Friday 14 October 2016

Obama’s Iran Missile War

The White House doesn’t want Americans to notice, but the tide of war is not receding in the Middle East. The Navy this week became part of the hot war in Yemen, with a U.S. warship launching missiles against radar targets after American vessels were fired on this week. Just when President Obama promised that American retreat would bring peace to the region, the region pulls him back in.

The destroyer USS Nitze fired Tomahawk cruise missiles to take out three radar sites on the Yemen coast believed to be manned by Houthi rebels. Though the Houthis deny it, the Pentagon believes they were responsible for the multiple-missile attack on Sunday against the USS Mason, another destroyer patrolling in international waters. This was no mere warning shot. The Mason had to use active defenses, including interceptor missiles, to prevent a strike that could have killed dozens of sailors.

Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook called the USS Nitze’s response Thursday “limited self-defense strikes [that] were conducted to protect our personnel, our ships, and our freedom of navigation in this important maritime passageway.” That’s another way of saying this was the minimum the U.S. could do to defend our sailors and get the Houthis to stop firing, and we hope it works.

But there’s more to this story because the Houthis are one of Iran’s regional proxy armies. They are fighting to control Yemen against a Saudi-led coalition that is trying to restore the former Sunni Arab government in Sana’a. The U.S. has been quietly backing the Saudis with intelligence and arms, though the Saudi coalition has been fighting to a draw with the Houthis, who are supplied by Iran. The cruise missiles used against the USS Mason are also used by Hezbollah, another Iran proxy army.

Don’t expect the White House to acknowledge this because the ironies here are something to behold. Mr. Obama is backing the Saudis in Yemen in part to reassure them of U.S. support after the U.S.-Iran nuclear deal that the Saudis opposed. Mr. Obama’s Iran deal was supposed to moderate Iran’s regional ambitions, so Mr. Obama could play a mediating role between Tehran and Riyadh. But the nuclear deal has emboldened Iran, and fortified it with more money, so now the U.S. is being drawn into what amounts to a proxy war against Iran. Genius.

A Saudi air strike last week mistakenly killed civilians at a funeral in Yemen, and the White House is now leaking that Mr. Obama is rethinking U.S. support for the Yemen campaign. But the U.S. has made similar targeting errors in many conflicts, and Saudi bombing won’t get more precise if the U.S. bugs out. The U.S. ought to be helping the Saudis with enough support that they can win in Yemen.

Pulling support from the Saudis now would be seen as one more betrayal of a longtime ally. Iran’s leaders would take it as a sign that they can move even more aggressively against the House of Saud. If you think the Middle East is a mess now, imagine what it would look like with Sunni jihadists competing against radical Shiites for control of the Kingdom and its oil fields.

Two years ago Mr. Obama called U.S. policy in Yemen of model of counterinsurgency. But it has since become, like Syria and Iraq, another catastrophic civil war that is another front in the Iranian campaign to become the dominant power in the Middle East.

Mr. Obama doesn’t want Americans to figure this out during the election campaign, or as he exits the White House, which is one reason he’s responded so feebly to this blatant act of war against U.S. ships. Mark Yemen down as one more hot mess that this President is leaving to his successor.

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