By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Turmoil erupted across the Middle East last week, first with the passing of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, and then with the total collapse of the U.S. backed Yemeni government.
With all these developments, President Obama had to cut short his trip to India and fly to Saudi Arabia to pay his respects to the late king, and meet with the new leader, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz.
With the passing of King Abdullah, the president had to deal with the ongoing situation in Yemen, where the U.S. backed government of Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi collapsed from attacks by Iranian supported Shi’ite Houthi rebel group.
During President Obama’s State of the Union Address the president stated, “We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we have done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies.”
This statement by the president was premature. We are now seeing terror networks expand exponentially, as terror organizations have found fertile ground in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and other areas in the Middle East.
Now the president has to deal with the collapse of the Yemeni government. This was seen in reports last week that the U.S. suspended counter terrorism operations, and with that went any hope of countering the growing threat from al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
It was only four months ago when the president stated, “This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partner’s forces on the ground. 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.”
Currently, the United States has no idea, and very little actionable intelligence as to who is in charge in Yemen. Now the U.S. has closed its embassy in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a.
CNN reported, AQAP is the only al-Qaida affiliate to send terrorists from Yemen to the United States. There was Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, better known as “the underwear bomber” for his attempt to blow up a commercial airliner on a Detroit-bound flight in December 2009. Then there are the suspects in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings and Nidal Hassan, who reportedly were inspired by American-born cleric and top AQAP figure Anwar al-Awlaki.
AQAP has also claimed responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris France, as one of the brothers, Cherif Kouachi, told a CNN affiliate that he trained in Yemen and received financing by al-Awlaki.
The challenge for the president is to convince a skeptical Saudi Arabia of the commitment of the United States to the region.
Saudi Arabia was outraged in 2013 when President Obama failed to follow through on military action against the Syrian regime alleged use of chemical weapons. Riyadh has always stressed the removal of Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad, this in stark contrast to Obama focusing on ISIL. The president’s Syrian strategy has left our allies perplexed at what the strategy for Syria is. In the president’s State of the Union address very little was mentioned beyond the U.S. stopping ISIL advance.
“In Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.”
The president continued, “We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.”
The president has not stated what the U.S. strategy for degrading and destroying ISIL in Syria is, or how he plans to support the moderate Syrian opposition.
Right now nothing has been said of how the administration plans to deal with Assad, who has been left unchecked to attack the remnants of the Syrian opposition. Beyond Syria, the U.S. infuriated Saudi Arabia by how the Obama administration handled the situation in Egypt, and it’s continued bewildering strategy with regard to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Saudi Arabia looks at the Middle East region differently than the president, and see’s the threat from Iran as its great external challenge.
Iran has spread its arc of influence into Yemen with its support of Shi’ite Houthi rebel’s, and Tehran’s continued strong support of the Iraqi government in Baghdad, which includes Iranian forces fighting against ISIL in Iraq, all the while the U.S. provides air cover for Iran’s own strategic objectives.
The arc of Iranian influence extends to Tehran’s strong support of its continued support for the government of Assad, and manifests itself into Lebanon with its heavy backing of Hezbollah.
It was only last week that Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammed Allahdadi was killed in a targeted airstrike by the Israeli military on the Golan Heights.
The kingdom now feels extremely vulnerable with Iran involved in four countries all surrounding them, and now sees the U.S. engaged in nuclear talks with Iran, with the United States completely leaving Riyadh out of any negotiations, there by weakening the alliance.
The United States has alienated all of our Arab allies with its confusing and disengagement strategy. The situation with our longtime ally Israel was made worse when House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint meeting of Congress in March. President Obama was furious, and in an emailed statement from the National Security Council spokeswoman, Bernadete Meehan, stated we will not meet with the Israeli Prime Minister in March. In the email she stated that “As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country.”
With all the chaos in the Middle East the U.S. still lacks a coherent strategy. If the situation in the region gets worse, the lack of a strategy will force the president into a decision he may not want to make.