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The Middle East Aflame
Al-Qaeda Seizes Seaport & Airport

Al-Qaeda is on the march in Yemen. As the AFP reports:

Al-Qaeda militants Thursday seized a provincial airport in southeast Yemen while tribal forces took over an oil terminal, as the war-wracked country slides further into turmoil.

“The military unit in charge of security at the facility withdrew without resisting” Al-Qaeda fighters, said an official at the airport in Mukalla, capital of Hadramawt province.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the jihadist network’s powerful Yemeni branch, earlier this month took advantage of the growing chaos to overrun Mukalla.

Daveed Garenstein-Ross and Bridget Moreng had a detailed piece in Politico this morning charting al-Qaeda’s recent territory grabs. The short version: the emergence of ISIS as a territory-holding caliphate has spurred on its once-shadowy rival, and in fact al-Qaeda might have had the better run of the two lately.

This is the kind of competition the Middle East could do without. But thanks in part to President Obama’s policy of disengagement, it’s the sort of problem the region will have for a good long time.

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  • Anthony

    Cursory conclusion: blame President Obama. More studied perspective: regional order designed after WWI and which United States emerged as principal influence after WWII reveals strain of historical contending dynamics -authoritarian regimes, dar al-Islam, restive populations, economic arrangements, etc. Al – Qaeda (the base) represents its most topical iteration as response to challenges facing legitimacy in ME. And the general discontent (bellicosity) swarming region cannot solely be placed at President Obama’s door.

    • MartyH


      Iraq was on metaphorical crutches when Obama took office; the first thing he did was to knock the crutches out and exhort the patient to walk on his own.

      Obama ignored the Green Revolution in Iran.

      Obama supported the overthrow of Mubarak; the Muslim Brotherhood successor; and now grudgingly Sisi.

      Obama supported the deposing of Gadaffi without any succession. He blew up the country and walked away from the smoldering ruin, leaving it in a state of civil war.

      Yemen was cited by the Administration as a counter-terrorism success story just three weeks ago. Now, it is vying for the flash point that starts the Sunni-Shia war in earnest.

      Yes, the factors you mention all exist-but they’ve existed for every modern U.S. President as well. Every President since Eisenhower has failed somewhere in the Middle East, but Obama is the only President to fail everywhere in the Middle East.

      • Dan Greene

        “Obama is the ONLY President to fail everywhere in the Middle East.”

        So then where did Bush II succeed in the Middle East?

        • MartyH

          I never said any President succeeded in the ME. There is a world of room between success and failure. Bush failed in Iraq and muddled through everywhere else; Obama has failed all over the ME. His strategy may be to disengage the US from the ME (which may be the best strategy) but deposing Gadaffi, supporting Iran Proxy Shia militias against ISIS while fighting Iran Proxies in Yemen, agreeing to anything to get any deal signed with Iran, interfering in Israeli elections, etc. etc. etc. are inconsistent with disengagement. Another possibility is that his policy decisions are driven by “Don’t do stupid stuff,” and there is no overarching strategic vision tying actions together; each is performed in isolation. That explains how you use the same military (heck, probably the same planes) to support Iranian allies in Iraq and bomb Iranian allies in Yemen.

          • Dan Greene

            You said that Obama is the only president to fail everywhere in the ME. The implication of that statement is that every other president (at least since WW II) has at least one success in the region. What was Bush’s success there?

          • MartyH

            It’s funny that you accuse others of not seeing nuance yet your success/failure scale is completely black and white. According to you, not failing equals succeeding. Getting a “D” in logic is the same as getting an “A” by that standard. Hmm…. maybe I’ve found the source of the problem.

            It’s obvious that one can simultaneously not fail and not succeed. Take Egypt. The Egyptian government, people’s quality of life, and our relationship with the government were essentially unchanged over the Bush Administration. That is neither a success nor a failure. So Bush did not fail in Egypt, but he did not succeed there.

            So, again, I would say that Bush failed in Iraq and largely maintained the status quo everywhere else. Obama has failed in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Israel, and Yemen, and is doing his best to fail with Iran. If Saudi Arabia acquires nukes or starts a nuke program, he will have failed there was well.

            Obama’s failures, while significant, are not irreversible-I don’t think war in the ME, with its attendant physical and economic carnage, is inevitable. But it is much more likely now than it was at the beginning of 2009, and much the blame can be laid on this Administration.

      • Anthony

        Over 300 hundred million opinions in America (some metaphorical).

  • Anthony

    Oh yeah, the middle east was really moving in the right direction when we decided to invade Iraq. But hey, why let the facts get in the way of his right wing talking points. And do we really think invading Syria and Iran will make the situation better? If your answer is yes, you should see a psychiatrist.

  • Josephbleau

    Yes. Elect a man who claims to have the answers and when after 6 years he fails then chalk it up to history. The. New guy is then blameless when he should be called out as not knowing what he is talking about

  • JR

    This article is false. I was told by the smartest man who ever became President that al-Qaeda is decimated.

