On December 18, the Department of Defense announced the multinational Operation Prosperity Guardian, a U.S.-led, multinational force meant to restore commercial freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal against Yemen-based Houthi attacks. The operation is yet another violation of the United States’s own Middle East policy.
President Biden’s administration went along with its two immediate predecessors in promising to reduce U.S. engagement in the Middle East. Facing events, he now joins the other two to violate this promise. Equally troublesome, all three administrations have saddled the Central Command (CENTCOM), which oversees U.S. military presence in the region, with fewer military resources. This matches their policies and contradicts their actions.
Barack Obama’s administration ended the war in Iraq in 2011, lifted sanctions on Iran and released its frozen assets. It hoped that it could do less in the Middle East by strengthening the Islamic Republic against Saudi Arabia, creating a balance of power to maintain regional peace. Only two years later, it had to redeploy the U.S. military to the region against the Islamic State.
Donald Trump’s administration believed that it could reduce the U.S.’s regional presence by exerting economic pressure on Iran. Instead, Islamic Republic aggression mounted. In response to these aggressions, the administration deployed naval forces to the region, but to no avail. Even killing Qasem Soleimani failed to effect any meaningful change in the region’s strategic landscape, as shown by the growth of Iran’s proxies throughout the region.
President Biden’s administration also desired to reduce its Middle East presence. It bribed the Islamic Republic to buy quiet. Instead, a new war is threatening to engulf the region, with two aircraft-carrier strike groups deployed there and a new military operation announced. The U.S. government should either stick to its policy of significantly reducing its presence in the region and accept the consequences or change its policy and act accordingly.
Reportedly, one obstacle to military action against the Houthis has been Saudi Arabian pleas. The Biden administration effectively ended the war in Yemen by cutting off military aid to Saudi Arabia and removing the Houthis from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. This ensured a Houthi victory, in an Iran–Saudi Arabia agreement which China brokered. Understandably, the Saudis worry that, if the U.S. military attacks the Houthis, the Houthis will retaliate against Saudis and Emiratis, which they have done in the past.
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Seth Cropsey is the president and founder of Yorktown Institute.
Shay Khatiri is a Senior Fellow at Yorktown Institute.