This week, President Obama proclaimed that ISIS is on the defensive and that its morale is low. He cited no evidence, but if indeed ISIS’s morale had flagged, it will receive a pick-me-up from the capture by ISIS forces of an Iraqi town just a few miles away from a military base where hundreds of U.S. advisers are stationed. The town is called al-Baghdadi.
The U.S. base lies only five miles away from the town. ISIS fighters reportedly pushed even closer to the base, getting within two miles of it before being pushed back by Iraqi security forces and tribal fighters, backed by U.S. air strikes. These forces also managed to take back part of the town. But as of last night, ISIS still held the town center and main government building.
Whatever the outcome in al-Baghdadi, ISIS is certainly has not been on the defensive in that portion of Anbar province.
Let’s turn now to Yemen. Not long ago, Obama proclaimed it a success story in the war against al Qaeda. But then, the under-fire government we were working with to strike at al Qaeda collapsed.
The Houthi rebels who overthrew the Yemeni government were aligned with Iran, and the administration claimed that we would still be able to carry out attacks against al Qaeda. The Houthi militia men might chant “death to America,” but their ascent was nothing much four us to worry about.
But now the Washington Post reports that al-Qaeda militants have overrun a military base in southern Yemen. The Post described the attack as “sophisticated” and said that it “signaled the extremist group’s desire to exploit widening turmoil in this Arabian Peninsula nation.”
This desire is likely to be fulfilled. Nicholas Rasmussen, director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, told Congress that al Qaeda is now in a position to “take advantage of the political chaos in the capital to carry out attacks against our personnel or other Western targets in Sanaa,” the capital of Yemen.
In fact, according to the Post, a senior U.S. official “indicated that the decision to shut the U.S. Embassy may have been driven more by concern about the danger posed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula than about broader instability in the capital.”
Thus, al Qaeda can plausibly claim to have driven the U.S. out of Yemen. That won’t hurt its morale.
To the contrary, thanks to Obama’s fecklessness, potential Islamic militants now face a dilemma: which terrorist group that’s humiliating America should they join.
Yemen appears to be following the familiar pattern of the Obama years. Iranian proxies control the government, while Sunni terrorists carve out a substantial sphere of influence in the provinces.
We see this most starkly in Syria, but also to a disturbing degree in Iraq. It represents the worst of all worlds. Our major geopolitical enemy runs the government, but lacks sufficient control to prevent our most immediately threatening enemy from establishing a base of operations from which to plan attacks against the West.
And keep in mind that recently, al Qaeda’s Yemen franchise has probably been the most persistent terrorist faction when it comes to plotting attacks on the U.S.
Are we safer now than six years ago when Barack Obama became president? Clearly not. Weakness and retreat never produce safety.
As we have seen throughout the region, particularly in Syria, the ascent of Shiite forces is perfectly consistent with