  • Dan Greene

    AQ is having success in Yemen because they have Saudi air support with our active, tacit or acquiescent backing (I find it hard to discern which one). The bottom line is that we are in effect supporting the terror groups that we are nominally fighting worldwide. The same has been true in Syria for quite some time and now also in Yemen. What Obama’s thinking here is also hard to identify. Is he acquiescing to the Saudis to show them that he is not throwing them overboard? Is this part of an overall plan to “compensate” for negotiations with Iran elsewhere? Or is Obama merely being forced by a coalition of neocon/pro-Israel/pro-GCC political forces into acquiescing to their desiderata? Could be any of these or some even more nuanced mix.

    What US support for the Saudi invasion does is illustrate the reality that AQ, ISIS and any Sunni group no matter how murderously jihadist is preferable for the war lobby to anything connected in the collective political mind with Iran. And the fact that Iran-Houthi ties haven never been more than tertiary aspect of what is unfolding in Yemen makes that reality even more striking. We say that we are “fighting against terror,” but that is clearly wrong. We–or some combination of elements speaking for “we”–are quite willing to use terror and terror groups to pursue their insane vendetta against Iran even when Iran is at most marginally involved.

    As usual our media are falling down on the job of covering these realities, but a quite interesting article in Al Jazeera shows what they’re thinking at SOCOM (US Special Operations Command) about Yemen. Article is entitled, “US Generals: Saudi Intervention in Yemen ‘a Bad Idea:'”

    “The fact that the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen was planned and launched independently of the U.S. was, in McCain’s eyes, a rebuke of the administration’s policies. “These countries, led by Saudi Arabia, did not notify us nor seek our coordination or our assistance in this effort,” he said during a March 26 committee hearing, “because they believe we are siding with Iran.”

    “A senior commander at Central Command (CENTCOM), speaking on condition of anonymity, scoffed at that argument. “The reason the Saudis didn’t inform us of their plans,” he said, “is because they knew we would have told them exactly what we think — that it was a bad idea.”

    “Military sources said that a number of regional special forces officers and officers at U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) argued strenuously against supporting the Saudi-led intervention because the target of the intervention, the Shia Houthi movement — which has taken over much of Yemen and which Riyadh accuses of being a proxy for Tehran — has been an effective counter to Al-Qaeda.

    “Michael Horton, a Yemen expert close to a number of officers at SOCOM and a consultant to the U.S. and U.K. governments, picked up on this debate. Within days of the Saudi intervention’s start, he said in an email that he was “confounded” by the intervention, noting that many in SOCOM “favor the Houthis, as they have been successful in rolling back AQ [Al-Qaeda] and now IS [the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL] from a number of Yemeni governorates” — something that hundreds of U.S. drone strikes and large numbers of advisers to Yemen’s military had failed to accomplish.

    • Dale Fayda

      The stench of failure wafts off Obama’s foreign policy like the haze off a highway on a hot day.

      The “smartest President ever”, the Nobel Peace Price laureate has turned absolutely everything he touched into a smoldering dung heap. The sad part is that you know this, but still consistently contort yourself into knots, all the while overwhelming this thread with mountains of pointless minutiae in spasmodic attempts to put SOME positive spin on the comprehensive, across-the-board, unmitigated debacle that is Obama’s “soft power”, “leading from behind”, “don’t do stupid stuff” or whatever metaphoric idiocy du jour is fed to us by his minions.

      • Dan Greene

        I can see that for you, facts=minutiae. Who needs those pesky little things when one has a hankerin’ for some serious simplistic Obama-bashing? There is plenty of stench on Obama’s foreign policy, but it is undifferentiable from the stench on Bush’s and Clinton’s foreign policies. It’s just that the chickens are coming home to roost on Obama’s watch.

        Also, why do you and so many others waste our time with the same boring, formulaic attacks on Obama? “Smartest President ever,” etc. This comment of yours adds absolutely nothing to an understanding of Yemen or anything else. But all that is just “minutiae” anyway, right? It’s easier just to attribute all problems to Obama, isn’t it? Otherwise, thinking would be involved.

        • Dale Fayda

          Why bash Obama for his failures? Because he deserves it. He. Deserves. It. Every bit of it.

          He and his putrid regime must be made to own their failures, must have their faces rubbed in the excrement that is the result of their actions, so no one like him is ever elected to the presidency again.

          His arrogance, his incompetence, his condescending smugness, his staggering weakness in the face of our avowed enemies, his laziness, his sanctimoniousness, his masochistic refusal to even name our existential foe (Islamic militancy), his obvious disdain for Western civilization justify ALL of the opprobrium I may possibly heap on him and his regime.

          Someone else may very well have failed in the Middle East, were he/she in Obama’s shoes, but we KNOW Obama failed there, just as he has in every other facet of his foreign policy. The scary part is that his biggest and potentially most dangerous failure (the Iran nuclear talks debacle) may still be ahead of him.

  • Dan Greene

    Interesting to see the same sorts of comments that reduce the ongoing Yemen chaos to tired anti-Obama cliches that one finds everywhere at TAI. JR, Josephbleau, and Marty H are quite content to feed their insatiable need for endless restatements of their Obama-phobia, with little to no interest in what is actually happening in Yemen or why. And, obviously, there are many others in these comment strings who have the same basic mentality. Someone should do a psych study on TAI commenters and their psychological need to reduce complex realities to mere failings of Obama. Let’s start with brain scans to see if their is some physiological problem.

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