Commentary Magazine


Topic: Barack Oama

America Looked the Other Way While Iran Started a War in Yemen

When critics of President Barack Obama’s administration allege that his White House is directly responsible for the spiraling instability overtaking the Middle East, they do not merely cite the president’s policy of malignant neglect as the likely cause of this condition. Many would contend that the administration has been actively restructuring America’s regional framework of alliances in order to meet present challenges and pursue domestic policy goals like the extrication of Washington from Middle Eastern security affairs. Perhaps the most glaring example of the undue deference Washington yielded to irresponsible actors like Iran is how the United States turned a blind eye toward Tehran while it sparked a bloody regional proxy war in Yemen.

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When critics of President Barack Obama’s administration allege that his White House is directly responsible for the spiraling instability overtaking the Middle East, they do not merely cite the president’s policy of malignant neglect as the likely cause of this condition. Many would contend that the administration has been actively restructuring America’s regional framework of alliances in order to meet present challenges and pursue domestic policy goals like the extrication of Washington from Middle Eastern security affairs. Perhaps the most glaring example of the undue deference Washington yielded to irresponsible actors like Iran is how the United States turned a blind eye toward Tehran while it sparked a bloody regional proxy war in Yemen.

The Shia Houthi rebels in Yemen were suspected of having military and diplomatic links to Iran long before they captured the capital of Sana’a last year, but that alliance did not give Washington pause before it offered to help the “virulently anti-American” Houthi forces come to power. On January 29, the Wall Street Journal revealed that administration officials had approached Houthi commanders and offered to speed the group’s transition to power in Yemen following the ouster of pro-Western President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The strategic implications of this tectonic shift in Washington’s approach to regional security matters were immediately apparent. “The shift also could place it on the same side as Iran in the Yemen conflict,” the Journal reported. “U.S. officials said they also are seeking to harness the Houthis’ concurrent war on AQAP to weaken the terrorist organization’s grip on havens in Yemen’s west and south.”

For the Middle East’s Sunni powers, Washington’s overture to the Houthis reflected Obama’s belief that non-state Sunni militia groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State rather than state actors like Iran posed the gravest threat to U.S. interests in the region. In Riyadh, Manama, Cairo, and Abu Dhabi, it was obvious that Iran was behind the effort to upend the status quo in Yemen. What’s more, they knew that Washington had deliberately turned a blind eye to Iran’s efforts to destabilize their backyards.

The Financial Times reported last week that, right around the time that Washington was making overtures to the Tehran-backed Shiite militia in command of the Yemeni capital and preparing to expand its influence South toward Aden and the Red Sea’s key Bab-el-Mandeb strait, Iran was covertly supporting the militia with massive aid shipments.

“Maritime data obtained by the Financial Times show that at least four large cargo ships, with a combined capacity of more than 15,000 tonnes, made a series of highly unusual and undeclared trips between Iran and Yemeni ports controlled by the Houthis in the first few months of this year,” read the FT dispatch.

All four undertook voyages to transport cargo from the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran to Yemen’s Houthi-controlled port of Hodeida — a route none had plied before — after the Houthi capture of Sana’a in January. The ships changed their ensigns, turned off their tracking devices at key points during their voyages, registered false information in international shipping logs and met unidentified craft mid-ocean.

Details of their activity were provided to the FT by Windward, a maritime intelligence service set up by two former Israeli naval officers. The data comprise information from dozens of non-public and proprietary shipping registers as well as public information and satellite and radio tracking logs that [the maritime intelligence service] Windward has compiled. Where possible the information has been independently corroborated by the FT.

“If you look at any one piece of these ships’ activities by itself it might seem legitimate, but if you look at all of it together, there’s no way it can be,” said Ami Daniel, Windward’s chief executive. “This behavior is neither logical or economical – it indicates that there is a sovereign, not a commercial interest at stake.”

Indeed, there is no alternative explanation for these ships’ behavior. This revelation comes just one month after a standoff between U.S. and Iranian naval forces after a convoy of Iranian warships believed to be overtly delivering weapons to the Houthi rebels in Yemen was intercepted by American naval forces. That convoy was forced to return home, but this event has been followed by weeks of maritime tensions characterized by the harassment and commandeering of internationally flagged cargo vessels by Iranian naval forces when those ships stray too near the Islamic Republic’s territorial waters while traversing the Strait of Hormuz.

Hanlon’s Razor dictates that the White House believed that its obstinate refusal to address Iranian provocations was the only way to keep Iran at the negotiating table and mitigate the serious threat to international security posed by an Iranian nuclear weapon. But this approach also sent the unmistakable message to the Sunni Gulf Arab states that the United States would no longer defer to their concerns. These nations heard that message loud and clear. Washington’s inaction resulted in airstrikes on Libyan positions conducted by Egyptian and UAE air forces and a creation 10-member Arab military coalition that continues to execute sustained combat operations in Yemen.

The United Nations estimates that at least 1,037 civilians have been killed in Yemen since the end of March, including 130 women and 234 children. Another 2,453 civilians have been injured in the fighting. All this sacrifice has been made in service to the administration’s goal of extricating the United States from Middle Eastern affairs and rehabilitating Iran. If the Iraq War was a careless pursuit, at least George W. Bush could gauge and control America’s involvement in that conflict. The forces Barack Obama has unleashed in the Middle East are, by design, beyond his ability to restrain.

