Wall Street Journal on March 22, 2015, commented on the U.S. withdrawal from Yemen as a victory for Iran and al Qaeda. Another week, another victory for disorder in the Middle East. This time the meltdown is in Yemen, where this weekend the U.S. withdrew the remaining U.S. special forces from a base where they were waging a drone war against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).
The withdrawal comes amid growing chaos in the country after Houthi militants deposed the government of Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who fled the capital, San’a, for Aden last month. The Houthis belong to the Zaidi offshoot of Shiite Islam and are receiving help from Iran. They are at war with Sunni jihadists, who struck back in bombings on Friday that killed 152 people in San’a and Saada province. An Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility.
The U.S. retreat is a major loss in the fight against AQAP, which has been the al Qaeda branch most focused on hitting the U.S. mainland.
As recently as September, President Obama hailed Yemen as an antiterror model. “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,” he said. That wishful thinking has now been exposed.
Supporters of leading from behind are hoping, or rationalizing, that the Sunni radicals and Houthis will kill each other and burn themselves out. But the risk is that they will turbocharge each other with outside help, and the resulting chaos will spread.
That’s the lesson of Syria’s civil war, which the Obama Administration also said would burn out.
The U.S. should help the Saudis and Mr. Hadi, but mark this down as another strategic fiasco.