lesser of two evils. Of course, for America, AQAP is a nightmare.

Yet as bad as Yemen might soon become, it only hints at the increasingly likely future of the Middle East. With young populations who perceive no hope of social mobility, with lower oil prices and therefore less money to subsidize social services, and with a shortage of water (something we’ll hear a lot about in the coming years), the ingredients for regional instability are abundant.

ISIS already has the strategic initiative in much of the Middle East, and now also in Europe. The threat from it has never been greater.

The Obama administration has no plan to address this crisis.

As President Obama explained in his State of the Union address, “Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations . . . to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.” This pathetic false choice — between massive invasion and minimal commitment — is delusion of the highest order. The truth is quite simple. Proudly broadcasting its lack of interest in shaping circumstances abroad, the Obama administration is abandoning the world to the malevolence of others.

Yemen. A government overthrown, an Iranian-sponsored invasion victorious, and an immensely capable al-Qaeda syndicate lurking in the chaos.

Or, as President Obama puts it, “That’s how America leads — not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.”

Tom Rogan writes for the Daily Telegraph and is a contributor to The McLaughlin Group. He holds the Tony Blankley Chair at the Steamboat Institute, is based in Washington, D.C., and tweets @TomRtweets

Tom Rogan is a columnist for National Review Online, a contributor to the Washington Examiner, and a former panelist on The McLaughlin Group. Email him at


The Latest