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Guns, Hollywood Hypocrisy, and the NRA

More than 13 months after the Newtown massacre, gun control remains at the top of the liberal agenda. But resistance to more restrictions on gun ownership or more intrusive procedures has frustrated this campaign despite the best efforts of President Obama and the mainstream media. Indeed, as I wrote last month, polls now show even greater opposition to tougher gun laws than existed a year ago. Much of the resistance comes from a public smart enough to understand that the laws the president wants to pass wouldn’t have prevented Newtown. Moreover, many Americans simply don’t trust liberals when they say they just want commonsense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the insane. Though the president and other liberals say they don’t want to take your gun away, the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups have seen their membership rise in the last 13 months because a lot of people think that is exactly what he wants to do. Of course, he also promised that you could keep your doctor too.

More ammunition for those who hold that view was provided this week by one of the president’s leading fundraisers: Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Speaking on the Howard Stern radio show, Weinstein launched into a tirade about his opposition to legal gun ownership and said he was planning to make a movie with actress Meryl Streep about the gun issue that would make the NRA “wish they weren’t alive after I’m done with them.” Weinstein also said, “I don’t think we need guns in this country, and I hate it, and I think the NRA is a disaster area.”

While taking seriously anything said by anyone in the movie business  in a political context is probably a mistake, this snippet at least provides a fair representation of the core beliefs of the president and his major supporters. But more than that, since the glorification of gun mania in pop culture is widely believed to be one of the most significant reasons why our country is home to so many weapons-related crimes, when the producer of some of the most violent movies in our history speaks out against guns, it gives new meaning to the word hypocrisy.

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More than 13 months after the Newtown massacre, gun control remains at the top of the liberal agenda. But resistance to more restrictions on gun ownership or more intrusive procedures has frustrated this campaign despite the best efforts of President Obama and the mainstream media. Indeed, as I wrote last month, polls now show even greater opposition to tougher gun laws than existed a year ago. Much of the resistance comes from a public smart enough to understand that the laws the president wants to pass wouldn’t have prevented Newtown. Moreover, many Americans simply don’t trust liberals when they say they just want commonsense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the insane. Though the president and other liberals say they don’t want to take your gun away, the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups have seen their membership rise in the last 13 months because a lot of people think that is exactly what he wants to do. Of course, he also promised that you could keep your doctor too.

More ammunition for those who hold that view was provided this week by one of the president’s leading fundraisers: Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Speaking on the Howard Stern radio show, Weinstein launched into a tirade about his opposition to legal gun ownership and said he was planning to make a movie with actress Meryl Streep about the gun issue that would make the NRA “wish they weren’t alive after I’m done with them.” Weinstein also said, “I don’t think we need guns in this country, and I hate it, and I think the NRA is a disaster area.”

While taking seriously anything said by anyone in the movie business  in a political context is probably a mistake, this snippet at least provides a fair representation of the core beliefs of the president and his major supporters. But more than that, since the glorification of gun mania in pop culture is widely believed to be one of the most significant reasons why our country is home to so many weapons-related crimes, when the producer of some of the most violent movies in our history speaks out against guns, it gives new meaning to the word hypocrisy.

As the Washington Examiner points out, Weinstein has done as much, if not more, than anyone to coarsen American popular culture and to fill screens with blazing guns shredding the bodies of victims. Whatever you think about the NRA, the man who brought us such movies as Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards, Pulp Fiction, and such classics of the cinema as Rambo 4, Grindhouse, Sin City, and the immortal Piranha 3DD is in no position to pose as a critic of America’s gun culture.

But the problem here goes far deeper than the predictable hypocrisy of wealthy Hollywood liberals. Anyone who tries to sell a skeptical public on the notion that liberals don’t want to abrogate their Second Amendment rights must deal with the fact that Americans know very well that people like Weinstein and his political hero Obama want to do exactly that, in spite of the president’s disclaimers. It might be possible to pass more sensible background-checks laws if so many voters didn’t believe, as does the NRA, that they would just be the thin edge of the wedge assaulting the Second Amendment.

It’s also worth noting that one of the things Weinstein was discussing on the Stern show was a project he was working on about a film depicting Jews resisting the Nazis during the Holocaust. When the libertarian-minded Stern asked Weinstein whether it was inconsistent to make a movie about people using guns, the movie mogul replied that such conduct was justified in the context of the Nazis’ genocidal plans. He’s right about that. But while fears that liberals are planning to take away private guns in order to facilitate a totalitarian state are absurd, Weinstein and others who share his prejudices should understand the purpose of the Second Amendment was to preserve the ability of the American people to defend themselves against a tyrannical government. While that may seem far-fetched today in an era when individuals with rifles or pistols pose little threat to modern states, the principle is unchanged.

Weinstein’s threats that he will undermine the NRA with his new film aren’t likely to worry the group. Left-coast liberals have every right to use their money to advance causes and candidates they support. But so do the five million members of the NRA, as well as other Americans who, while not gun owners themselves, support its positions. As we have seen in the last year, grass roots support for the rights of gun owners has repeatedly trumped big-money campaigns funded by people such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others who agree with Weinstein. As long as the political left and its Hollywood ATM machines keep showing their contempt for the Constitution, the NRA has little to fear from Harvey Weinstein or Meryl Streep. 

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