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Yemen and the ‘Obama Doctrine’

Obama criticizes the "free riders" in the Gulf while encouraging them in their worst instincts and habits.
sunrise yemen

Obama’s Atlantic interviews on foreign policy contain some interesting remarks, but they are difficult to square with Obama’s own policies. The New York Times summarizes some of his views this way:

President Obama believes that Saudi Arabia, one of America’s most important allies in the Middle East, needs to learn how to “share” the region with its archenemy, Iran, and that both countries are guilty of fueling proxy wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In a series of interviews with The Atlantic magazine published Thursday, Mr. Obama said a number of American allies in the Persian Gulf — as well as in Europe — were “free riders,” eager to drag the United States into grinding sectarian conflicts that sometimes had little to do with American interests [bold mine-DL].

That’s all very well, but it doesn’t explain why his administration has been backing the Saudis in their Yemen campaign for almost a year or why he has repeatedly allowed the “free riders” to get away with this behavior over the last seven years. One looks in vain for any mention in Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article that the U.S. has been supporting the Saudi-led campaign and otherwise indulging the Gulf states in their fear and loathing of Iran. Obama claims to be “frustrated” by the Saudis, but seems more than willing to cater to most of their demands.

Obama’s position is a perfect example of how the president feigns interest in restraint and claims to be steering clear of unnecessary conflicts at the same time that he is involving the U.S. in those very same conflicts. To listen to what he says, one would never guess that his administration has been providing arms, fuel, and intelligence to assist a bombing campaign that has killed thousands and wounded tens of thousands of civilians. Obama criticizes the “free riders” in the Gulf while encouraging them in their worst instincts and habits.

The full quote from Obama is worth including here:

An approach that said to our friends ‘You are right, Iran is the source of all problems, and we will support you in dealing with Iran’ would essentially mean that as these sectarian conflicts continue to rage and our Gulf partners, our traditional friends, do not have the ability to put out the flames on their own or decisively win on their own, and would mean that we have to start coming in and using our military power to settle scores. And that would be in the interest neither of the United States nor of the Middle East.

That sounds good, but in practice the Obama administration has more or less told the Gulf states exactly this, and it has made a point of “reassuring” them with weapons and backing for their appalling military intervention. The U.S. isn’t “coming in and using our military power to settle scores” exactly, but it is lending aid to the Saudis and their allies as they pursue their unrealistic objectives in Yemen. Obama’s right that this isn’t in the interests of the U.S. or the wider region, so why is the Obama administration doing it?

The war on Yemen has been all but ignored in the Atlantic article, which is an especially egregious oversight for a story on Obama’s foreign policy thinking. It’s also worth mentioning it because there is no more glaring current example of the gap between Obama’s rhetoric and his policies than U.S. support for the pummeling and starvation of Yemen. U.S. support for the war on Yemen is one of the blackest marks on Obama’s foreign policy record, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it receives no attention in this article.



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