President Obama used to complain about inheriting a mess in the Middle East. Now he boasts about fixing it.
In the recent legacy-anxious interviews the administration is giving to the press, he and other team members tout their accomplishments in the region. And their favorite brag is to say that Obama extricated America from the Middle East. They imagine themselves to be the only truth-tellers in Washington on the region.
"The president recognized during the course of the Arab Spring that the Middle East was consuming us," John Brennan, Obama's first term counterrrorism advisor told The Atlantic. If Bush set about trying to liberate the Middle East only to enmesh us in quagmire, Obama has wisely chosen to liberate the U.S. from the Middle East.
Except, that's not true at all.
Just this month, the United States added "boots on the ground" in Yemen, as Obama expands on our involvement in that war. All those self-flattering interviews mention Obama's "frustration" with Saudi Arabia, yet they never mention our cooperation with its discreditable war.
We had already been providing logistical aid to the Saudis and their Arab allies. We've also been using drone strikes on their behalf, a kind of rent-a-murder arrangement with our close allies. The air campaign in Yemen has bombed refugee camps, hospitals, and weddings. But, our Nobel Peace prize-winning president is now more deeply implicating the U.S. in the humanitarian crisis that is the war on Yemen. So, boots it is.
Some more background is probably warranted: Yemen is a country with diverse strains of Islam. In the north are Houthis, who practice a type of Shia Islam called Zaydi. Southern Yemen is largely Sunni (as is Saudi Arabia), and that section has historically dominated the state. In 2012, the Houthis rebelled. And when a transitional government refused to include them, they overthrew it and seized the capital and many other cities in the south. In response, Sunni powers led by Saudi Arabia have bombed their position and blockaded the country, resulting in famine-like conditions, as Yemen must import nearly all its food. Hundreds of thousands of children were malnourished because of this blockade. Naturally, the Houthis have also resorted to extreme tactics.
Just this week Yemen's Sunni-dominated "government" suspended peace talks with the Houthi rebels, because the insurgents demanded a new government that would give them some share in the governance of the country in which they live. Needless to say, this strong-arming tactic was made possible only by the assistance of Saudi Arabia, powered by the United States.
Yemen is made to suffer. And for what reason? The UN says that 7.6 million Yemeni are on the verge of starvation. Eighty percent of the country's population are in need of some humanitarian aid. And yet its appeal for $1.8 billion this year is only 16 percent funded.
Obama only appears to be a man of peace because he hasn't provoked American opinion against further involvement in the Middle East. But the truth is, he has made the United States co-belligerent in a war that had nothing to do with U.S. interests.
By depriving America of even consultation over the use of its military, Obama has positioned American troops just as they were before other humiliation moments like the Lebanon bombing in 1983 or the disaster in Somalia in 1993. U.S. troops are now on the ground in two wars the American public never debated and would have difficulty understanding. Actually, in the case of Libya, the U.S. Congress already backed away from authorizing more involvement there. Yet, we've drifted in. If an attack hits and kills American soldiers in Syria or Yemen, how will the administration even begin to explain itself?
I know it must seem unbearably pious, in the days of kinetic-actions, humanitarian intervention, and drone warfare to ask that the people in a reputed democracy be consulted before their military is deployed to kill and starve Yemenis at the behest of the neighborhood's oil-selling theocrats. This constitutional concern was a piety that Obama once faked when running for president. Well, he's faked a lot of pieties along the way.
And now he's faking his way to being a peacemaker, while America connives to starve Yemen.